What Are Blackheads?
“Blackheads are a type of acne and, like all acne, are caused by a clogged pore,” explains Manhattan dermatologist Dr Dennis Gross, founder of Dr Dennis Gross Skincare. “When dead skin cells or other debris get into the pore, they mix with the oil and cause a clog.”
However, unlike oh-so-poppable whiteheads, where the skin over the blocked pore remains intact, these darker pimples form when the skin around the bump opens. “When the sebum oil mixes with air, it oxidises and turns black.”
The most common places for blackheads to call home are the nose, chin and forehead – helpfully, right where your date/everyone in your business meeting can see. But as the body has over five million pores, they can pop up elsewhere too, like on your back and chest.
What Causes Blackheads?
Though blackheads aren’t as obvious as their pus-filled siblings, as Dr Gross points out, the acne-causing culprit is still the same: blocked pores.
What propagates these varies from pollution to unwashed towels, but there are also a few causes that fly under the radar, such as certain personal care products.
If what you slather on your skin has a thick, greasy consistency, it could actually be causing, rather than helping avoid, breakouts. Those who suffer severely from blackheads should look out for products labelled ‘non-comedogenic’, which is grooming speak for saying they don’t clog pores.
How To Prevent Blackheads
Like all forms of acne, the blemish that you see today actually started two weeks ago, proving why, as with anything, offense is better than defense.
“To avoid blackheads, you should be using a gentle daily cleanser with alpha and beta hydroxy acids (namely salicylic acid),” says Dr Gross. “Blue LED light is also great for killing acne-causing bacteria, and is not drying like other topical products.
Don’t overlook the role a simply everyday moisturiser plays in keeping your skin clear either. “Although it may seem counterintuitive, not using a moisturiser can actually lead to your sebaceous glands overproducing oil, causing more breakouts and blackheads.” In other words, the best-looking skin is balanced skin.
How To Remove Blackheads At-Home
The battle to beat blackheads is one fraught with danger. Because of their size and awkward location, they can be tricky to eliminate without aggravating the skin. Especially if you’re tempted to have a dig with your fingernails (don’t do that).
The most effective at-home methods for removing blackheads involve using face washes, pore strips, exfoliators and face masks to suck all excess gunk from the depths of your pores. However, not just any old product will do.
Dr Gross suggests looking for those that contain active ingredients like salicylic acid or sulphur to stem sebum production and fight acne-causing bacteria. “Alpha hydroxy acids work to exfoliate and remove dead skin cells to prevent them from clogging pores in the future,” he says, “and colloidal sulphur and kaolin clay work to reduce blemishes and absorb oil.”
If you want to remove individual blackheads or spots yourself, always wash your hands first. Use a clean skin tool (these have a loop at either end to allow targeted removal) and apply equal pressure to the area. Finish by applying an astringent, such as tea tree oil, to the area to stop the spread of bacteria.