Today’s article is all about treating blackheads on face. I’m going to be giving you all of my tips and tricks for getting rid of blackheads.
Blackheads can happen on the forehead, the nose, the chin, really anywhere on the face. Blackheads are a little collection of built-up, dirt, oil and dead skin cells in the pore and that then becomes exposed to air, oxidizes and turns black.
In dermatology we refer to these as open comedones. This is in contrast to closed comedones.
Blackheads are, like whiteheads or closed comedones, part of acne, but people can have blackheads without necessarily having acne. People who tend to have blackheads or people who have really oily skin, people with combination skin, can also have blackheads.
Table of Contents
How to Treat Blackheads on Face
Washing Your Face
My number one tip to consider, although it’s going to vary a little bit, individual to individual, is to consider washing your face twice a day.
This is in contrast to what I do in my skincare routine. I only wash my face in the evening, but consider washing your face twice a day.
Wash your face in the evening to remove dirt, pollutants, your makeup. Wash your face in the morning as well to remove any oil that has built up on the surface of the skin throughout the night.
People with oily skin produce more sebum or oil and they do so on regular basis, so when they wake up in the morning, they find their face is greasy and oily. They let that sit on the skin. It definitely can contribute to worsening of blackheads.
So consider washing your face twice a day, but it’s really gonna depend on you and your skin type. Some people with blackheads and combination skin may find that washing their face with a cleanser twice a day results in exacerbation of those patches of dry skin. If that’s you, then you need to figure it out, it’s gonna be a very individualized.
My second tip is if you workout during the daytime, consider washing your face again after you workout. This is not something I do. I work out at night and as soon as I’m done with my workout, I hop in the shower and wash my face.
When you workout, you have oil that sits on the skin and mixes with a sweat from your workout and that mixture of oil and sweat can be very irritating. If you workout in makeup or sunscreen, that mixture of oil, sweat, makeup and sunscreen can really cause some irritation and also lead to blackheads.
With all this face washing, be sure to use a moisturizer. You don’t want to dry out your skin. This doesn’t really help the issue with blackheads and can really aggravate your skin. If you have a tendency towards acne, it can make you have acne.
So make sure to use a moisturizer after you cleanse the skin. Choose one that is labeled oil-free because oil-free formulations of moisturizers tend to be liked better by people with oily skin. They don’t feel as heavy or as greasy.
Many people asked me about the blackhead strips. Are those good, are they helpful? They’re not!
Really all they do is they strip off the very superficial part of the blackhead and they don’t really address the underlying issue. Transiently it may look a little better, however the action of removing that strip is very irritating to the rest of your skin. More often than not, they cause more issues than benefit.
Next question that I get a fair amount is should we be doing extractions. Extractions involve using a comedone extractor to extrude the contents of the pore.
I say skip the extractions. They tend to lead to more harm than good. Doing extractions is something that really only a dermatologist should do because certain lesions on the skin are not amenable to extractions and can scar if extraction is attempted.
I’ve seen many cases of people who get extractions done in a salon and come in with worsen acne, that ultimately scars as a result of the extraction.
I say stay away from extractions and do not do them at home. You can really set yourself up for a lot of scarring and problems down the road. In dermatology we use it, but only on select skin lesions of acne and in those cases it can definitely be helpful.
My next tip is to not skip a broad spectrum sunscreen. I think a lot of people are scared that wearing their sunscreen will clog their pores and worse their blackheads. But it’s really an important part of taking care of your skin and an important part in your journey to improvement of your blackheads,
The reason for this is that ultraviolet radiation damages the skin and not only sets it up for skin cancer and aging but it damages the supportive framework and collagen structure. When that happens, the surrounding skin becomes a little bit more saggy and those pores become more prominent and the blackheads become more noticeable.
There’s actually specific types of blackheads solely related to sun exposure. It really is a definite contributing factor to the appearance of blackheads. So protect your skin from those damaging UV rays.
Just like with moisturizers, choose a sunscreen that is labeled oil-free. These tend to go over quite well with people with oily skin that is predisposed to blackheads. My favorite oil-free sunscreen is EltaMD UV clear. It also has niacinamide in it, which can help reduce oiliness to a certain extent.
As far as skin care products, the next tip is to consider using an exfoliating product two to three nights a week. By exfoliating product I mean a product that has a chemical exfoliant in it. You want to avoid over exfoliating your face. That really doesn’t help the blackhead situation, but doing it two or three nights a week can definitely help in clearing out some of that build-up and improving the appearance of blackheads.
As far as what products to choose, you can choose either a leave on product or a product that has an exfoliating ingredient in a wash form.
If you have oily skin that is not sensitive, consider using a leave on product. But if you have really sensitive skin, sometimes leave on products can be too irritating for you, because the exfoliant do cause a certain degree of irritation.
People with super oily, non sensitive skin, sometimes can tolerate that just fine, but if you have more sensitive oily skin, consider using an exfoliating ingredient in a wash vehicle. Either a wash vehicle or a product that is more like a mask that you put on, leave on for a little while and then wash off.
What is a good ingredient for exfoliating? In my opinion the best ingredient for blackheads as far as an exfoliant and for truly targeting blackheads is going to be a salicylic acid.
This concentrates on those oily surfaces, the pores and it can really help to clear out that buildup and improve the appearance of blackheads.
One of my favorite salicylic acid based products is Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant. It doesn’t have any drawing alcohols in it. So if you have a tendency towards more combination skin, this is a great one to consider because it’s not going to exacerbate any background dryness that you might also have.
If you have more sensitive skin, there are some great salicylic acid washes, such as Zapzyt and Inkey salicylic acid. Just lather to the affected area where you have the blackheads, leave that lather on the skin for a few minutes and then rinse it off. Just doing those two to three nights a week can really help.
The other type of acid that you might consider is an alpha hydroxy acid. But personally I don’t really find that to be helpful.
Alpha hydroxy acids include glycolic acid, lactic acid, to name a few. They largely work to exfoliate the skin on the very top layer. They don’t really concentrate in the oily surfaces because they are water soluble so they’re not as great in my opinion for blackheads as salicylic acid.
What about microdermabrasion? It is a procedure that you can have done in a dermatologist’s office. Of all the procedures that we do, I find that one to be the most underwhelming as far as outcomes. Yes it can improve the appearance of blackheads, but it’s mostly very transient and cost a lot of money.
You can buy devices to do microdermabrasion at home but I also say skip that. You can really set yourself up for a lot of irritation and problems. It’s really not going to control the blackhead issue or give you sustained outcomes.
What about masks for blackheads?
Actually some masks can help to improve the appearance of blackheads and they can help in reducing the blackhead formation to a certain extent.
Like the exfoliating products, I would only use masks for blackheads two, maybe three, nights a week. I would not use them at the same time that you use the exfoliating acid. They can be very drying and irritating.
The best mask for blackheads are going to be those that are basically clay masks that have the active ingredient or combination of ingredients. That include kaolin or bentonite.
These clays help to wick up some of that oil and bind some of the dirt and pollutants. They do have a gentle cleansing property and they draw some of that oil out of the pore, they help you draw some of that sebum oil up out of the pore and they can actually give you some good control, albeit modest, of the blackhead situation.
A newer clay mask that I actually really like a lot and I recommend you consider trying if you’re into these clay masks is by Cetaphil dermacontrol mask. Another one is Proactiv Amazonian clay mask. It’s actually pretty good.
Whatever you do, do not squeeze your blackheads. That will not help your cause. It only causes the inflammation and irritation to come into the skin and it can cause scarring. A lot of people develop scarring as a result of picking and squeezing and popping their skin.
However, it can be a very strong compulsion to pick up these and squeeze. If you find that you’ve done that, what should you do is applying a cool ice pack to the skin for a while. This will reduce inflammation in the skin and help buffer against some of that insult. But do not squeeze your face. It can cause a lot of problems, including scarring.
If you have blackheads, don’t punish yourself by using a self-tanner on the face. That’s only going to make them more noticeable. The active ingredient is called dihydroxyacetone and the same way that it tans the surface of your skin, it will robustly bind to that mixture of oil, dirt, sebum and sticky skin cells down the pore and tan that. It’ll make the blackhead more noticeable.
Take a look at the ingredients in your makeup. Some makeup ingredients can break you out. Some of the most common ingredients in makeup that can cause acne exacerbation and also worsen the appearance of blackheads include dyes, such as red dye or yellow dye.
The other ingredient is coconut oil. That definitely can be a problem for people with acne and can worsen the appearance of blackheads. Long-wear foundations can also exacerbate acne and worsen the appearance of pores.
If you are makeup wearer, I recommend considering switching your makeup over to mineral makeup like bare Minerals. Physicians Formula makes a variety of mineral makeup as well.
My favorite is Dermablend. They have some mineral products. These are great choices if you have blackheads because they often will contain active ingredients that help in wicking up sebum and oil much like the clay masks. They often have a little bit of cornstarch or some other similar ingredient that can help draw some of that excess oil out of the pores and not worsen the blackhead situation, like some non mineral cosmetics can.
My last tip is to consider using a retinoid, whether it be prescription, if your dermatologist has determined that is right for you, or over-the-counter Adapalene 0.1% gel.
Retinoids can help to normalize some of the skin cell biology, in the cell lining the pore and help improve that rate of plugging up of the pore that happens in people who have a tendency towards blackheads.
Rebecca is a licensed aesthetician and certified laser technician with almost 15 years experience in the dermatology. Her life-long passion is making people look good and happy.