“How Do I Get Rid Of My Disgusting Blackheads?”
“I’ve had blackheads on my nose for as long as I can remember! Nothing I do seems to totally get rid of them. I’ve tried cleansers, masks, exfoliating, extractions, retinol, you name it! Is there something I’m missing?” —Kirsten H.
It doesn’t sound like there’s anything you’re missing. I will say, though, that everyone’s skin is different—some people are more prone to inflammatory acne while some just get blackheads and whiteheads. If you understand what’s causing your blackheads, that can be the key to treating them.
What causes blackheads?
A quick primer: Blackheads and whiteheads are the building blocks for acne. They occur when dead skin, debris, and sebum (a.k.a. oil) get trapped in your pores. The difference between blackheads and whiteheads is that blackheads are open to the air which makes them turn black and whiteheads generally have a thin cover over them and are not exposed to the air, so they remain white. These clogged pores attract acne-causing bacteria, and that’s when you’ll get those papules, pustules, nodules and cysts—what we all know as pimples!
So, if you struggle with blackheads and whiteheads, you’re going to want to double-down on keeping your pores unclogged. Besides cleansing two times a day, you should make sure all of your cosmetics and skin-care products are non-comedogenic (meaning they are formulated NOT to clog the pores) and be sure to use a proper exfoliator.
What are the best ingredients for treating blackheads?
It sounds like you’ve tried a variety of products, but I want to talk about what you’re using to exfoliate. My recommendation would be using products with chemical exfoliation (what we call keratolytic) properties that will really help break down whatever is clogging your pores and exfoliate the skin. My two favorite ingredients for exfoliation are salicylic acid and retinol. They’re the ones I recommend most often to my patients for preventing blackheads.
I know you said you’ve used retinol before and didn’t feel like it worked for you. But be patient. There’s no exact or specific adjustment period for retinol—everyone’s skin is different. For some people it’s a couple of days, for others it’s a couple of weeks or even a month to see results. But those results are clinically proven by a lot of research, so I’d say it’s worth the wait.
What other things might be affecting my skin?
I will say that sometimes using too many products too often or too vigorously can sometimes promote blackheads and whiteheads. Scrubbing your face too much will make your acne more red and irritated, so if you have a lot of active breakouts, it’s best to stay away from harsh scrubs with beads or granules in them. Not only will they cause more redness and irritation, but rubbing your skin really hard and forcefully can actually cause more skin to get trapped within our pores and can actually make acne worse.
Also, be sure if you are adding or removing products from your routine that you do so one product at a time. That way, you can really find what is actually working for you. Pause when you’re washing and treating your face in the morning and evening. If your products are burning or stinging or causing more irritation, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re working… it could mean you’re having an adverse reaction. If you’re unsure about a product, doing a spot test is really helpful—apply the product in a small area on your neck or the side of your face to see how your skin reacts!
Should I pick them myself?
You can get blackhead extractions from your dermatologist (something I do for many of my patients!). And yes, you can do this at home, although I generally don’t recommend this. Picking at and manipulating your skin can cause inflammation, irritation, and even infections. So fight the urge and leave it to the pros!
There is no instant fix for blackheads and whiteheads. Some people are luckier when it comes to acne, but generally being more or less prone to acne comes down to genetics and hormones. I know acne and skin issues can have a real impact on one’s self-esteem, so it’s our job as dermatologists to help you treat this condition to the best of our ability and make sure we can get you comfortable in your own skin. With the right knowledge of why you’re getting those blackheads, you can hopefully save some time/money and find some products that will improve your skin!
Dr. Pimple Popper sets out to promote the practice of dermatology and to educate the public on proper skincare and dermatological procedures. Sheprovides information and solutions to common (and uncommon!) skin concerns, such as acne, cysts, rosacea, and more. For more skincare advice, visit Dr. Pimple Popper’s , , or .
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