We know what you’re thinking: How could something so small and seemingly insignificant be such a big deal? One glance in the mirror has us up close and personal, inspecting every pore with as much due diligence as a detective on a case.
Blackheads suck, you guys. And even though they’re tiny, it’s easy to freak out over everyone else noticing them as much as we do. Do they think I’m dirty? I wash my face every day! What gives?
We hear you. Let’s take a look at what a blackhead is, why they’re happening, and how to safely treat them.
What is a blackhead?
Blackheads are a combination of oil, dead skin and sometimes bacteria called p. acnes. Their main mission? To block your pores. Similar to whiteheads, blackheads are known as a comedone—but the point of difference between a whitehead and a blackhead boils down to one thing: air. Blackheads are referred to as an open comedone, because they form when they’re exposed to air, which oxidizes them and turns them black. Whiteheads, on the other hand, are a closed comedone, which prevents the oxygen from oxidizing the oil, turning it into a white bump on your skin.
So, why do blackheads even happen in the first place?
Blame it on your DNA. Yep, there’s a genetic predisposition for some skin types to develop more blackheads than others. Not to mention, those with oilier skin may also struggle with blackheads more often.
One thing we know for sure? Blackheads are not dirt. It’s a common misconception that those with blackheads are dirty or don’t cleanse their face enough, but that’s just not true. So, let’s debunk this myth for good, shall we?
How do I treat mild blackheads?
Good news! If you struggle with mild blackheads from time to time, there’s plenty you can do to keep them at bay. Take a look at some mild blackhead treatments below:
- Exfoliate (Weekly): To help reduce the appearance of blackheads, try a combination of physical and chemical exfoliation. First, start by adding a gentle physical scrub into your routine 2-3 times a week—this helps remove dead skin that’s been building up in your pores. Next, you’ll want to incorporate a chemical exfoliant into your weekly routine. Our advice is to either use a salicylic acid cleanser every few days, or a glycolic or fruit acid serum a few times a week. The moral of the story? Combining the powers of both physical and chemical exfoliating is going to be the most effective treatment.
- Detox Mask (Monthly): Masks with clay or charcoal have been known to help pull out impurities from your pores, keeping blackheads to a minimum. But just like exfoliating masks, be sure to only use them once or twice a month. Pro tip: The best time to put on a good detox mask is right after a warm shower.
- See Your Esthetician (Quarterly): Making quarterly appointments with an esthetician can also help keep blackheads under control. Facial steam, extractions and mild exfoliating peels all help to pull oil and dead skin cells out of the pore, keeping skin more clear and refreshed. I mean, who could ever turn down a spa day?
How do I treat severe blackheads?
For those suffering from severe blackheads, we see you! And we promise, all is not lost. In addition to the treatments above, take a look at some extra steps you can take below:
- Retinoids: Vitamin A, or retinol, is stronger than salicylic acid and helps to turn skin cells over more rapidly. Ultimately, this can help prevent dead skin cells from blocking your pores (woo-hoo!). We highly recommend Differin Gel, an over-the-counter adapalene 0.1% retinoid—aka, a milder retin-A derivative. If you’re not seeing improvement with this product, think about getting a prescription-strength retin-A, which is more effective than over-the-counter retinol.
- See Your Dermatologist: We can’t stress this enough—it’s important for you to follow up with your dermatologist if you’re struggling with stubborn blackheads. They’ll most likely prescribe stronger retin-A, oral antibiotics or even an oral contraceptive pill or spironolactone for women to help control oil production. Those with sensitive skin should definitely see their dermatologist first, because they can devise a plan that’s effective without overly drying your skin.