Blackheads are a scourge. I think I’ve had the same blackheads on my nose for the last 20 years; I gently squeeze them out and they come right back. When I do facials I find that most people, no matter what their age, have blackheads, especially on their noses. Luckily there are a few different methods for getting rid of blackheads but persistence and patience is needed in order to see results.
What Are Blackheads?
Simply put blackheads form when sebum (oil) and dead skin cells clog the inside of the sebaceous (oil) glands and form a cyst. Blackheads are open comedones, the word doctors use for blackheads and whiteheads, which means that the dermis has not covered the clogged pore over, and the comdone oxidizes in the air and turns black. Just because the comedone is black does not mean that it is dirty or that there is dirt there. This type of blockage starts deep inside the pore and builds up until it reaches the surface. Blackheads typically grow to between 2 to 4 millimeters and can remain in place for months and even years.
What Causes Blackheads?
There are few different contributing factors to the formation of blackheads. One is that your body is producing excessive amounts of sebum or oil and that oil does not exit the pore properly. Another contributing factor are dead skin cells that also do not exit the pore properly – rather they stick together and get stuck in your pores. This, by the way, can be a genetic condition. Certain make-up and skincare products can contain ingredients that can contribute to clogged pores. Not removing all your make-up at night certainly doesn’t help to keep your pores clear of debris.
How Can You Get Rid of Blackheads?
Two things are important to remember about blackheads when you go to treat them. One is that the oil and dead skin cells that are blocking your pore and have lead to the formation of a blackhead have accumulated deep inside your pore so you need pretty powerful ingredients that penetrate deeply into pores in order to dislodge the stuck debris. Simply cleaning your face with a scrub or rubbing away at your blackheads will not help dislodge them since the debris is stuck deep down in your pore. Secondly, as I wrote above blackheads can stick around for months or even years which means that you need patience and persistence when you want to remove them.
The two best ingredients for getting rid of blackheads are salicylic acid and retinoids. Salicylic acid is oil soluble which means it can penetrate into your clogged pore and help to dissolve the oil trapped in the pore. Retinoids help to regulate skin cell turnover and prevent the dead skin cells from sticking together and staying in your pores. Many people might find it too strong to use products simultaneously with those ingredients so I would choose one or the other ingredient. But be sure to be patient! The blackheads formed over time and it will take time to remove them. (For more information and product recommendations please see my earlier posts Ingredient Spotlight: Salicylic Acid and All About Retinol).
Should You Squeeze Your Blackheads?
It is extremely tempting to squeeze your blackheads, but if done improperly you can actually cause quite a bit of damage to your skin. Ideally if you want to get rid of blackheads go get a facial. During a facial the esthetician properly prepares your skin for extractions and then knows how much to squeeze and for how long. For instance, don’t go squeezing your skin for more than 10 minutes since that will just end up causing trauma to the skin in the end. If you insist of doing your own extractions at home I suggest doing them immediately after getting out of the shower and after having washed your face. Make sure your hands are cleans and wrap your fingers in clean tissues. Squeeze gently and don’t keep poking at your face for more than 10 minutes. If you can’t dislodge the contents of a clogged pore easily leave it alone! Pushing and pushing will just damage your skin. Finish your extractions by wiping your face with toner or witch hazel oil.
Sources and Further Reading
Simple Skin Beauty by Ellen Marmur, MD – pages 204-205
Breaking Out by Lydia Preston – pages 21-25
For further instructions on how to do at home extractions see Kate Somerville’s book Complexion Perfection! – pages 138-140
Getting Rid of Blackheads – Paula Begoun
5 Blackhead Products to Avoid—Learn What Really Works! – Paula Begoun