Skin serves a variety of functions for the human body. It helps us regulate temperature, protects us from harmful bacteria and injury, assists in the production of vitamin D, aids in the transmission of important fluids, and provides a medium through which physical sensations such as touch and pressure can be detected. However, in order to function properly, skin must also be able to secrete various substances through its pores. Sebum, for example, is a kind of oil that helps to lubricate and moisturize the skin, while also protecting it from bacterial and fungal infections.
And this is where blackheads originate.
What is a blackhead?
When too much sebum is produced, it has a tendency to mix with surface bacteria and dead skin cells. Then, this mixture may work its way back into skin pores, solidifying and producing a hard ‘cap’ over the pore entrance. The substance then oxidizes in the open air, turning black in the process (thus giving this particular form of skin irritation its name). Blackheads are most common on the face, particularly in the area on or around the nose. They can also become quite prevalent on the forehead, chin, and sides of the face. These are areas that see above-average sebum secretion, as well as being areas that tend to get touched and scratched throughout the day, and are thus more likely to encounter bacteria and become clogged. Although blackheads are closely related to whiteheads, they are not actually the same thing. Both are types of comedo, which means that they are the result of pores becoming clogged by sebum, but while a whitehead features a closed opening where the skin has almost completely covered the entrance of the pore (causing pus buildup and swelling beneath the surface), blackheads have no closed openings. Instead, the entrance of the pore stretches, revealing the dark-topped blockage within. And although the presence of blackheads is a direct result of increased sebum production and skin cell turnover, there are several factors that may play a part in blackhead proliferation.
By far, the most common cause of blackheads is hormonal. At certain times during human development—such as during puberty or menopause—hormonal changes can lead to increased sebum production. However, for many, the hormones causes associated with blackheads are not limited to specific ages. Likewise, other factors such as pregnancy, the use of hormonal contraceptives, or even too much stress (because stress is closely tied to hormone levels) can also increase sebum production. Intense sweating, such as is brought on during heavy exercise or overly humid environments can also lead to blackheads. Some kinds of cosmetics, lotions, and cleansers may also cause blockage inside of pores. That having been said, there are a number of myths and misconceptions about blackheads that should be addressed.
Myths about blackheads
Perhaps the most pervasive blackhead-related myth is that blackheads are just dirt and grime that has become trapped in an open pore. This has led to the related myth that blackheads can be completely ‘scrubbed’ away, assuming that you’re willing to scrub hard enough. But while there is certainly nothing wrong with wanting to keep a clean face, intense daily scrubbing can actually damage your skin, and lead to even more blemishes and other skin irritations, potentially causing microscopic damage and creating tiny, invisible cuts across the entire facial surface. This weakens your skin’s natural defences, allowing more bacteria to find its way below the surface. The truth is that blackheads are not only caused by poor hygiene, but rather internal processes and hormones. At the same time, there is evidence that suggests that diets rich in carbs, alcohol, fats, or dairy products are tied to blackhead production.
Who gets blackheads?
Although we tend to think of adolescents and young adults as being the most likely to suffer from blackheads, the reality is that anyone, of any age can be affected. Children, adults, infants, the elderly… as long as they have skin pores and sebum secretions, then blackheads are a possibility. Because of this, it’s important for everyone to understand the best ways to get rid of blackheads.
In this article, we will compare various blackhead treatments, as well as offer our expertise on what you can do to help prevent future outbreaks. So, take a few moments, and join us as we compare and contrast the most common methods for eliminating blackheads.
By far the most common method for eliminating blackheads is popping them. Unfortunately, this is also one of the most dangerous (and least effective) methods known. For those who are unfamiliar with it, ‘popping’ a blackhead generally involves using one’s fingers to apply pressure to either side of the infected area. This pressure forces the solidified sebum out through the pore opening, where it can be easily wiped away. But despite the very visible and dramatic way that a quick pinch can apparently resolve a blackhead, one should seldom, if ever, attempt to pop their own blackheads. This is because the act of popping has a tendency to damage surrounding skin tissue, which can result in redness, swelling, or even scarring. Popping may also inadvertently force the solidified sebum further in your pores, resulting in blockage that is even more difficult to remove. If you use your fingers to pop your blackheads, you are likely introducing even more bacteria to the area, which can also lead to swelling, further outbreaks, and surface scarring. Lastly, a popped blackhead will often release a large amount of sebum and bacteria, which can easily find its way into other, nearby pores, causing more blackheads to appear in a very short time.
The point we’re trying to make is this: you really shouldn’t attempt to pop your own blackheads. That having been said, it’s hard to prevent yourself from touching a blackhead that’s popped up. Should you choose to go down this path, here are some tips to help minimize damage. If you are going to pop a blackhead, pay special attention to these tips:
- Target the right blackheads. Only attempt to pop the blackheads that are old, dark, and stubborn. This will allow you to then treat any remaining blockage in the pore with more gentle and effective techniques.
- Prepare your skin. Wash your face beforehand with warm water and a mild cleanser. Harsh cleansers will only weaken the surrounding tissue, making it more likely that you will damage your skin in the process. The warm water will help to open your pores, making extraction much easier.
- Protect your face. Wear latex gloves, or failing that, wrap your fingers in a small amount of tissue paper to help keep bacteria on your hands from getting into your pores. Never attempt to pop a blackhead with uncovered fingers, as you will only be adding more bacteria to an already infected area.
- Pop correctly. Place your covered fingers on either side of the blackhead. Gently press down, and then pinch your fingers lightly together. If the blackhead does not come out right away, move your fingers so that you aren’t pressing on the same areas, and try again. Doing so will help prevent further skin damage.
- Clean up. Once you’ve removed the blackhead, wash your face again with cold water and a mild cleanser to remove any remaining sebum from the popped area.
- Don’t force it. If the blackhead still hasn’t come free, then do not persist. If you force it, you’ll only damage you skin, and will probably leave a large portion of the blockage intact in the pore.
If available, a blackhead extractor tool can be used in place of your fingers. These metal tools make it possible to apply pressure to a specific area with almost surgical precision, and are less likely to transmit bacteria to your face. Other blackhead removal tools are available that use the same basic principles, but remember that any sort of popping may damage your skin. It’s always better to rely on less destructive methods to clean out your pores.
2. Soap and water/cleansers
Given that blackheads are the result of clogged pores, it seems obvious that one of the best ways to prevent or eliminate them would be through intense face washing. However, this is only half correct. Regular face washing can, in fact, help reduce the amount of sebum and bacteria that finds its way back down into your pores, and can also help reduce the number of dead skin cells that are also instrumental in creating blackheads. That having been said, when it comes to using soap and other facial cleansers to reduce blackheads, less is usually more. Generally, washing two or three times per day (upon waking up, when getting ready for bed, and perhaps after eating a particularly greasy meal) should be more than adequate, and will help you avoid the pitfall of over-washing your skin—which can not only damage the skin itself through direct contact, but can also remove too much sebum oil, leaving your skin dry and unprotected from infections. When washing your face, don’t use basic hand soaps, as these may irritate the skin and damage the pores, resulting in more blackheads and pimples. Instead, use mild, oil-free cleansers that are specifically designed to help fight acne. Some of these cleansers may contain chemicals such as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, which can help eliminate blackheads through continued use. Exfoliating cleansers may also help, but only if used sparingly (once or twice per week), so as not to damage the skin itself. Make sure to completely rinse and dry your skin after washing it, so that no residual soap, oil, or dead skin cells are left behind to clog your pores. Overall, regular face washing is an effective method for eliminating blackheads. Also, be aware that the the skin’s chemical makeup differs between men and women, so be sure to take that into account.
Although it may seem counterintuitive to use oil to remove oil, the reality is that there is evidence to suggest that certain oils may be more beneficial than soap and water in breaking down the clogs that cause blackheads. This is because oil and water naturally repel one another, making it difficult for water to penetrate oil-encrusted pores. Other oils—such as almond oil, or castor oil mixed with coconut or avocado oil—however, are capable of dissolving the sebum buildup. To take advantage of this unique property, simply place a warm, damp washcloth over your face and allow it to sit there for about five minutes. Then, remove the washcloth, and apply the oil mixture, and gently massage it into your face. Then, replace the washcloth for another two minutes. Finally, wash your face with warm water, and pat it dry with a dry towel. Whatever you do, make sure that you aren’t using mineral oil on your skin, as mineral oil clogs pores and often contains various unhealthy toxins. Unfortunately, when comparing oil treatment with basic soap and water face washing, it is impossible to accurately identify which treatment is more effective, as each individual person will have results unique to their own body chemistry. Still, there are those who swear by this method, and claim that it is the best way to eliminate blackheads while also preventing future outbreaks.
The idea behind facial masks is that the substances you spread across your skin will naturally soak up any excess oils and dirt, leaving your skin clean, smooth, and oil-free. If you’ve been keeping up with points of this article so far, then you might see a potential problem with this claim. For one thing, dirt is not the only cause of blackheads. For another thing, oil is an essential factor in maintaining healthy skin. As such, masks should be used sparingly. Some masks, such as those that are clay-based, use the same process of microdermabrasion offered in facial spas to clear away dead skin cells. Other masks rely on specific food properties, such as the tightening aspect of egg whites, or the antibiotic properties of honey, to help either open pores or breakdown clogs. DIY masks can be made from any number of kitchen staples, such as eggs, yogurt, oatmeal, or epsom salt, but those who use them should be aware that simply because something feels good on the skin, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it is good for the skin. Some masks do little more than provide a feeling of increased cleanliness once they are removed, while others may even go so far as to block other, more-effective measures from being able to take effect. For real results, many dermatologists recommend that the masks contain proven treatments such as benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or sulfur, and that patients only use masks once or twice per week.
5. Other skin-care products
The main difficulty in dealing with blackheads and other unpleasant skin conditions is that everyone who suffers from them has their own unique body chemistry. This means that solutions that work well for one person may have no effect (or even a negative effect) on someone else. Before you commit to one single approach, or even a combination of approaches, it’s best if you have a basic understanding of the purpose and effectiveness of each available option. Here are four other types of skin-care products for you to consider:
- Moisturizers. Completely drying out your skin may seem like a good way to get rid of blackheads, but it absolutely is not. Why? Because skin that is too dry will only stimulate increased production of sebum oil in an effort to correct the problem, which, in turn, will lead to more blockage and more blackheads. Besides, who would want to trade blackheads for dry, damaged, flaky skin, anyway? Moisturizers help keep skin healthy, so that the body doesn’t feel the need to produce more oil from its pores. Of course, too much moisturizer can have an equally negative effect, by introducing new oils that can actually help create even worse blockage in your pores. When it comes to moisturizers, avoid anything too ‘heavy,’ such as ones that use petroleum-based oils like mineral oil, lanolin, and cocoa butter, as well as those that include chemical moisturizers, such as isopropyl palmitate or butyl stearate. On the other hand, simple moisturizers may help quite a bit.
- Toners. When used in conjunction with facial skin care, the word toner has a vaguely sinister sound to it. It brings to mind images of harsh chemicals and raw, scoured skin. The reality is much less dramatic. Facial toners are really nothing more than a lotion or wash designed to be used after a regular washing. Toners can come in a variety of strengths, from mild to strong, and generally contain water, humectant (a chemical used to help retain moisture), and a small amount of alcohol. Proponents of toner-use suggest that it has numerous skin-care benefits, including removing oil and debris that may have been missed by a basic facewash, adding a protective layer to the skin, restoring skin’s natural pH balance, moisturizing, preventing ingrown hairs, and even shrinking pores (so that they are less noticeable, and less likely to lead to whiteheads and blackheads). In practice, some of these benefits may be less than impressive. For example, many toner users prefer to apply a small bit of moisturizer to their skin afterward, because the toner itself has been known to have a drying effect, rather than a moisturizing one. DIY toners can be made from green tea and honey, and those with especially oily skin might benefit from a toner made from apple-cider vinegar and lemon juice. If you’d like to give facial toner a try, consider looking for ones that contain antioxidants such as tomato extract, bergamot, and vitamins E and A, which help aid in hydration. As for how effective they are at reducing blackheads, responses are generally mixed.
- Scrubs. Scrubs are designed to work themselves deep down into the tissue layers, breaking up the solidified sebum and cleaning out pores. However, overly abrasive scrubs may do more harm than good, and often leave skin in even worse shape than before. The issue with scrubs is that many users rely entirely on the scrubs themselves, believing that blackheads can simply be scrubbed away. The truth is that they can’t. Blackheads go too far deep down into the pore. But while scrubs may not be able to completely remove blackheads, they can help break apart the clogs and (in conjunction with mild cleansers) result in cleaner skin and fewer blackheads overall. Scrubs may also be useful for removing the dead skin cells that are instrumental in blackhead formation. When choosing scrubs, make sure you’re selecting high-quality products that won’t do unnecessary damage to your skin. A better method would be to use exfoliation devices that gently work down into the pores.
- Strips. Deep-cleansing pore strips are very dramatic and effective looking, without really contributing much to an actual solution. For those who are unfamiliar with them, strips operate based on the idea that if something could simply grab hold of the solid sebum in the core of the pores, it could be pulled out directly, resulting in less skin damage, and more effective cleaning. Strips generally use some form of glue that bonds securely to the pores before hardening. Users then just peel away the strip, and are left to wonder at the hundreds (or even thousands) of tiny hair-like sebum cores that have been pulled away as well. Regrettably, the strips tend to only remove the upper portion of the core, meaning that while they may be impressive to use, their long-term effectiveness is not quite as astonishing. Worse still, the act of pulling away the strip from your skin still manages to cause damage, and can lead to further blackhead outbreaks in the future. On the other hand, there is something strangely satisfy about pulling away a hardened pore strip and seeing just how much sebum you’ve managed to capture. Just try not to use strips more than once every 3–4 weeks, and don’t expect them to really solve your blackhead problem on their own.
- Blue light therapy. In addition to killing acne-causing bacteria, the blue LED light therapy can eliminate blackheads. ESPADA emits visible blue light wavelengths able to penetrate deep into the sebaceous glands, amplified by T-Sonic pulsations, to clear pores and reduce sebum levels. Noncomedogenic, noninvasive and effective, ESPADA regulates sebum production to prevent future blackheads.
Although there are a number of very effective blackhead eliminating products available on the market, there is no guarantee that any specific method or cleanser is going to work for your unique skin-type. Because of this, many blackhead sufferers choose to cover their clogged pores with makeup. And while this can certainly serve as a short term solution, doing so is far more likely to create bigger problems further down the line. Certain kinds of makeup, especially when used every day, can actually lead to more intense blackhead breakouts. This is because most kinds of makeup promote bacteria buildup. If you find yourself suffering from blackheads and other blemishes, the best thing that you can do for your skin is to forgo the makeup. Of course, if that isn’t an option, there are other steps that you can take to help minimize the negative impact that makeup is having on your skin.
- Use as little makeup as possible. No makeup is going to be as good for your skin as no makeup, so try to err on the side caution, whenever possible. Also, apply your makeup lightly, rather than caking it on. Remember, the more you use, the more difficult it is going to be when it comes time to deal with the blackheads.
- Keep all of your brushes and applicators clean. The same brushes that apply your makeup have a tendency to pick up and redistribute facial oils and bacteria. Regularly wash your applicators, or use disposable ones that can be discarded and replaced on a regular basis.
- Pay attention to the ingredients. Makeups that are non-comedogenic, fragrance-free, and hypoallergenic are generally less damaging to the skin than conventional makeups. Be sure to familiarize yourself with your makeup ingredients, and stick with the ones that contain less irritating substances.
- Thoroughly clean it off every evening. Makeup that is left on for extended periods of time is much more likely to cause skin problems, so remember to wash your face thoroughly before going to bed. Most forms of eye makeup need oil-based cleansers to be effective, while facial makeup can generally be removed with gentle cleanser and warm water. The same rules for washing your face apply here as well—wash gently, so as not to damage your skin.
The way you live your life has an impact on the health of your skin. And while diet plays a role in blackhead formation, there are a number of other factors that you may not have considered. Here are some lifestyle changes that may have a positive effect on reducing the number and severity of your blackhead breakouts.
- Get enough sleep. Although it may not seem very plausible that bad sleeping habits could lead to increased outbreaks, studies have shown that the two issues might very well be linked… in a roundabout sort of way. This is because reduced sleep leads to increased stress, which in turn leads to an increase in glucocorticoid production, which suppresses the immune system function, potentially leading to a higher number of infectious bacteria taking root in your pores.
- Clean everything. Whenever something comes in contact with your face, it has the possibility of spreading bacteria that can aid in the production of blackheads. So, take a few moments, and pinpoint the items that you frequently place against you face. The first culprit that you should consider is your cell phone. Your pillowcase and bedding may also be a breeding ground for bacteria if you don’t make an effort to wash them on a weekly basis. Go through your daily routine, and make note of any items that come into contact with your face. Anything that you can do to reduce contact with these items, or to eliminate the bacteria that they carry, will help reduce blackhead outbreaks.
- Exercise. Exercise has so many benefits to the human body, that it almost goes without saying that it would help reduce blackhead formation. Still, it’s nice to identify exactly what it is that makes exercise a valid method of reducing blackheads. Much like a full night’s sleep, physical exercise helps reduce stress. But more than that, exercise promotes better blood flow, which allows for more efficient cell waste removal. This means fewer clogged pores, and thus fewer blackheads overall. Of course, there is a downside, and that is that exercise produces sweat. Make sure that you shower after exercising, or you might find that the benefits of exercise get overshadowed by increased oil buildup.
- Wash regularly. The average person touches their face approximately four time per hour, which means that you probably spend more time transferring dirt, oils, germs, and bacteria to your blackhead problem zones than you realize. And while you could try to break yourself of the habit of touching your own face, an easier solution might be to get in the habit of washing your hands much more frequently. In addition to thoroughly washing your hands every time after using a restroom, you should also be washing your hands after preparing food (especially raw meats), blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, handling garbage, touching public surfaces (such as handrails or doorknobs), using a computer keyboard, and shaking hands with others. In fact, a good rule of thumb is this: If your hands have been touching anything that might contain bacteria, then wash them. This will help keep your hands from adding to the production of blackheads.
8. Professional assistance
There is a lot that you can do on your own to help decrease blackhead breakouts. However, if you’ve been doing everything in your power and still haven’t seen any improvements, then it may be time to visit a dermatologist. A dermatologist will be able to access your condition, and work with you to develop a skincare plan specifically designed to fit your body’s own natural chemistry. This plan may range from hormone therapy to help reduce the amount of sebum producing hormones in your body, to more subtle topical solutions that attack the blackheads on the surface. Dermatologists will also be able to assist you in effectively removing current blackheads. For some who find that blackheads are an ongoing problem, regular skin therapy sessions may be scheduled. However, be warned that some health insurance providers will not cover visits to the dermatologist, and if you plan on paying out of pocket, you may end up having to spend several hundred dollars per visit. Of course, if your skin problems have become very severe, you may prefer to pay a bit extra just to have them resolved.
As with any problem, the key to overcoming a blackhead breakout is knowledge. By understanding the various therapies, remedies, and pitfalls of blackhead treatment, you’ll be able to find a solution that will have your skin feeling healthy and blackhead free. The key to overcoming blackheads lies in trial and error, but most of all, it lies in being patient. After all, your skin is completely unique to your body; it only makes sense that your blackhead solution be unique as well.
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Disclaimer: The information on this website and any related links are for general informational purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for professional advice. Do not use the information on this website for diagnosing or treating any medical or health condition. If you have or suspect you have a medical problem, contact a professional healthcare provider.