How to get rid of blackheads
Navin Khosla has been a registered Pharmacist since 1995. He obtained his B.Pharm Degree in Pharmacy from the London School of Pharmacy, University of London in 1994, and has built a wealth of experience by working across the community pharmacy retail sector.
They’re annoying and they really don’t look great. They can stop you looking your best and can even lead to some more serious forms of acne if they become infected. Yes, we’re talking about blackheads.
So what can you do about them? A fair bit actually. Here we’ll tell you all you need to know about blackheads. We’ll run through what they are, how to get rid of blackheads and how to prevent them from forming in the first place.
What are blackheads?
Blackheads look like small round black spots on your skin. Sometimes they lie flat and sometimes they’re raised. They’re usually small – around the size of the head of a pin – but can become larger. Some people can get impressively big blackheads. Not always what you want though hey?
They usually form on your face, particularly on and around your nose. But they can form in other places too including your ears, chin, neck, chest, back, shoulders and arms.
What causes blackheads?
First things first. If you want to learn how to get rid of blackheads you need to know why you get them. So why do we get blackheads?
You get them when the follicles in your skin become clogged and blocked. Each follicle produces one hair, but they also contain a gland that produces an oil which is called sebum. Sebum keeps your skin healthy but it can block your follicles, particularly if they produce too much. Other substances including dead skin cells, bacteria and skin care products can also block your follicles alongside it.
Blocked follicles either form whiteheads or blackheads. You get whiteheads when a blocked follicle closes over and you get blackheads when the follicle stays open, as the oil and other gunk inside reacts with air which causes it to turn black. Outbreaks of blackheads are actually a mild form of acne. They can lead to more severe acne if the spots become infected by bacteria. They can grow into more serious spots and cause inflammation.
What can make blackheads more likely?
Are you asking yourself, “why do I have so many blackheads?”. Well, your risk of developing blackheads increases if:
- Areas of your skin produce too much oil (commonly on and across your nose).
- You have a build-up of certain types of bacteria on your skin that can block follicles like Propionibacterium acnes that often leads to more serious acne.
- Dead skin cells aren’t shed properly from your skin which increases the chance that they’ll block your follicles.
- You’re experiencing hormonal changes such as those associated with going through a testosterone treatment. Hormonal changes often lead to your skin producing more sebum.
- You take certain medications – particularly ones that contain corticosteroids, testosterone or lithium.
- You eat a diet high in dairy products, sugar, refined carbohydrates or junk food. These have all been associated with increases in sebum production, blackheads and acne.
How to get rid of blackheads
You can buy a range of blackhead treatments suitable for milder outbreaks of blackheads over the counter in pharmacies and supermarkets. More stubborn outbreaks may require prescription and professional treatments. You should consider:
- An over-the-counter product that contains salicylic acid or azelaic acid: There’s a huge variety of blackhead and spot products out there. But ones that contain salicylic acid or azelaic acid – two products that are excellent at removing dead skin and sebum – are usually amongst the most effective.
- An over-the-counter retinoid skin treatment: Retinoids are a group of substances derived from vitamin A. They can increase the rate at which old skin cells are replaced by new ones. This clears your skin and removes oil and dead cells. You can buy milder retinoid skin products over the counter. They’re often sold as creams, lotions and serums.
- Try a prescription retinoid such as treclin gel: You can buy stronger retinoid products with a prescription. These can be effective for more resistant outbreaks of blackheads. A popular and proven treatment is treclin which combines a retinoid (tretinoin) with an antibiotic.
- See a dermatologist: Dermatologists are professionals who specialise in skin care. They can remove blackheads using a special blackhead tool that looks like a dentist’s pick (don’t worry it’s not painful). They can suggest other treatments too like chemical peels or laser therapy.
- Don’t pop or pick at your blackheads: Should you pop your blackheads? This is a big no‐no! It can be very tempting to pop your blackheads but you really shouldn’t. Squeezing blackheads can cause more harm than good and can make your spots worse. Read more about popping spots.
How to prevent blackheads
The best treatment for blackheads is to stop them forming in the first place. The good news is you don’t need to spend money on expensive treatments or products. You can do it by adding the following to your daily routine:
- Clean your face regularly: Make cleaning your face something you do every day. Wash with warm water (not hot) and a mild cleanser and it’ll remove the dead skin cells and oil that can cause blackheads. Read more about skin care for acne.
- Try exfoliating: Exfoliating skin products can help remove dead skin cells and oil in problem areas. Use them with caution. Experiment slowly at first because they can also irritate your skin and could make it worse.
- Avoid oily skin products: Can moisturiser cause blackheads? Skin products with a high oil content can block your pores. This includes some moisturisers and sunscreens. Try to find versions with less oil to minimise your chances of blocked follicles.
- Fix your diet: The link between diet and spots has a long and contentious history, but more recent science has found associations between some foods and spots. You should limit your sugar intake as well as junk food and refined carbohydrates (think cakes, pastries, white bread, white pasta and rice). This can all help to reduce outbreaks of spots. You’ll enjoy a whole host of other health benefits from eating more healthily too.
How to remove deep blackheads
You can treat blackheads with a range of products, particularly skin care products that contain salicylic acid, azelaic acid or retinoids. If these don’t get rid of your blackheads don’t try to manually remove them yourself by picking or squeezing them. See a dermatologist and they can remove deep blackheads for you safely.
Do blackhead vacuums work?
Blackhead vacuums do work for some people and work particularly well for milder outbreaks of blackheads. However, using blackhead vacuums with too much force can damage your skin and burst blood vessels. Make sure you learn how to use a blackhead remover first. Try a skin product that contains a retinoid for more stubborn blackheads.
Does the sun get rid of blackheads?
Sunlight can dry out your skin which can initially make it look as if your blackheads are improving. But your skin quickly fights back and increases the amount of oil produced. This is only going to make your blackheads worse. Rather than putting your hopes on sunlight, opt for an over-the-counter or prescription acne treatment or see a dermatologist.
Now is the time to make blackheads a thing of the past.