Combating blackheads is one of the everyday, lifelong battles most women constantly lead. Due to their commonness, at-home blackhead masks and pore strips are often the go-to solutions. They promise to strip away all those blocked up pores and leave us with fresh clear skin.
However, one comment on a blackhead removal video is worth noticing as it suggests that most of us may be approaching this issue in a completely misguided manner.
According to Wikipedia, comedones are clogged hair follicles (pores) in the skin caused by keratin (skin debris) combined with oil to block the follicle. A comedone can be open (blackhead) or closed by skin (whitehead). But is it possible that many people are overreacting when it comes to blocked pores and mistakenly treat them as blackheads?
According to dermatologist Dr. Michael Freeman, it’s actually a common mistake in skin treatments.
“The key difference is that blackheads are an abnormal structure, while sebaceous filaments which you see in your pores are normal structures. Pores can have secretions in them, which is the stuff you see emerge on your pore mask when you rip it off. Those filaments are normally inside the skin and come out in a conveyor belt structure, so they come out slowly,” he explains. “With blackheads, that normal biological movement is interrupted and blocked. The pores get wider and look black as they are filled with dead skin.”
Misdiagnosing a blocked pore as a blackhead can, indeed, cause problems.
“If you use treatments wrongly, then you could see irritation or rashes. It also concerns me if people start to think that normal structures are abnormal and then get into the thinking that they have to keep them super clean and clear at all times,” Freeman says.
“They actually provide a barrier and if you remove them completely, this could open up and allow things like dirt and grime to get in deeper to the skin.”
So how can one tell the difference?
Dr. Freeman says three determining factors are number, size and color.
“Blackheads are infrequent, there won’t be a lot of them. If there are a lot of them, then it’s just your normal pores,” he explains.
“Look for size, too: blackheads are big and irregular, while normal pores are more uniform and similar. Blackheads are also much darker in color.”
According to Dr. Freeman, blackheads should be removed gently. Harsh treatments may traumatize your skin and simply cause more problems.
“The issue with the overuse of these masks is they can actually traumatize your pores, and in some people actually cause more acne and blackheads,” he says.
“If you don’t see any of these symptoms and you use regularly, then that’s fine. I’m not going to say you shouldn’t use them, but be cautious.”
While pore masks might be useful, Dr. Freeman says the best way to get rid of blackheads is to use a preparation that dissolves keratin, which is the key protein in their formation.
“Look for keratolytic products which range in strength from benzoyl peroxide to salicylic acid and retinoic acids,” he advises.