We’ve all encountered the dreaded blackheads: those not-quite pimples that look like unsightly dots on our noses, foreheads, and chins. While you might want to squeeze and pop them away, you shouldn’t. That’s because there’s more to blackheads than meets the eye – and lots of ways to treat them that won’t leave your skin red, blotchy or bleeding. Find out how to get rid of blackheads the easy way, and get fantastic looking skin in the process.
- 1 What are Blackheads?
- 2 How to Get Rid of Blackheads
- 3 How to Get Rid of Blackheads Fast
What are Blackheads?
What we think of as blackheads are pores that have been clogged with oil, dead skin cells and bacteria. This mix turns black when exposed to oxygen. If skin grows over it, it will look white – what we know as a whitehead or classic pimple. The scientific name for both types of pimple is a ‘comedone’. You’ll usually notice blackheads on your nose, as these are the largest and oiliest pores. Just like whiteheads, being dirty or unhygienic doesn’t cause blackheads. They’re a natural part of having pores and experts believe there could be a genetic component too. They also couldn’t be simpler to treat – although they aren’t something you can completely cure.
How to Get Rid of Blackheads
Improve Skincare Routine
While blackheads aren’t caused by dirt, improving your skincare routine could help reduce them. First, you should start cleansing and exfoliating to remove any dead skin that might be building up. Ensure your skin isn’t overproducing oil by keeping it moisturised and using balancing masks, and finally, use particular acids to ensure bacteria doesn’t infect your pores. It’s also important to use non-comedogenic products. If something is comedogenic, that means it can block pores. Light, water-based and gel-textured products are usually recommended for breakout-prone skin.
Choose Salicylic Acid over Benzoyl Peroxide
Salicylic acid is what’s known as a ‘chemical exfoliator’. These chemicals work to remove dead skin cells by dissolving them. In contrast, physical exfoliators are sugar scrubs, which you have to rub into your skin to remove the dead cells. Despite the slightly scary name, chemical exfoliators are far more gentle on your skin than physical exfoliators. Dermatologists recommend using salicylic acid for blackheads as it can get deep inside pores and dissolve the oil inside. Benzoyl peroxide is an antibacterial product that tends to be better for whiteheads, as it stops blemishes from forming.
Cleansing is the first step in good skincare. Use an oil-free cleanser with salicylic acid in it and apply it in the evening, rinsing with warm water. Don’t use a washcloth as the material is generally too rough for the fragile skin on our faces – use your fingers. For an even deeper clean, consider a face cleansing tool like a Clarisonic brush once or twice a week. These devices can be great if you’re prone to blackheads, but they can make acne worse through irritation if you overuse them.
Exfoliate with AHA or BHA
As mentioned before, exfoliating is a crucial step to getting rid of dead skin cells that clog your pores and form blackheads. There are two main kinds of chemical exfoliators – AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) and BHAs (beta hydroxy acids). Both work well on blackheads. Salicylic acid is a BHA, which means it’s oil soluble. That’s why it’s so effective at getting down into pores and dissolving the oils there. AHAs, meanwhile, are water soluble and work by loosening the bonds that hold together the top layers of skin. The most common AHA found in skincare is glycolic acid, which naturally occurs in sugar cane. It also minimises wrinkles and discolouration by allowing new skin to come to the surface faster. However, it does make your skin more vulnerable to sun damage so should always be paired with an SPF.
Moisturising helps prevent blackheads in several ways. Firstly, it helps to hydrate your skin, so your pores don’t overproduce oil to make up for the dryness. Secondly, it forms a thin barrier to prevent bacteria and grime from getting inside your pores. Choose a moisturiser that’s specially formulated for acne-prone skin and has a lightweight texture. You should moisturise twice a day after cleansing your skin, using a formula with SPF in the morning, so your skin doesn’t get damaged by UV rays.
Retinoids are compounds derived from vitamin A and are known as a bit of a Holy Grail in skincare. This is because they unclog blocked pores and help the skin to regenerate faster. In this way, they can also reverse signs of ageing and sun damage. You can buy retinol serums and creams over the counter, but it’s important to note how concentrated they are. Start with a retinol 0.1% formula, and only use it at night twice a week as retinoids make your skin prone to sun damage. If your skin begins to improve after a few weeks, you can switch to a higher percentage but stop if any irritation occurs. For nasty cases of blackheads, ask a dermatologist about stronger prescription retinoids. These usually have names like tretinoin or Retin A.
Once a week, treat your skin to a mask after you cleanse. Look for pore-cleansing or refining ingredients like tea tree, charcoal and clay. These types of masks will draw impurities out of your skin as well as controlling excess oil, and usually have a clean and natural scent. Apply a thin to medium coating and wait 15 to 20 minutes for the mask to dry. Your skin might feel a bit stiff and dry at this point, which is when you should wash all the product off in a warm shower. Most skin types will benefit from a weekly mask, but if your skin is dehydrated, you might want to skip this step or apply the mask to just your nose, forehead and chin where your pores are most visible.
Professional Treatments and Chemical Peels
If all else fails, it’s time to call in the professionals. A facial that includes extractions is a good option. This type of treatment usually involves the facialist double cleansing your skin, exfoliating with glycolic acid, and using a special tool to press down around your pores to ‘extract’ the oily mass inside each one. Even more intense is a chemical peel. This involves applying a strong chemical exfoliant – usually AHA, BHA or retinoid – to remove the top layers of the skin. This procedure will not only eliminate blackheads until the skin has fully grown back, but it also dramatically reduces the appearance of wrinkles. As the name suggests, you will notice your skin peeling off in the days after the treatment. Consult a professional before you book as this treatment has lots of aftercare and can cause an allergic reaction in some people.
How to Get Rid of Blackheads on the Nose
You might be very tempted to squeeze blackheads on your nose, but it’s a terrible idea. While satisfying, pressing your pores causes them to stretch out and warp, meaning your blackheads will come back bigger than ever. Instead, you can try spot-treating your blackheads – that is, only applying products to your nose or T-zone. Use salicylic or glycolic acid gels on your nose and a regular cleanser everywhere else, or apply exfoliating pads just on the areas you need to treat. A physical exfoliant, again only applied to your nose, could also be a good idea. Having a clean pillowcase that you change regularly is also a simple tip for preventing nose blackheads. A quick solution is pore strips. They won’t cause permanent damage, but they’re only effective on newer blackheads that aren’t very deep.
How to Get Rid of Blackheads in the Ear
Blackheads in your ear can be annoying and even become painful if left untreated. They form for the same reason face blackheads do: pores become clogged with oil and dead skin cells. You can prevent them from forming by cleaning your ears with a small amount of face cleanser on a washcloth while you’re in the shower. Prevent oil from building up by dabbing a Q-tip in an astringent toner and gently rubbing it in your ear. If you already have a blackhead in your ear, you can eliminate it by using a sterilised extractor tool, which you can buy from a pharmacy or online. It looks like a metal pencil with a small loop at the end. Pressing down around the blackhead with the loop will cause enough pressure to loosen the debris and unclog the blackhead.
How to Get Rid of Blackheads Fast
For a simple step-by-step guide to getting rid of blackheads, look no further than this video by James Welsh. James advises doing any blackhead clearing straight after the shower, as the steam will open up your pores and make your skin softer. He’s a fan of classic pore strips for the nose area, loop extractor tools for the forehead, nose and chin, and face masks for an all-over cleanse. After each treatment, he recommends using a tea-tree based toner to keep your skin clean and balanced.
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