The deep-dive on blackheads you never knew you needed

August 10, 2021

Blackheads are a little like gray hairs: Get rid of one and six show up to its funeral. Rather than scraping, squeezing or stripping your skin free of blackheads, it’s best to address what’s triggering them for clearer pores in the long run. We’re diving deep into pores to discover how to treat and prevent blackheads, what is and isn’t a blackhead, plus the hero ingredients that’ll help save your skin from them.  

First of all, what are blackheads? 

Blackheads are a mix of natural oils and dead skin cells in your pores most commonly noticed on the nose, forehead and chin. The exposure to air is what causes them to oxidize and turn black. Think of an apple that turns brown when it’s cut—that’s similar to the oxidation of this gunk in your pores. (Fun, right?) The dilated opening of your hair follicles, which is caused by the buildup of sebum (oil) in your pores, leads to an acne blemish and inflammation. 

Can you prevent blackheads? 

You may not like hearing this, but there isn’t really a way to prevent blackhead formation. The reason they keep coming back could be genetic or environmental. However, there are ways to reduce the amount of blackheads that form on the skin. Read on… 

Should you pop and squeeze your blackheads?  

Please don’t! That goes for pimples and other blemishes, too. We know how tempting it can be to squeeze that gunk out of your skin, but doing so can cause post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation and scarring—and at the end of the day, isn’t it better to deal with the offensive mark for a couple days rather than for the rest of your life? Yeah, we thought so.  

How do you treat blackheads? 

Some dermatologists believe the best treatment to remove blackheads is salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid that helps remove excess oil and exfoliate the dead skin cells from the skin’s surface. Others recommend retinoids or retinol products because they help with how fast skin cells renew (or shed) from the surface. You might find reports that say salicylic acid and retinoids should absolutely not be used together. The truth: Salicylic acid and retinoids can be used together—but there’s a caveat: They’re better together when part of a formula rigorously tested for efficacy and stability. To effectively use retinol (and rather than playing mixologist or layering which could lead to irritation), look for a clinically proven formula that expertly blends salicylic acid and a gentle retinoid into a high-performance, clogged pore-clearing solution. 

Step 1: Cleanse

While blackheads aren’t a sign of dirty skin, cleansing is key to blackhead removal and skin health. Try a cleanser formulated with salicylic acid to help dissolve excess oil, purify pores and clear and prevent future breakouts.

Step 2: Exfoliate

Exfoliation is a key step in your skincare routine when you are looking for how to prevent blackheads. An exfoliator that’s a blend of glycolic acid (an AHA) and salicylic acid (a BHA) is a great one-two punch against blackheads, as AHAs sweep away pore-clogging debris and BHAs help purge debris from your pores.

Step 3: Mask

To help draw oils and toxins out of the skin, consider adding a clay mask to your weekly skincare regimen that works for you. This type of face mask also helps to unclog pores and reduce the number of existing blackheads you’ll notice on your skin, and it’s ideal especially for oily skin. You may also find a clay mask that contains sulfur, which helps to break down the dead skin cells that lead to blackhead formation. 

Step 4: Moisturize

Moisturizing daily is a mustDrying out your skin in an effort to clear it is a direct path to overproduction of oil that leads to more blackheads and breakouts. Moisturizing helps bring balance back to the skin, which in turn helps to cut down on breakouts. Look for a non-comedogenic gel moisturizer containing hyaluronic acid for all the hydration skin needs without the greasy after-feel.

About the Author

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Jacki Marzano is SoCal-based storyteller and head copywriter at Murad Skincare. She's shaped the voice of some of the most recognized beauty brands in the business, has a penchant for sharing homemade cookies, and believes SPF is the secret to getting carded well into your 40s.