Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Blackheads

21st Oct 2021

a close-up of a woman’s face with blackheads and acne

Blackheads… chances are you’ve had to deal with them but never really understood why you got them to begin with. Here’s a deep-dive into blackheads: what they are, why they form, how to prevent blackheads, and the best products to get rid of blackheads when they show up uninvited.

What Exactly are Blackheads on the Skin?

Unlike pimples which are usually red and swollen, blackheads are non-inflamed blemishes that appear on the skin. Technically called open comedones, they are slightly raised but flatter than pimples, usually painless, and often hard to notice without close inspection. However, they can be larger and more pronounced sometimes. They typically form in the same areas where pimples tend to appear: the nose, chin, around the lips, ears, neck, and so forth.

Blackheads get their name from their appearance — they have a dark, brownish-blackish point and typically look like a well-defined black dot on the surface of the skin. They can appear when no other signs of acne are present.

What Causes the Skin to Develop Blackheads?

For starters, blackheads are completely normal. As a matter of fact, acne (in all its forms) affects 80% of Americans at one point in their lives — so there’s nothing to feel embarrassed about.

Before scouring the Internet for products to get rid of blackheads, it’s important to understand why they appear to begin with. Like pimples, blackheads form on the skin when a pore that is clogged with sebum (or excess oil) hardens and oxidizes on the surface, giving them their black appearance.

Sebum, which is also completely normal, is naturally produced by the sebaceous glands (oil glands) present in hair follicles on the skin of all mammals. Oxidation is what happens when a substance is exposed to air. For instance, oxidation occurs when an apple browns. However, when the pores in our skin become clogged, dead skin cells within them can react with oxygen and turn black, forming blackheads on the skin.

Blackheads are different from pimples and whiteheads (or closed comedones) in that they are open and not covered by skin. Hence, the name open comedones and the visible dark point associated with blackheads. While different, their root causes are the same: a plug of oil within the pore. However, blackheads are not to be confused with sebaceous filaments, which look like blackheads but are not a form of acne.

Some factors can be attributed to an increased chance of developing blackheads:

  • Puberty and aging
  • Hormonal changes
  • Covering/clogging pores with cosmetics or clothing (e.g., maskne)
  • Excessive sweat
  • Shaving or other activities that irritate hair follicles
  • Increased humidity/grease in the environment
  • Certain health conditions (stress, PCOS, PMS)
  • Reactions to medications
  • Misusing skin care products to get rid of blackheads

How Can We Prevent Blackheads?

Contrary to popular belief, the development of blackheads on the skin is not a result of poor hygiene or dirt being trapped in pores. While reducing oil can help, excessive or abrasive scrubbing will only worsen them.

The best way to avoid blackheads is by getting ahead of them and preventing buildup. For starters, develop a consistent cleansing routine. Use a gentle cleanser twice a day (morning and night) to prevent the buildup of dead skin cells and oil in your pores. More importantly, always wash your face after a sweaty workout or wearing your mask for extended periods, and never sleep with makeup on.

Not only is SPF important for promoting healthy aging, but it is also crucial in aiding to prevent blackheads. Failing to protect your skin from sun exposure can increase your chances of developing acne and blackheads on the skin, as well as your risks of scarring and skin cancer.

Leave the extractions to the pros. Tempting as it may be, fight the urge to pick at your face. Do not attempt to extract or pick at your blackheads. This can further irritate your skin in several ways. It can cause scarring, inflammation, and dark spots and can affect the surrounding pores.

a woman extracting a blackhead using a mirror

Which Products Should We Use to Get Rid of Blackheads?

The bad news? Try as you might to prevent them, you will likely have to deal with the occasional blackheads on your skin. The good news? Once you understand what blackheads are and what causes them, shopping for the right products and treatment isn’t so hard.

So what do you use?

As mentioned before, you‘ll want to develop a consistent skin care routine that includes: washing your face when you wake up and before bed, wearing SPF during the day, and properly hydrating your skin. It might seem counterintuitive to apply moisturizer when you’re trying to avoid excessive oil buildup, but proper hydration is important to prevent dry skin. Thirsty skin will overcompensate for dryness by secreting more oil, so moisturizing is essential for balance and to prevent blackheads.

a woman with a towel on her head washing her face

Typical over-the-counter treatments usually don’t contain the active ingredients needed in products to get rid of blackheads. Fortunately, there are products formulated to help clear blackheads while simultaneously preventing the formation of new blackheads on the skin. Medical-grade skin care that offers a personalized approach for your skin care goals is always the best solution. Take our Skin Analysis now to learn what products are right for you.

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These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. The views and nutritional advice expressed by Dr. Salameh are not intended to be a subtitute for conventional medical service. If you have a severe medical condition, see your physician of choice. Individual results may vary. Side effects: If you are sensitive to vitamins or any ingredients, have any allergies, we suggest speaking with your physician first to avoid any side effects.

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