Of all the varieties of acne breakouts, blackheads are one of the most benign and are therefore relatively easy to treat, which is fortunate given their prevalence. About 50 million people in the United States suffer from acne on their skin and for some, blackheads may be the only type of acne they suffer from. Either way, treating blackheads appropriately and effectively can help prevent more severe acne from occurring later.

Essentially, blackheads are the result of a clogged pore with dead skin cells and a natural oily protective substance known as sebum. As the pore remains open, the melanin in the skin oxidizes and gives the lesion its distinctive black, brown, or gray color on the surface of the skin.

This is often confused with the trapped dirt you see when skin cleanliness is not directly linked to the development of blackheads. You will see this type of acne most often on your face, neck, back, chest, arms, and shoulders because you have more hair follicles in these areas which may become clogged but remain open.

Causes

Blackheads are the direct result of excess sebum and oil produced by the skin. Sadly, everyone’s skin generates sebum, but the amount generated differs from individual to individual. Additionally, certain factors can trigger an increase in sebum production, which can lead to the development of stubborn blackheads if left untreated.

First, aging and associated hormonal changes are a big factor in determining your skin’s oil production. Like most other types of acne, blackheads are more common during puberty, when your hormone levels are constantly changing. Similarly, higher levels of androgen, a male sex hormone, can also lead to increased sebum production as well as higher skin cell turnover.

Both men and women experience higher levels of androgens during their teenage years, but after puberty, any hormonal changes are most associated with menstruation, pregnancy, and the use of birth control pills in women. Overproduction of skin cells can also contribute to the development of blackheads if dead skin cells are not properly shed and linger on the skin, clogging pores and resulting in acne-prone skin. Other popular aspects that impact the development of blackheads include:

  • Block or cover pores with cosmetics and clothes
  • Profuse sweating
  • Shaving or related events that open your hair follicles
  • High humidity environments
  • Certain health conditions, such as stress, anxiety, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Drugs causing rapid skin cell turnover
  • Use of certain steroid medications, such as corticosteroids

All this is to say that contrary to popular belief, blackheads are not the result of poor hygiene, and excessive rubbing or squeezing to remove blackheads can make the problem worse.

Treatment

When it comes to treating your blackheads, certain activities can make your blackhead and acne problem worse or even trigger a more serious type of acne. You should therefore be careful when trying to solve the problem on your own and experiment with which solution your skin type responds to best. In some cases, especially those where blackheads are present as part of a larger acne breakout, you may need to seek the help of a professional esthetician or dermatologist.

Seeking Professional Help

If your acne is serious enough, you might require asking for the assistance of a professional dermatologist or esthetician to appropriately cure your skin. These professionals can offer treatments such as facials and extractions or prescribe stronger medications to treat your acne-prone skin. Prescription products like goat milk soap typically use the same ingredients available in-home treatments but use a stronger concentration.

Products such as tretinoin, tazarotene, and adapalene contain vitamin A and may be prescribed to help keep pores clear and promote increased skin cell turnover. Ironically, as we have already discussed, this can increase the likelihood of developing blackheads. Unfortunately, many people wait to seek these treatments and by then their acne has worsened into an infected or more serious form, such as cystic acne.

It can be tempting to use strips and other peel-off masks to try and get rid of blackheads from your pores. But our very own Michelle Freese, Kate Somerville Skin Expert for 8 years, advises against: “I don’t like strips and charcoal masks because they can strip the protective layer of the skin, which ends up causing more damage.

Instead, I would recommend having facials or gentle extractions done by a beautician. Seeking professional acne treatment can also be an extremely effective part of a regular skincare routine. Michelle suggests that people with blackheads and clogged pores have professional extractions every four to six weeks if possible. Simply put, an extraction is a process that cleans out your clogged or compacted pores using a combination of manual and mechanical means.

Home Products

Many people can treat their blackheads at home with over-the-counter treatments. Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are all useful ingredients for treating non-inflammatory kinds of acne. These skin care products are generally considered topical treatments applied directly to the skin in treatment or for washing the face.

A daily cleanser and gentle exfoliator can go a long way in improving the overall appearance. When choosing these products, look for something fragrance-free and avoid anything that might strip too much oil from your face, leaving your skin too dry. This is a fine line that you will need to balance because while drying the skin and removing excess oil is important, drying it too much can stimulate your glands to produce oil.

Other considerations

If you have additional skin conditions, such as eczema or rosacea, treating your blackheads may be a little more difficult than usual. These underlying conditions should be treated first as this treatment can simultaneously have a positive effect on your blackheads. Additionally, increased stress levels can trigger sebum production. Getting enough rest and exercising regularly can help reduce stress and avoid related skin problems. Finally, early research shows that eating a balanced, healthy diet can help improve the appearance of your skin.

What you should not do

When you start to notice blackheads developing, you may want to get rid of them and get on with your day. But it can make your acne worse or infect your pores. Here are some things you shouldn’t do when treating your blackheads:

Pressing

Trying to achieve an origin on yourself at home is a way to fail. Pressing or squeezing blackheads can irritate your skin and make the problem worse.

Fuming

Some believe that steaming your face will “open the pores” and allow you to extract blackheads or clean deeper under the skin. However, as we have already discussed, humid environments can make blackheads worse, and some have therefore found that steam exacerbates their symptoms.

Scrub or strip

Over-scrubbing your face removes the natural sebum from the surface, leaving your skin parched. Your sebaceous glands will then increase sebum production to compensate for the lack of sebum present on the skin, leading to more blockages and an increased risk of developing inflammatory acne.

Prevention tips

Once you have your acne and blackheads in control, there are a lot of things you can do to assist to avoid acne and breakouts in the future.

Clean your phone

Quite simply, regularly cleaning the surface of your phone can help reduce acne. If you think about it, your phone is exposed to lots of bacteria and dirt throughout the day – it gets touched by your hands, the inside of your bag, your pockets, and maybe even other people! Then place it right next to your face and on your cheek, allowing all that dirt and bacteria to transfer to your skin. Regularly cleaning the surface of your phone reduces the effects of this scenario.

Don’t touch your face

Likewise, your hands are exposed to a lot of dirt and bacteria that not only live on the surface of your hand but also under your fingernails. Excessively touching your face with unwashed hands exposes your skin to many substances that can clog pores and cause infections, increasing the likelihood of you developing blackheads and more severe acne.

Clean your pillows

Many people neglect their pillows and pillowcases. When you sleep on your pillows, dirt, and oil from your hair and face are transferred to your pillowcase where they stay until you wash them off. You should change or wash your pillowcases at least once a week to prevent acne breakouts. You can take it a step further and wash your pillows every few months to get rid of the dust and dirt that sits deep inside.

Watch your makeup

Non-comedogenic products, such as cosmetics and moisturizers, are formulated to help reduce any potential blockages in your pores. So, if you have acne of any type, it is best to find out goat milk products for your daily use.

Although blackheads can be frustrating, the good news is that they are one of the easiest types of acne to treat if you take care to treat them correctly. The key to getting rid of blackheads from your skin is to be patient and resist the temptation to remove them yourself. Instead, work with a professional esthetician to extract excess oil from your pores and come up with a plan to prevent future breakouts. With the right instructions and the right products, you’ll have clear, healthy skin in no time!

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