Blackheads are one of the most common forms of acne. Anyone can get them, but those with oily skin are more prone to getting blackheads. Blackheads form when pores get clogged with dead skin cells and excess oil (sebum) from the sebaceous glands in the skin. Blackheads are not the same whiteheads. Whiteheads (closed comedones) are closed pores clogged with oil, bacteria, and dead skin cells whereas blackheads (open comedones) have open surfaces and appear dark in color. Pinching or trying to push the blackhead out can be tempting but should be avoided because it may result in infection, scarring, and hyperpigmentation.
There are several ways to get rid of blackheads, prevent future blackheads from occurring, and improve the overall health of the skin. They include:
1. Cleansing with salicylic acid
Salicylic acid is an effective ingredient to treat blackheads and whiteheads, as well as improve skin texture. It is an exfoliating agent. It breaks down the materials that clog the pores, such as dead skin cells and excess sebum. There are several over the counter products that contain salicylic acid, which are safe to use every day. Cleansing the face twice a day with a cleanser that contains salicylic acid can improve the skin tone. Some people may be sensitive to salicylic acid; hence, they can use it once every few days. In case of allergic reactions, it should be discontinued.
2. Daily exfoliation and cleansing with AHAs and BHAs
Regular exfoliation with alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs) can help to remove excess sebum and dead skin cells and unclog pores. These gently remove existing blackheads and whiteheads. Regular exfoliations can prevent a recurrence, reduce fine lines, pigmentation, and improve skin tone. AHAs and BHAs also cleanse the skin of dirt and makeup. Glycolic acid is the most popular AHA, and salicylic acid the most popular BHA.
There are several over the counter products that contain either or both glycolic acid and salicylic acid, which are safe to use every day. Cleansing the face twice a day with a cleanser that contains these acids can improve the skin. There are also toners, serums, and masks that contain either one or both salicylic and glycolic acid. Some people may be sensitive to AHAs and BHAs, hence they can use it once every few days or start with a low percentage of the acid (1-2%) and gradually increase the strength. In case of allergic reactions, it should be discontinued.
3. Using a skin brush
Using a skin brush is a type of mechanical exfoliation. They can help remove excess dead skin cells and improve skin texture. Skin brushes typically have fine, soft bristles. They are electronic and handheld variants of these brushes; also, they may be made of silicone with silicone bristles. Skin brushes may be used once or twice a week with a gentle cleanser or a cleanser containing AHAs and BHAs. Over exfoliation can be abrasive to the skin and cause skin damage. Those with sensitive skin should avoid skin brushes.
4. Try topical retinoids
Retinoids are highly effective in stubborn cases of acne. They also effectively reduce wrinkles and pigmentation. Retinoids should be used with caution. People usually experience visible peeling, dryness, burning, redness, and increased sensitivity to the sun (hence should be applied only at night) till the skin gets accustomed to retinoids, which may take 4-6 weeks. One may start with applying low strength over the counter retinoids, two to three times a week, gradually increasing the strength and frequency of usage. Higher strengths of retinoids require a doctor’s prescription. Those with severe acne may be prescribed oral retinoids (isotretinoin).
5. Using a face mask
Clay and charcoal masks that contain sulfur can help to remove excess sebum, unclogs pores and detoxifies the skin. Face masks may be used one to two times a week.
6. Steaming of the face
Steaming the face one to two times a week can help soften the clogged debris and sebum in the pores, making extraction of blackheads easier and less damaging to the skin. Steaming prior to using exfoliants, such as face brushes, and a face mask can help get rid of blackheads and whiteheads better.
7. Visiting a dermatologist
If there is no improvement despite using over the counter products for 4-6 weeks or negative reactions to over the counter products, one may consider visiting a dermatologist for specialized treatments. A dermatologist may suggest chemical peels, prescription medications, microdermabrasion, medical facials, and other skin treatments.