We all aim to start our day refreshed, strong, and confident. “I am beautiful!”, you say to yourself as you stretch your arms and look forward to everything you will accomplish for the next hours.
Then, you see yourself in the mirror and the sight of those new pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads make your enthusiasm waver. Acne is not deadly to your body — but it surely can shatter your self esteem.
Blackheads are especially troublesome and difficult to get rid of. Worse, they are icky black spots mostly prevalent on the nose — right in the middle of the face you present to the world.
This is why most people cannot resist the temptation of self-extracting their blackheads at home — a big no-no according to dermatologists and skin experts. Specialists, such as dermatologists, should conduct proper diagnosis before determining the best course of action to safely extract those stubborn blackheads.
Improper blackheads extraction may cause skin trauma, open and raw skin, scarring, and infection. It takes time and patience to get rid of blackheads the proper way — but keep in mind that it is a cosmetic issue, just like stretch marks and ugly nails caused by nail fungus infection, that does not affect how awesome you are inside.
Below, we discuss what blackheads are, what causes them, and explore several treatment options.
What are blackheads and what are their causes?
Blackheads, a mild kind of acne, are tiny spots that are typically visible on your face. They appear most frequently on the nose because it is one of the oiliest part of our skin.
Each follicle consists of one hair and sebum, a gland that produces oil that helps in keeping your skin soft. When your body generates too much amount of dead skin cells and sebum, their combination forms a soft clog in the hair follicles where bacteria can grow.
The clogged pore may lead to a production of a bump called a comedone. When the surface of the clogged pore is exposed to the air, it causes it to look dark. The black color of these spots is caused by clogged pores that are filled with dirt, skin cells, and oil that are mixed with oxygen.
Blackheads can also form on the chest, arms, neck, back, and shoulders. The American Academy of Dermatology stated that acne is the most common skin disorder in the US that affects 40-50 million Americans.
You are more susceptible to developing blackheads if:
- Your body is producing too much oil, which may be caused by your diet or hormonal changes during puberty, menstruation, or through birth control pill intake.
- There is build up of propionibacterium acnes bacteria on your skin
- There is irritation of your hair follicles due to irregular skin cells shedding
- You are taking specific medications such as androgens, corticosteroids, and lithium, among others
- You are using oil-based makeup, or wearing noncomedogenic makeup and sunscreens while sweating/working out
- You are not regularly cleaning your phone and unconsciously touches your face
There is a belief that dairy and foods rich in carbohydrates that increase blood sugar levels may also be one of the triggers of developing acne and blackheads. However, researchers still haven’t found a strong evidence that backs up this belief.
What are the safe and proven treatment options for blackheads?
You may feel very frustrated when your chosen treatments for blackheads do not work. That is why it is very essential to understand the right kind of treatments, and not just go with the hype of what is being marketed as instant solutions for your skin dilemmas.
Over-the-Counter Treatments (OTC)
Numerous medications for acne can be bought without a prescription. These can be in the form of a cream, pad, and gel that are applied directly to the skin.
Dermatologists, doctors with skin care expertise, recommend retinoids which are among the leading ingredients for eliminating blackheads. Some of the retinoids are available over-the-counter, while some require a prescription. A low dosage of retinol in a minimum of 6-8 weeks is suggested.
Other ingredients of OTC treatments are the following:
- Salicylic acid: This is an ingredient that causes pimples, blackheads, and whiteheads to dry up when applied to your skin. It also facilitates the peeling of the top layer of the skin.
Another benefit of salicylic acid is that it helps prevent pores from becoming plugged. Salicylic acid is often found in pads that can be rubbed on your skin in strengths from 0.5%- 5%. It may cause side effects such as mild tingling and redness of the skin.
It is recommended to use it less if you experience above-normal redness and dryness of the skin.
- Benzoyl peroxide: This wipes out bacteria-causing acne and blackheads that also aids in taking out the excess oil from your skin. This also eliminates dead skin cells which can block your pores.
Products with benzoyl peroxide are available in 2.5%-10% strengths. It may cause side effects such as scaling, burning, and can cause a tingling feeling, redness, and scaling. You are more prone to these side effects if your skin is sensitive.
It is recommended to apply this with caution as it can also bleach clothing and hair.
- Resorcinol: This is commonly combined with other ingredients such as sulfur which eliminates dead skin cells that can cause pore clogging, as well as excess oil.
Cleansers, peels, serums, and moisturizers with a combination of salicylic acid and alpha hydroxy acids are also dermatologist-suggested but are not recommended to use with products that contain retinol. Retinol hinders the blocking of pores by skin cells and in loosening up the existing dirt from the pores.
There are two types of chemical available: mild peels, which can be done at home; and stronger peels, which should be done by dermatologists or skin care specialists.
A chemical peel is done by applying a strong chemical solution on the skin. It helps get rid of clogs and dead skin cells that lead to blackheads. Peels that contain retinoic or salicylic acid are known to be beneficial for blackheads reduction.
If there are no improvements after undergoing over-the-counter treatments, a visit to a dermatologist is suggested. They can properly diagnose your blackheads and prescribe the best treatments for your skin problem.
Prescription topical medications that consist of adapalene, tretinoin, and tazarotene, among others, helps in keeping the clogs from forming. These also boost faster skin cell turnover.
In addition, dermatologists may also prescribe treatments that contain antibiotics and stronger benzoyl peroxide which also help combat pimples and acne cysts apart from blackheads.
Using a special instrument called a round loop extractor, dermatologists creates a small opening in the blackhead and applies the proper amount of pressure with the tool to remove the clog in the pores.
As mentioned above, manual removal should be done by dermatologists and specialists to avoid additional problems such as scarring and other skin trauma.
Just like in manual removal, specialists also use a special tool for this treatment with a rough surface. This tool will be utilized in sanding out the skin’s top layers to eliminate the clog that causes your blackheads.
Suction is also involved in other microdermabrasion procedures, which can also aid in releasing blackheads.
Laser and Light Therapy
Laser and light therapies also help eradicate blackheads, and even large pores that may appear as blackheads. These two types of treatments utilize the right amount of beams of intense light to wipe out bacteria and diminish the production of oil.
Both light and laser beams have the ability to reach below the skin’s surface to treat acne and blackheads without damaging the skin’s top layers.
Can we prevent blackheads?
The good thing is: there are several ways to prevent blackheads without breaking the bank. Here are some options:
- Use oil-free products: Avoid using oil-based makeup, sunscreens, and lotions as any product that has oil can trigger the production of new blackheads.
- Wash your face regularly: Make sure you wash your face the moment you wake up and before you go to bed to remove the oil that can cause blackheads. However, washing your face over two times a day can cause skin irritation. It is recommended to use a gentle cleanser to avoid redness and irritation. There are also acne cleansing products with antibacterial ingredients that are safe and suggested to use.
Others also recommend washing your face after eating oily foods, as it is believed to be contributing to clogged pores.
- Don’t forget to wash your hair everyday: Oil from your hair can also cause the clogging of your pores.
- Avoid touching your face: Apart from producing new blackheads, oil and dirt from your hands may also lead to other skin problems. Ensure that you always have clean hands when there is a need to touch your face.
- Exfoliate: Use exfoliating masks and scrubs to remove your face’s dead skin cells. This can help reduce blackheads and acne. Just make sure that these products do not have ingredients that may irritate your skin.
With all these knowledge and education to properly get rid of these spots, you can finally put an end to this stubborn and irritating skin problem. Are you ready to say goodbye to your blackheads?
Sandy Getzky – Sandy Getzky is the executive coordinating editor at The Global Nail Fungus Organization, a group committed to helping the 100+ million people suffering from finger and toenail fungus. Sandy is also a registered Herbalist and member of the American Herbalist’s Guild.