Blackheads are among the most frustrating and unsightly types of skin blemishes. As with most skin breakouts, blackheads can be challenging to get rid of. When comedones appear on your nose, your chin, or your forehead, your skin will likely look and feel grimy. Though you may be tempted to pick at your face and use powerful exfoliants, these practices may actually worsen your breakouts. By using proper blackhead removal techniques instead, you can return your skin to a clearer and more radiant state.
In this guide, you’ll discover everything there is to know about blackheads, from what causes them to the best methods and remedies for treating pesky clogged pores. Using these techniques just might help you get rid of your blackheads for good.
What Are Blackheads?
In understanding blackheads, it is important to distinguish these skin blemishes from other types of breakouts. Hair follicles, also known as pores, often become clogged with old skin, known as keratin, and the skin’s natural oils, known as sebum. A clogged pore is known as a comedo; multiple clogged pores are known as comedones.
Blackheads and whiteheads are the two types of comedones that can appear on the skin. Whiteheads form when bacteria and oils are trapped beneath the surface of the skin, forming small, raised bumps over the infected hair follicles.
Blackheads also form as a result of oil and bacteria infecting a hair follicle. Unlike whiteheads, however, the pore remains open at the surface of the skin. Contrary to popular thought, the blackness of a blackhead is not merely caused by dirt or grime filling up the pore. The oils trapped in the pore actually contain the pigment melanin. This skin pigment reacts to air exposure, causing the oil to oxidize and turn a dark black or brown color.
Though blackheads are open to the surface of the skin, this doesn’t mean that they are necessarily easier to get rid of. When these comedones remain untreated, it may take a very long time for the sebum to fully drain from the pore. For this reason, a good skin care regimen is recommended. Good skin care can significantly reduce how long blackheads will remain in your pores.
Both blackheads and whiteheads are considered non-inflammatory forms of acne. Inflammatory acne, which includes papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts, occur when a follicle wall bursts, causing white blood cells to rush to the follicle. Both blackheads and whiteheads can turn into inflammatory acne if a follicle wall ruptures.
Though the rupturing of a follicle wall can happen spontaneously, it can also be caused by touching or picking at the skin. For this reason, it is especially important not to touch the blackheads you may already have on your face. As you likely known from experience, inflammatory acne is painful and can be tricky to treat. By managing your blackheads now, you can likely prevent other types of pimples and cysts from forming on your face.
In summary, blackheads:
- Are a type of non-inflammatory acne
- Are similar to whiteheads, but with pores open to the surface of the skin
- Are filled with oil and bacteria, which oxidize when exposed to the air, turning the sebum black
- Are not truly caused by dirt clogging pores
- Often drain slowly when left untreated
- May turn into inflammatory acne like pimples if the follicle wall bursts
What Causes Blackheads?
The unfortunate reality of acne is that it is often difficult to attribute to a solitary cause. A blackhead breakout may be triggered by a change in your routine or may be the result of an amalgamation of factors. Though it can be difficult to pinpoint the cause of your blackheads, it is wise to consider the factors that may be worsening your breakouts. These are a few of the best-known causes of blackheads.
Acne in general, as well as blackheads specifically, are often genetic in origin. If your parents, siblings, or relatives struggle with comedones and enlarged pores, it is likely that you, too, will experience similar skin woes. Geneticists do not yet know why evolution has continued to pass acne along to future generations.
Though our genes can’t be changed, we can modify our lifestyle to better manage our skin conditions. If you are genetically prone to blackheads, you may have to be more diligent about your skin care routine to prevent them.
Blackheads generally only begin to form after we have hit puberty. It therefore makes logical sense that acne is triggered by hormones in the body.
Research suggests that androgen, a hormone found in both men and women, tends to be correlated with acne development. As androgen levels rise in the body, so does the prevalence of blackheads and breakouts. In women, estrogen levels can also affect the skin. Hormones like insulin-like growth factor 1 and growth hormone have also been shown to trigger acne breakouts.
Hormones cause the oil glands in the skin to mature during puberty. It is likely, therefore, that these signaling molecules continue to affect the skin’s oil production later in life. Unfortunately, the direct connection between hormones and acne still requires further research.
If you suffer from excessive blackheads and acne, be sure to consult an endocrinologist to determine whether or not your hormone levels are within a healthy range. A hormonal problem could be worsening the state of your skin.
Though blackheads are considered a non-inflammatory type of acne, those who experience blackheads alongside more inflammation-based breakouts may be more prone to inflammation throughout the body. It is for this reason that antioxidants, as well as inflammation-reducing ointments, often reduce blackheads and acne flare-ups. Though results are still inconclusive, increasing your vitamin intake and improving your diet may reduce systemic inflammation, leading to healthier skin.
Both physical and mental stress can have a tremendous impact on the health of your skin. Whether you’re emotionally strained, physically drained, or just short on sleep, these stressors can take a toll on your immune, endocrine, and digestive systems, leading to an uptick in blackheads and breakouts.
Though it’s nearly impossible to eliminate stress from our daily lives, some practices can be used to lessen the effects stress has on the body. Moderate exercise throughout the week, mindfulness meditation, and a well-regulated sleep schedule are just a few of the many ways you can reduce the impact stress has on your skin.
Studies show that many individuals with acne have fewer antioxidants in their skin. By eating a diet full of colorful vegetables and fruits, acne sufferers may be able to increase the amount of vitamins and minerals in their bodies. Results are still inconclusive, however, regarding whether or not a high-antioxidant diet can reduce blackheads. Using antioxidants topically, however, appears to reduce acne in some cases. Whether or not these treatments are highly effective in fighting blackheads remains up for debate.
Lots of research has been done regarding the correlation between breakouts and diet. Unfortunately, there are no definitive results connecting blackheads with the foods we eat. Studies suggest that healthier, more natural diets may lead to reduced sebum production and clearer skin; no results, however, have been conclusive. If you eat a diet high in fats and processed food, consider modifying your diet. Consider consuming more omega-3 fats or adding a supplement to your diet, too. Omega-3 fats can improve mood, reducing stress and improving the health of the body. This good fat is also anti-bacterial and can moderate hormone levels. These properties may help clear up the skin, leading to fewer blackheads. Though a natural diet rich in antioxidants isn’t guaranteed to drastically improve your skin, it’s worth trying.
Pore Clogging Caused By Sweat, Cosmetics, and More
Sometimes, blackheads can be worsened by the buildup on our skin. Excessive sweating, for instance, may cause pores to become blocked more easily. Blackhead sufferers should be sure to always shower or cleanse their faces after intense workouts and during hot days. In this way, you can reduce the odds of comedones forming on the skin.
Heavy cosmetics can also affect the health of your pores. If you wear makeup, you should be sure to thoroughly remove it before going to bed each night. Those who use cosmetics on a regular basis should consider exfoliating their skin more regularly, too. This will remove the traces of greasy foundation and primer that may cling to your skin even after makeup removal.
Stomach and side sleepers with persistent unilateral blackheads may wish to consider modifying their sleeping positions, too. Sleeping on a particular cheek can lead to increasingly clogged pores on that side of face. Oils from your hair and facial oils on your pillow come into contact with your skin when you sleep on your face. Regularly changing your bedding can also reduce this problem. Though not all blackhead sufferers experience breakouts as a result of their sleeping positions, those who break out on just one side of their face should reevaluate their sleeping setup.
Though it is nearly impossible to attribute blackheads to a single cause, these factors may be playing a role in your breakouts. Unhealthy lifestyle choices, like drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes on a regular basis, may also have an impact on the clarity of your skin. Even if your breakouts can be primarily attributed to genetics and hormonal fluctuations, a healthy lifestyle will likely improve the state of your skin.
Sebaceous Filaments Versus Blackheads: What’s the Difference?
Did you know that those bumps on your nose might not be blackheads after all? Many teens and adults confuse sebaceous filaments with blackheads!
Sebaceous filaments appear as small, oil-based plugs that fill the pores on your nose. You may also find sebaceous filaments on your cheeks and on your chin. These gray or beige dots fill your pores, leading you to believe that they’re blackheads, but they’re not! Sebaceous filaments occur naturally. Despite their unattractive appearance, they are a healthy and natural part of your skin.
These thread-like filaments direct the skin’s natural oils to the surface of the skin. The filaments help keep the pores open and allow the skin to receive the natural oils it needs.
If you have oily skin and large pores, these filaments may be more apparent. Though you may be tempted to extract them, this isn’t particularly good for your skin. When the filaments are removed, oil becomes more easily trapped in your pores. As a result, blackheads are more likely to form. Even if you do extract your sebaceous filaments, these pores will develop new filaments within a very short period of time.
Blackheads are less common than sebaceous filaments. When you extract a blackhead, the plug will generally be darker than the rest of the extraction. Most people experience only a single blackhead or a few comedones at a time. Blackheads will be noticeably darker than the sebaceous filaments on your nose. Though sebaceous filaments may also be textured, blackheads are generally more raised than sebaceous filaments.
If you’ve discovered that you have sebaceous filaments in the pores of your nose, don’t despair. A good skin care routine that includes products like AHA/BHA serums, facial masks, and natural oil cleansers can make your pores appear smaller and less clogged.
If, however, you’ve confirmed that you have blackheads, you can follow our further instructions for successful blackhead extractions. With the proper approach, you can clear these frustrating bumps from your skin.
- If you have gray or beige “plugs” in all of the pores on your chin, cheeks, or nose, you likely have prominent sebaceous filaments and not blackheads. Leave these natural filaments alone and consider modifying your skin care routine to improve the health of your pores.
- If you have a small smattering of darker marks on your face, it’s likely that you have blackheads. These clogged pores can be cleared via extraction. These comedones can be reduced in the future through a modified skin care regimen.
How Should I Remove Blackheads?
Blackhead removal can be a tedious task. If you want to remove blackheads in the safest way possible, it will take some additional time and effort. By extracting blackheads properly, however, you can avoid damaging your skin and leaving permanent scars and marks.
How to Get Rid of Blackheads: The Best Method for Extracting Blackheads
Things you’ll need:
- Two washcloths
- Plastic wrap
- Facial tissue
- Your favorite moisturizer
- Alcohol-free toner
- A facial mask of your choice
- Ideally, treat your skin after you’ve taken a bath or shower. The raised temperature of the skin will soften the oil plugs in your pores, making the extraction process easier. You can also steam your face for similar results.
- Once your skin is heated, coat your skin with a liberal amount of moisturizer. Apply the moisturizer to the parts of the skin where the blackheads are present. The moisturizer will act as a seal, trapping heat and moisture in the skin. This will further aid the extraction process.
- Cover the moisturized skin with a piece of plastic wrap.
- Next, run two washcloths under hot water. Wring out the excess water so that both washcloths are damp but not dripping. Press both washcloths against the plastic wrap, holding them there for five minutes. By using two washcloths instead of just one, more heat will be retained in the washcloth closest to the face.
- After five minutes have passed, remove the washcloths and plastic wrap from the skin. If most of the moisturizer has been absorbed, apply a small amount to the area. Your skin and pores should now be well-hydrated, making the extraction process much simpler.
- Grab two tissues and wrap them over each of your forefingers. You can now begin extracting the blackheads by gently squeezing around the affected pores. Don’t place your fingers too closely together, as this can hinder the extraction process.
- Be gentle on your skin! To prevent your skin from becoming red and irritated, squeeze gently and constantly rearrange your fingers around the pores.
- If you’ve squeezed at a blackhead three times and nothing has come out, it’s generally best to move on and try again on another day. Continuing to squeeze stubborn blackheads might damage your skin, leaving marks or breaking capillaries in the skin.
- When you’re done extracting your blackheads, cleanse your skin with an alcohol-free toner. This will help remove any moisturizer that still remains on the surface of your skin.
- If desired, apply a face mask to your skin. A soothing overnight mask or serum will reduce inflammation and further cleanse your pores, limiting or preventing future blackhead outbreaks.
Though this is one of the most effective methods for extracting blackheads, many other techniques are also effective. Some acne sufferers swear by the oil cleansing method. After using a hot washcloth to soften the skin, a natural oil or oil blend is applied to the face. A blend containing castor oil is recommended for individuals seeking to dissolve stubborn blackheads. These oils are then massaged into the skin, helping to dissolve the sebum in the pores. Afterwards, the skin is cleansed with warm water.
Though the concept of applying oil to oily skin can be frightening, many blackhead sufferers have successfully dissolved the blackheads in their pores using this treatment method. Even so, this method isn’t for everyone. Test this method on a small patch of skin before applying oil to your entire face. In short, If you’d prefer dissolving your blackheads over manually extracting them, the oil cleansing method might be the right choice for you.
You can also visit a dermatologist if you’d prefer to have a professional remove your blackheads. Though occasional professional extractions can be beneficial, it is often more convenient and affordable to extract your own blackheads at home. Whichever option you choose, proper blackhead removal is sure to improve the texture and appearance of your skin.
More About Blackheads and Diet
The role that diet and nutrition play in blackhead formation is frequently up for debate. Old wives’ tales argue, for instance, that pizza and chocolate are guaranteed to trigger blackheads and acne breakouts. Though, as stated before, research has not yet shown definitive connections between the foods we eat and blackhead formation, some preliminary studies suggest that diet and nutrition are correlated with blackhead appearance. Here’s a brief summary of the current research on blackheads and food intake.
Preliminary research suggests that a low-glycemic diet filled with fresh fruits and vegetables may be best for blackhead sufferers. A high-glycemic diet filled with starchy foods and sugar may cause persistently elevated blood insulin levels, resulting in unbalanced hormones. These hormonal imbalances can trigger breakouts. By eating a less processed diet filled with fruits, vegetables, and healthy proteins and fats, it may be possible to reduce breakouts.
As previously mentioned, a diet rich in omega-3 fats may also boost your mood and regulate your hormone levels, reducing blackheads and breakouts. The nutrient is also anti-bacterial and can reduce the growth of P. acnes and acne-causing staph infections. Omega-3 can be found naturally in fish, grass-fed meats, and seeds. Most of us get too little omega-3 from our diets. Consider taking an omega-3 fish oil supplement to improve the health of your body and skin.
Adding 30 mg of zinc gluconate to your diet may also improve the state of your skin. An abundance of evidence suggests that zinc consumption may reduce acne. Zinc may limit bacterial infections, inflammation, and sebum production, leading to clearer skin. Taking a zinc supplement may moderately reduce the amount of blackheads that form on your skin. Eating oysters is one of the best ways to add zinc to your diet naturally.
Antioxidants like vitamin A, vitamin E, and selenium can also reduce inflammation of the skin. Though studies have not proven whether or not a diet rich in antioxidants can clear the skin, topical antioxidant ointments are generally somewhat effective. Consuming more antioxidant-rich foods certainly won’t do your skin any harm.
Other studies have examined the correlation between the following diets and blackhead formation:
Low-Calorie Diet: Possible Impact, But Inconclusive
Consuming a high-calorie diet has been shown to boost hormone levels in the body, resulting in increased sebum formation. Consuming fewer calories has also been proven to reduce sebum production. Eating a low-calorie diet and losing weight may therefore cause a reduction in acne breakouts. Studies have also shown, however, that obesity and BMI are not correlated with the development of blackheads and acne. Studies are therefore inconclusive regarding the connection between calorie consumption and acne formation.
Greasy and Fatty Foods: Possible Impact, But Inconclusive
The fats we consume are, indeed, used to produce the sebum that fills our pores. The fat content in our sebum may be affected by the fat content of our diets. More research is needed, however, before conclusions can be drawn.
Only a few small and unreliable studies have been run regarding the correlation between chocolate and breakouts. These studies suggest that chocolate and blackheads are not correlated. The scientific community, however, is still considering the possible connections between chocolate and breakouts. Insulin levels, for instance, may spike after chocolate consumption, triggering breakouts. At this point in time there is too little evidence to prove or disprove the hypothesis that chocolate causes acne.
Some studies suggest that high levels of iodine may cause blackheads and breakouts. Other research, however, seems to indicate that high-iodine diets actually result in clearer skin. The scientific community has not reached a consensus regarding the correlation between acne and iodine.
Dairy: No Proven Correlation
Research currently suggests that there is no correlation between dairy consumption and blackhead formation.
In summary: Stick to a low-glycemic diet filled with fresh foods. Supplement your diet with zinc and omega-3s to reduce potential blackhead formation. If other foods seem to be triggering skin problems, consider trying an elimination diet. It is possible that a food allergy is affecting the health of your skin.
Products for Removing and Reducing Blackheads
Many store-bought products are also good at combating blackheads and clearing the skin.
Instead of using your fingers to squeeze blackheads out of the skin, you can try using a blackhead extractor. These tools are particularly useful for those who dislike extracting blackheads with their fingers.
Pore strips, though often costly, can be very effective at removing blackheads from the nose. These strips are generally placed on the nose or chin and then removed, lifting blackheads out of the pores.
Cleansing masks, such as mud and clay masks, can purify your pores and brighten your skin. Try a variety of masks to discover the product that works best for you.
Exfoliating scrubs and facial cleansers, particularly those containing salicylic acid, can help you maintain clearer pores in the future. Look for products specifically formulated for oily or blackhead-prone skin.
Home Remedies for Blackheads
In addition to store-bought remedies, there are many blackhead treatments you can make at home. Here are a few of the top home remedies for blackheads.
1.) Egg Mask
Egg whites are great at temporarily tightening pores. When your pores are smaller, blackheads are less likely to form. This mask may also purge current blackheads from the skin. As an added bonus, this mask will tighten your skin, making it a great home remedy for wrinkles and sagging skin, too!
Things you’ll need:
- 1 egg, separated
- A small plastic container or bowl
Separate the uncooked egg yolk and white. Keep the white in a container and set the yolk aside. Using your fingers or a utensil of your choice, apply a thin layer of egg white to the blackhead-affected area. Let the egg white dry. Apply up to five additional layers of egg white, allowing each layer to dry in between applications. You can apply the rest of the egg white to your entire face if desired.
The egg mask will tighten as it dries. Once the entire mask is dry, peel it off of your skin. Wash your face and moisturize it. Your pores will be clear and your skin should feel soft and tight.
2.) Honey and Cinnamon Strips
Cinnamon and honey are a dynamic duo for battling blackheads. Cinnamon increases blood flow in the skin while honey kills bacteria and extracts blackheads from the pores.
Things you’ll need:
- Raw, organic honey
- Ground cinnamon
- Cotton strips
Using equal parts cinnamon and honey, create enough paste to cover the blackhead-affected area. Apply a thin layer of paste to the skin, covering the spread with a cotton strip. Allow the strip to sit for up to fifteen minutes before removing it. Repeat the process if desired. Cleanse your skin and apply moisturizer when you’ve done with the strips.
3.) Baking Soda Scrub
When used in moderation, baking soda is a great ingredient for exfoliating the skin and removing excess sebum from your pores. This scrub is a cost-effective alternative to store-bought cleansers and exfoliants. Over time, its neutral pH will cause your skin to produce less oil. Use this scrub once or twice a week for optimal results. Applying this scrub more often may dry out your skin.
Things you’ll need:
- A tablespoon of baking soda
Mix the water and baking soda together to form a thick paste. Moving your fingers in circles, rub the paste into the affected areas of your skin. After you’ve exfoliated the skin to your satisfaction, allow the paste to rest for roughly ten minutes. When you’re done, clean your face and apply a moisturizer.
Other Home Treatments
There are many other home remedies that can be used for blackhead removal. Applying lemon juice to your blocked pores, for instance, can reduce blackheads over time. Cleaning your skin daily with water alone can also clear your skin. Exercise and facial steaming can also aid in purging bacteria and oil from your pores. Using one or more of these home remedies on a regular basis can improve the health of your skin and reduce the number of blackheads that form on your face.
Though blackheads can be unsightly to look at and pesky to eliminate, there are many excellent techniques and remedies available for treating these open comedones. If changes to your skin care routine, diet, and lifestyle haven’t reduce your blackheads, consult a dermatologist to see if other treatment options may be available to you.
By living a healthy lifestyle, extracting blackheads safely, and cleansing your skin with high-quality products and natural remedies, you can likely reduce the number of blackheads appearing on your face.