Phew, a long-overdue post that comes after A LOT of questions on this topic. It’s a tough one to answer as there is no miracle cure here, but I want to do an honest, educational post to help you understand blackheads more. First things first: any articles or products claiming to completely eliminate blackheads are not true. Right, with that out the way, let’s get into it.
The long and short of it is that we all get blackheads – they are essentially dirty pores, and we all have pores and are all exposed to dirt and pollution, so sadly they are unavoidable. The most common areas for blackheads are the nose area and the chin/jaw. These are areas of excess sebum, which will mean the dirt is ‘held onto’ more. Some of us are more prone to blackheads and this is down to your lifestyle, skin type and genetics. BUT we all get them in some way, shape or form.
What causes blackheads?
As mentioned, blackheads are dirty pores so there are a load of external factors (a lot of which are out of our control) that clog up pores. From make up and pollution to stress and certain products. Your skin type can also contribute to this, an oilier skin will have more sebum (oil), which leads to potentially clogged pores. Having said this, dry skins are as prone to blackheads as an oily skin. Everyone gets them, some people more so than others. In short; a comedone (where comedogenic comes from) is a clogged pore resulting in a blackhead, white head or pimple. Inside those pores are hair follicles with sebum sacs beneath the skin that house the hair root and that’s where pimples begin. When your body produces excess sebum/oil, it can combine with dead skin cells and sometimes bacteria to plug up the pore. The result is a pimple (a comedone). If the comedone is closed at the skin’s surface, it’s called a whitehead. When it’s open at the skin’s surface, and you can see the plugged follicle darkened by melanin buildup, it’s called a blackhead.
How can I remove them?
The best way to manage blackheads is extractions. The pores basically need to be cleaned out, and this should be done monthly (ideally). My recommendation is to get this done professionally, as doing it yourself can lead to damaging the actual pore (sebum sack), spreading infection and breaking the skin (leading to scarring). I, as a trained therapist, won’t even attempt my extractions myself. It’s too risky. A lot of salons prefer avoiding extractions, but shop around as this is a necessity. I personally do a monthly deep cleanse facial for this exact reason. This way my skin is properly prepped for extractions and no damage happens. I would avoid the blackhead extraction tools – these cause damage. Remember, nothing will change your pores size (this is hereditary, down to your skin-type and age), but you can tighten them and ensure they are kept clean, which will prevent the ‘stretching’ occurring.
How can I prevent them?
There are a few steps you can follow to assist your pores in staying as clean as possible. I must stress that there is no miracle here. I take every measure to ensure my blackheads are kept at bay, yet I still get them. This is normal. You can, however, greatly lessen the amount you have. This would be done through my favourite skincare step ever: exfoliation. In this instant, acids are your best bet (and my preferred method of exfoliation). If you are unsure of what I am talking about, please read this post where I explain acids and your various exfoliation options plus benefits. It is your BHA/Salicylic acids that you want to be looking for to treat blackheads. BHA’s work on the skins surface and inside the pore; it’s oil soluble, so it’s preferred for normal to oily skin prone to blackheads, bumps, clogged pores, blemishes, and enlarged pores. BHA’s also have natural skin-calming properties, so it’s gentle enough for sensitive skin prone to redness and/or rosacea. Anti-oxidants also help a lot. To explain it in layman’s terms: antioxidants fight off free radicals, and your free radicals are a big factor in blackheads. A Vitamin C serum is a form of anti-oxidants. My last recommendation is cleansing properly. Again, I harp on about this a lot but double cleansing is super important. This way your skin is properly cleaned. I also use a Foreo cleansing device which I have found has helped my blackheads too. There is a lot of talk about comedogenic (oil based and known to block pores) products and non-comedogenic (oil-free) products and the impact this has on our skin. I use a variety of both on my skin, but if you are very prone to black heads you may want to investigate non-comedogenic products for yourself. Lastly, clay (AKA kaolin) based masks are great at bringing oil to the surface of the skin and tightening pores. Remember that use of these masks can cause a break out, but generally these will just help deep cleanse the skin and are another good way at helping keep pores clean. I do a clay-based mask on my oilier areas once a week. I hope this post sheds some light on this topic and helps you understand why they occur and how you can prevent them (as best possible). As usual, here to answer any questions.