Don’t zoom in. As clear as your skin may look from afar, it’s those extreme closeups that will have you wincing. That’s all thanks to the blackheads that sprout proudly from each nose pore, and perhaps the chin, cheeks, back, chest, and neck, no less.
Blackheads are acne. They’re a type of comedone, which is a pore that becomes clogged with oil, bacteria, and dead skin cells. And, unlike the yin to their yang (the whiteheads, that is), blackheads breach the surface of the skin, where they then oxidize and turn—you guessed it—black.
The reason they are easier to remove than whiteheads is because of this surfacing: When you squeeze a blackhead, a little tendril of oil sprouts from the pore, and is easy to wipe away. (You can see the expanded, open pore in its wake.) Whereas a whitehead requires breaking through the skin and creating a wound in order to release the buildup.
That doesn’t make blackheads any more likable, though. They’re still annoying to deal with. But the good news is, they’re easy to banish and keep at bay. Read on to learn how.
How to physically remove blackheads
Try to avoid squeezing the skin between your too-large fingers. There are 3 recommended ways for removing blackheads physically and efficiently (before we later discuss the products that help dissolve the gunk, and free up the pores).
These bond to the blackhead and, in one fell peel, extract all of the comedones from the skin. It’s a tried-and-true way to tackle the task. (Try Bioré’s.)
These itty-bitty angled tweezers can carefully squeeze the skin surrounding the blackhead, while also easily picking away the debris. (Try Tweezerman’s.)
It’s exactly what it sounds like. They suction to your skin and extract the gunk. Use conservatively, lest you give your nose a big ol’ hickey. (Try BPZZ’s.)
And, since you’ll be dealing with such a small surface area, it helps to have a magnifying mirror as you extract the blackheads. (Try Venigo’s, with its LED perimeter.)
The best products to get rid of blackheads
If you currently or frequently have blackheads, and want to get rid of them without physical force, then the most important ingredient you need to note is salicylic acid. Salicylic acid can seep into the pores to unclog them, breaking down oils, skin cells, grime, etc.
There are more heavy-duty solutions, like a clothing-staining benzoyl peroxide product (including some doctor-prescribed creams), but salicylic acid really makes things simple.
Have a treatment-level product ready for whenever your skin breaks out. (Like Peace Out’s salicylic acid treatment serum.) As you’ll see below, salicylic acid is also an important ingredient for keeping blackheads from forming, but you won’t necessarily need a treatment once your skin is clear. That’s when you can switch to a salicylic cleanser, for example.
How to prevent blackheads
Blackhead prevention centers around exfoliation and deep cleansing.
Exfoliation: From physical scrubs to chemical exfoliants (like alpha hydroxy acids, aka AHAs, and beta hydroxy acids, aka BHAs, which includes salicylic acid), exfoliation removes dead surface cells from the skin, either physically or by dissolving them. This prevents them from becoming trapped in the pores.
For chemical options, look for AHA and BHA serums or cleansers, and deploy them 2-3 times a week to keep your skin looking bright, clear, and smooth. (We like The INKEY List’s lactic acid serum, and Dr. Dennis Gross’s daily peel pads.) Or, for a physical buffer, get a cleansing brush like PMD’s.
Deep Cleansing: You also want to use products that extract impurities from deep within the pores. That means weekly detoxifying masks that utilize charcoal or clay (such as Youth to the People’s clay mask, which also uses salicylic acid), or even a daily salicylic acid-based facial cleanser. (Like CeraVe’s).
Moving forward, try to avoid oil-based skincare products, and be sure to wash your face first thing in the morning and again before bed in the evening—as well as after any intense sweating or oil buildup.
Since using a salicylic acid cleanser as much as 3 times a day can be taxing on skin, you could also deploy a gentle clay cleanser (like Cardon’s) which deep cleans and nourishes, or pocket a face wipe so that you can refresh on the go (we love Ursa Major’s individually wrapped, plastic-neutral bamboo wipes, which simultaneously tone, calm, and hydrate skin).
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Photo via Real Simple