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Skincare Basics: What are Blackheads?

Skincare Basics: What are Blackheads?

If you've noticed tiny little black dots around your nose, you may be wondering, "What are blackheads?" Blackheads are small bumps that appear on your skin due to clogged hair follicles. They are a mild form of non-inflammatory acne. So yes, technically blackheads are acne. And non-inflammatory means they’re common and most often treatable with over the counter remedies.

What They Look Like

Blackheads are clogged pores. But what you're actually seeing isn’t a dark mix of dirt and dead skin cells. You’re seeing the exposed and oxidized sebum (the skin’s natural oil), which turns black. The hair follicle (aka the pore) is open. Whereas whiteheads are closed, sealed and filled with pus. 

Where They Appear

Blackheads are found most commonly on the face, especially oily areas like the T-zone (chin, nose, and forehead). But they can appear in other areas such as the:

  • Back
  • Chest
  • Neck
  • Arms
  • Shoulders

What Causes Blackheads

The main cause of blackheads is too much oil being produced, which mixes into the build up of dead skin cells and dirt. This mixture clogs open pores. Then sebum reacts with air and the mixture looks black.  

Another cause of blackheads is shifting hormones. As hormones change during puberty and during monthly periods, there is an increase in the amount of oil or sebum produced. Extra sebum means more opportunities for your pores to get clogged. Makeup and non-comedogenic skincare products can clog pores too. 

Also some medications and prescriptions are known to affect the body’s oil secretions. 

How to Get Rid of Blackheads

Daily cleansing and a regular skincare routine is your most powerful weapon to not only get rid of blackheads but keep them from coming back. 

5 Steps in a Daily Skincare Routine

1- Always remove makeup before bed

This is a must. Never leave makeup on when you sleep. It seems harmless enough, but it’s not. Leaving makeup on while you sleep means that a mix of pore clogging gunk sits on the skin while new dead skin cells are being shed and while oil production continues. The mix of gunk increases, equalling more breakouts. 

2 - Daily Gentle Cleansing

How it works. Gentle cleanse with a product that won't over dry the skin. Look for an oil cleanser or try a double cleanse (oil cleanser followed by gentle foaming cleanser). Cleansing removes the oil/makeup/spf/dirt mix.  

3 - Daily Exfoliation with BHA

How it works. BHA is short for beta-hydroxy acid, also known as salicylic acid. This acid works well with oily skin to break the bonds that keep the dead skin cells stuck to the skin’s surface. Look for a gentle formula that doesn’t irritate or over dry your skin. 

4 - Retinoids

How it works. Retinoids are a form of vitamin A. They unclog pores, reduce inflammation, increase cellular turnover, and help reduce breakouts. 

5 - Clay Mask

How it works. Clay masks work wonders for oily skin, especially ingredients like bentonite clay. Clay decongests skin and dries out pimples or whiteheads, supports skin healing, and has an antibacterial effect on acne.

How often. Clay masks should be used on a weekly basis. 

Other Options:

Manual blackhead removal by a professional.

If blackheads are stubborn you may need the help of a professional to extract the blackened sebum and gunk from the pores. Trained skincare professionals use an instrument to remove the plug causing the blackhead. 

Blackheads are common but treatable. Your best bet is to begin a daily skincare routine to remove blackheads and to ensure that future blackheads just don’t occur.