In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about blackheads- what they are, how they’re formed, how to treat them and, most importantly, how to prevent them. Before we dive into all that, know this: everyone gets blackheads. Some are very visible, some you can barely notice, however, rest assured that every single one of us gets them. In fact, blackheads are the most common forms of acne and those with oily skin are at higher risk of getting them.
What are blackheads?
Let us get behind the science of blackheads to properly explain what they are. Blackheads are tiny bumps that appear on our skin due to clogged hair follicles also known as pores. These pores are clogged with dead skin cells and excess oil from the sebaceous glands, creating tiny black bumps on the skin. The most common spot where blackheads appear on our skin is the face, however, they can also appear on our back, chest, neck, shoulders and even arms.
What causes blackheads?
Blackheads are formed when clogs develop in the opening of hair follicles. These follicles have one hair and a sebaceous gland which produces an oil called sebum. When dead skin cells and sebum collects in the opening to the skin follicles, they create a bump called comedo. Now, this is where things get interesting: if the skin over the bump stays closed, that bump is called a whitehead. However, if the skin over the bumps is open, that bump is called a blackhead. It is this exact surface exposure to air which causes s a dark-colored oxidation, form where blackheads get their name.
Other factors which can contribute to the development of blackheads are the production of too much body oil, irritation of the hair follicles, birth control pills and hormonal changes, especially during teen years, menstruation and pregnancy. Your diet can contribute as well to their appearance. Though it’s still not definitive, some researchers have found that products which increase blood sugar levels, such as dairy products and carbohydrates, can trigger acne.
How to treat blackheads?
Even though it too hard to resist, you should never try to squeeze out your blackheads, no matter what. Doing so can only cause unnecessary scarring and other damages to your skin. You can also rick spreading the oil and bacteria on other parts of your skin which in turn may cause even more blackheads. Board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Diane Madfe, warns:
“Avoid picking at blackheads! Attempting to extract will introduce additional bacteria and actually cause the opening to get bigger. Forcing the contents of the gland deeper and causing scarring. It looks easy to get out but the glands are deeper than you think.”
That being said, there are plenty of safe and effective methods you can use to treat blackheads:
1. Salicylic acid
Salicylic acid is the perfect ingredient to treat both blackheads and whiteheads: it breaks down dead skin cells and excess oils, the very materials that form the clog pores! Salicylic acid can be found as the main ingredient in plenty of cleansers, so you can easily find one in your convenience store. Using a cleanser with salicylic acid will also remove your daily dirt, oil, and makeup.
2. Tropical retinoids
To quote Rebecca Kleinerman, a dermatologist in New York City: “Retinoids are a great treatment for blackheads, and while many people with sensitive skin are loath to try them, there are low-strength retinoids which are often more tolerable.” Another benefit of retinoids is that they help other over the counter products more effective.
3. Clay masks
Clay masks work like a charm for oily skin. They retrieve dirt, oil and other excess elements from pores. They work especially well with clogged pores, attacking them to their deepest surfaces. Most clay masks contain sulfur, an element which breaks down the skin cells which form blackheads. Using these masks, at least once a week, will make a huge difference for your pores.
4. Chemical peels
Though chemical peels are not considered a primary treatment for blackheads, they remove the dead skin cells that contribute to the blackheads. During a chemical peel, a dermatologist distributes a strong chemical solution to the skin. Over time, the top layers of the skin peel off until they reveal the smoothers skin underneath.
5. Exfoliate with AHAs and BHAs
Exfoliation is considered one of the most helpful methods of removing the excessive amounts of dead skin cells that form blackheads. Soft scrubs such as alpha and beta hydroxy acids, AHAs and BHAs, can work wonders for your skin. The most common type of AHA is Glycolic acid and the most common type of BHA is salicylic acid (read above).
How to prevent blackheads?
It’s definitely much easier to prevent blackheads rather than treat them. fortunately, there are many things you can do to prevent the appearance of blackheads.
1. Wash your face regularly
Whether or not you have blackheads, it’s very important you wash your face at least twice a day. Doing so removes the dirt, dead skin cells and excess oil from the surface of your skin. Wash your face before and after you go to bed, and make sure you use a gentle cleanser which won’t irritate your skin. If you have oily hair, it’s good to wash it too since hair oils can contribute to clogged pores.
2. Use only oil-free products
Any products which have oil as an ingredient can lead to the appearance of new blackheads. Whether it’s makeup, lotion or sunscreen, always go for the “noncomedogenic” version. Products with that label are meant to not cause acne.
3. Be careful with makeup
Always remove your makeup at the end of the day because going to bed without washing it off will further clog the pores. As we mentioned earlier, it’s best to opt for an oil-free version of the makeup your using. During a blackhead break out, it’s best to avoid using any type of makeup, especially powder, blush, and foundation.
4. Don’t touch your face!
We know it’s easier said than done but try to avoid touch your face as much as possible. By touching your face, you can spread bacteria or irritate your skin. Also, never ever pop your pimples with your fingers!
5. Keep away from the sun
Skin inflammation and redness can be increased by the sun’s ultraviolet rays which can cause post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Try to limit your time out in the sun, especially during 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Also, make sure you protect the rest of your body by wearing protective clothing like long-sleeved shirts and pants. And last, but not least, always apply sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. As always, opt for the noncomedogenic version.