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How To Remove Blackheads

Updated on March 17, 2011

If you're wondering how to get rid of blackheads, this article aims to help! Blackheads are an extremely common skin problem, and although not harmful, they are associated with acne and may cause people to feel self-conscious about their skin. Fortunately, there is a variety of blackhead treatments available – read on for more details.

What Are Blackheads?

Blackheads are a form of acne caused by oils blocking the pores of the skin. When the skin produces an excess of oil (known as sebum), this may accumulate in the duct of the sebaceous glands. In most blackheads, the sebum is combined with keratin, to form a plug. The dark color is the result of sebum darkening as it oxidises, and the irregular reflection of light by clogged hair follicles, which are common sites for blackheads to form. The excessive oil production which underlies the formation of blackheads is often caused by hormonal imbalance, (which is why acne is so common in teenagers).

Blackheads are also known as open comedones (singular – comedo), in contrast to whiteheads, which are closed comedones. They commonly occur on the face (especially on the nose), but are also found on the shoulders, chest, back and elsewhere.

Blackhead Treatments – Popular Options

The body will generally remove blackheads naturally in time, but if you have oily skin or are prone to pore blockage, they will normally be replaced with new ones, so you may wish to help the process along a bit. There's no one best way to remove blackheads that works for everyone, just as there isn't a single cure for other forms of acne either. However, there are several methods you can try, some of are home remedies for blackheads, and some of which are only available via your doctor or dermatologist.

Salicyclic acid
This is an exfoliant which helps to remove dead skin cells from the surface of the skin and inside the pores. This is beneficial, as these cells can contribute to clogged pores. Salicyclic acid is an ingredient in many topical acne medications, face washes and facial scrubs.

Benzoyl peroxide
Like salicyclic acid, benzoyl peroxide is another very common ingredient in acne products, and may help to control blackheads by acting as a peeling agent and killing bacteria. If you are using a topical product containing benzoyl peroxide, look for a concentration of at least 2.5%. This ingredient can cause irritation in some people.

Antibiotics are commonly prescribed for those suffering from blackheads that are accompanied by oily skin and breakouts. The effectiveness of antibiotics as an acne treatment varies a lot between individual, although there are several different types that may be tried. Some people prefer to avoid them, as they can have side effects and cause an imbalance in the natural bacterial flora of the body. Antibiotics require a prescription from your doctor.

Topical acne and blackhead remedies
There is a wide choice of creams, gels, facial washes and the like which claim to be able to cure blackheads and keep oily skin under control. They may contain pharmaceutical ingredients such as salicyclic acid, or may be based on herbs, essential oils and other natural ingredients. The effectiveness of these varies, and what works for one person may not work for another. Unfortunately trial and error is really the only way to find out if these products will work for you, but you must be patient enough to give whatever you choose enough time (up to several weeks) to show results.

Isotretinoin (Accutane)
Isotretinoin is a very powerful anti-acne medication that can be effective at removing blackheads, but is only available from a dermatologist for severe cases of acne.

Retin-A (also known as tretinoin) is a prescription-only derivative of Vitamin A that can help blackheads by increasing skin cell turnover, and making discarded cells less likely to stick in the pores. It is available as a cream, gel or liquid, and can be effective, but can also be very irritating, so should be used with caution.

Physical extraction with a blackhead removal tool
Tools for removing blackheads (also known as comedone extractors), typically feature a small loop at one end, and a pointed tip at the other. You press the loop end over the blackhead, and if all goes well, it will pop out. You can also use the pointed end to help things along a little, although you must be careful not to damage the skin. More expensive tools have loops in a variety of sizes. For best results, use the tool after a warm bath or shower, or after steaming the face, so the pores are relaxed and the blackhead should come out more easily. The tool should be cleaned thoroughly after use, to avoid bacterial contamination. You can also have blackheads extracted by a beautician or health care provider using similar tools.

Pore cleansing strips
Blackhead removal strips are placed over the affected area (they're often designed for the nose area), and left in place for several minutes. They're then peeled off, and take some of the blackheads with them. It is rare to get all of the blackheads out at once, so you'll normally need to repeat the process once or twice a week until you get the results you want. These strips can be effective, but can also be irritating to the skin in some people. As with using a blackhead remover tool, pore strips only provide temporary relief, and don't address the underlying problem of excess oil production and poor drainage.

Steaming or hot cloth/compresses
Steaming the face over a bowl of hot water, or placing a clean facecloth that has been soaked in hot water over the face for about 10 minutes each evening before cleaning the face may help, as the heat relaxes the pores, and loosens dead skin and other things that clog the pores. Make sure that the steam or the cloth is not too hot before exposing the skin.

Dietary changes
In some people, excess skin oiliness and acne can be triggered by eating certain foods. These trigger foods vary between individuals, but refined sugar, wheat, spices and dairy produce are common culprits. It may be worth keeping a food diary for several weeks, and noting whether your skin becomes worse after eating any particular foods (bearing in mind that it may take a day or two for the reaction to be visible). You can then reduce or eliminate those foods from your diet.

How Not To Remove Blackheads

One thing you shouldn't do when trying to get rid of blackheads is to over-cleanse the skin. Contrary to what some people think, blackheads are not caused by poor skin hygiene, and too much scrubbing of the face can aggravate the problem by drying out the skin and leading the body to produce even more of an excess of oil to compensate. Stick to a gentle cleansing regime, perhaps with a product that is formulated for acne-prone skin (although be aware than some of these are on the harsh side too).

Another method to avoid is popping blackheads out with your fingers or nails. While this may be tempting, you risk causing infection and scarring.

How To Prevent Blackheads Recurring

If you've found a way to get rid of blackheads, you'll want to ensure that they don't come back. You can of course carry on using the treatment method that is working for you, but it also helps to avoid skin and hair products (moisturisers, sunscreens, conditioners, pomades etc) containing oils in favour of those marked as non-comodogenic or oil-free. It's also best to avoid using foundation or powder on the skin, as these can make clogging of the pores worse. If you feel like you need to cover up your skin while out, at least remove the makeup as soon as you get home.

Buying Treatments For Blackheads

As noted, some blackhead treatments are only available through your doctor or dermatologist. However, a huge range of less powerful but often very effective blackhead remedies can be purchased without prescription from drugstores, pharmacies and other places that sell healthcare or skincare products. And of course you can also buy blackhead removal products online, often at much better prices than you'd pay in a brick and mortar store.


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