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Oct 13, 2021
5 min read

How to remove blackheads: 8 tips and tools

Blackheads can be tricky to remove and prevent. Still, there are options to help you manage blackheads for healthier looking skin. Skincare products like chemical exfoliants, retinoids, cleansing brushes and masks help to remove blackheads. A dermatologist or esthetician can help remove stubborn blemishes and help you develop a skincare routine to keep your skin clear.

Disclaimer

If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

It can be frustrating to deal with any type of acne. It’s common to feel self-conscious about skin problems, so finding effective ways to manage acne helps boost confidence. Here are eight methods to treat blackheads and tips to help prevent them.

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What are blackheads?

Blackheads (also called open comedones) are a common form of acne. They are considered a milder and non-inflammatory type of acne. Blackheads are caused by clogged pores that remain open to the air. The material buildup in pores mixes with oxygen, which makes it turn a darker color. 

A similar type of blemishes, called whiteheads (closed comedones), has a closed top, so the material stays lighter.  

Blackheads develop when your skin’s pores or hair follicles clog with sebum (oil), dead skin cells, and bacteria. They can develop on the face, back, shoulders, chest, and other areas of the body.

They can be more common for people with oily, acne-prone skin. Still, any skin type can get blackheads on the surface of the skin. While most of us get blackheads from time to time, there are methods to treat them if you get them often. Here are eight methods you can use. 

1. Salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is a popular skincare ingredient used in cleansers, serums, and other products. It helps break down dead skin cells, exfoliate the skin, reduce inflammation, and clear up excess oils to help clean out clogged pores (Lu, 2019). While salicylic acid is similar to other types of exfoliators, it penetrates deeper into pores to help fully clean pores, making it a more effective blackhead treatment than some others. 

The amount of salicylic acids varies in products, with some containing 2.5% and others containing up to 10%. Higher percentage products may be too harsh for some people’s skin. If you have sensitive skin or it’s your first time using this acid, look for a product with a lower percentage of salicylic acid. 

You may want to start using the product just once or twice a week and slowly build up how often you use it. 

2. Cleansing brush

Electronic cleansing brushes help to gently exfoliate the skin and use vibrations to loosen up dirt and debris. Depending on your skincare needs, there are a variety of brushes available. Some come with silicone bristles that are gentle and resistant to bacteria. Other brushes have bristles that require changing the brush heads after a few uses. 

Research suggests cleansing brushes are safe and effective for cleaning the face (Gold, 2019). You should always use cleansing brushes on wet skin with a cleanser to prevent tugging on the skin. Some people with sensitive skin may find some brushes to be too harsh for their skin.

3. Retinoids

Topical retinoids are a type of antioxidant made from vitamin A. The products vary from over-the-counter retinoid strengths, like retinol, to prescription-strength tretinoin. These products help to clear out pores and stimulate the production of new skin cells (Fox, 2016). It’s recommended to use retinol products in the evening while the skin is being repaired.

Retinol products can make your skin more sensitive to the sun, so it’s extra important to wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen when using these products. 

It can take time for your skin to adjust to using retinol products. Sometimes it’s recommended to slowly increase how often you use it. It may help to start once weekly and slowly increase to every other day. 

4. Clay masks

Clay masks claim to help draw oils and toxins out of the skin. This helps to unclog pores and reduce sebum (oil) production. The minerals in clay masks and pore strips help treat acne, blackheads, spots on the skin, and may stop the growth of some acne-causing bacteria (Fox, 2016).

Some of the clay minerals that help treat acne include (Fox, 2016):

  • Kaolini
  • Palygorskite
  • Smectites
  • Talc 

Often clay masks are recommended to be used about once weekly. Be sure to follow the directions on the packages for how to use them.

5. Charcoal masks

Charcoal masks are another popular skincare product. These are believed to work similarly to clay masks to draw out oils and clear blocked pores. Charcoal has been used as an ingredient for years, and people report its benefits for their skin. Still, it should be noted scientific studies have yet to back up the effects charcoal has on blackheads (Sanchez, 2020).

6. Chemical peels

Chemical peels are traditionally used to improve wrinkles, discolored skin, and scars. They use more potent acids that reach different skin layers depending on the type of peel. Some chemical peels reach the deepest layers of skin, although these may have more side effects and take longer to recover after the treatment. 

While these treatments aren’t designed for acne treatment, they use acids like salicylic acid and help remove dead skin cells, which may help prevent clogged pores.

7. Benzoyl peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is a popular skincare ingredient used when treating mild to moderate acne. It’s available in over-the-counter gels, creams, cleansers, and spot treatments. Benzoyl peroxide oxidizes bacteria to stop them from growing in the skin and helps clear out clogged pores. 

If bacteria don’t cause your blackheads, benzoyl peroxide may be less effective than some of the other treatment options. 

8. Professional extraction

You should never pick or poke at your own skin because it could cause scarring, spread bacteria, and cause more acne. So, it’s best not to DIY stubborn blackhead removal. Instead, you can rely on skincare experts for professional extractions. Dermatologists and estheticians are trained to safely do extractions using specialized tools. 

How to prevent blackheads

It’s not possible to fully prevent blackheads and acne. Still, there are changes you can make to help support clearer skin. 

Here are some tips to help prevent blackheads:

  • Look for non-comedogenic products: Non-comedogenic is a term to describe skincare and makeup products formulated to be less likely to block pores. People prone to acne and blackheads should pay attention to any products that cause clogged pores and keep them out of their routine.
  • Only try one new product at a time: If you make too many changes to your skincare or makeup routine and experience breakouts, it can be challenging to know which product caused the breakout. To better understand how a product impacts your skin, only change one product at a time.
  • Don’t pick at your skin or pop pimples: It’s tempting for many people to try to remove their own blackheads. But this can lead to scarring, skin damage, and more acne. If you have a pimple or blackhead that’s bothering you, ask a dermatologist about it.
  • Cleanse your face regularly: Washing your face once or twice daily is important for helping prevent blackheads. It’s imperative to wash the makeup, sunscreen, dirt, and pollution off your face in the evening.
  • Use a moisturizer: Even if you have oily skin, keeping your skin hydrated helps prevent the overproduction of oil and promotes healthy-looking skin. 
  • See a dermatologist: A dermatologist can help prevent blackheads and other skin issues and perform blackhead removal treatments. They can help you design a skincare routine to improve your skin long-term.

References

  1. Fox, L., Csongradi, C., Aucamp, M., du Plessis, J., & Gerber, M. (2016). Treatment modalities for acne. Molecules, 21(8), 1063. doi: 10.3390/molecules21081063. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6273829/
  2. Gold, M., Ablon, G., Andriessen, A., Goldberg, D., Hooper, D., & Mandy, S. (2019). Facial cleansing with a sonic brush-a review of the literature and current recommendations. Journal Of Cosmetic Dermatology, 18(3), 686–691. doi: 10.1111/jocd.12906. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30985993/
  3. Lu, J., Cong, T., Wen, X., Li, X., Du, D., He, G., et al. (2019). Salicylic acid treats acne vulgaris by suppressing AMPK/SREBP1 pathway in sebocytes. Experimental Dermatology, 28(7), 786–794. doi: 10.1111/exd.13934. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30972839/
  4. Sanchez, N., Fayne, R., & Burroway, B. (2020). Charcoal: an ancient material with a new face. Clinics In Dermatology, 38(2), 262–264. doi: 10.1016/j.clindermatol.2019.07.025. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32513407/