How to Remove Blackheads Like a Pro, According to Dermatologists

Spoiler: The answer isn’t pore strips.

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While all pimples are pesky, blackheads are truly infuriating. Tiny, plentiful, and trapped inside the skin, these little black dots seem nearly impossible to remove.

Blackheads (also referred to as open comedones) are clogged pores or hair follicles filled with sebum (the natural oil that the glands on our face make), dirt, skin cells, and bacteria. Long story short, it's another type of acne.

"When the contents are open to the air, [clogged pores will] oxidize, which turns the surface black," says Papri Sarkar, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Boston. "Those little black bumps are called blackheads, and they're more likely to form on the nose because the nose has lots of oil glands (more than the rest of the face, which already has more oil glands than the rest of the body)."

According to Dr. Sarkar, blackheads shouldn't be confused for sebaceous filaments in the lining of your pores which help sebum get out of the pore and lubricate your skin. "Sebaceous filaments can become visible if they fill with fats and oils, and appear dark," explains Dr. Sarkar. "They're more linear and easier to extract than blackheads." Additionally, some folks have prominent short black hairs in the hair follicles of their nose—they can look like blackheads, but won't respond to usual blackhead treatments, notes Dr. Sarkar.

What Causes Blackheads?

Blackheads have many underlying causes. As is the case with all acne, the most common one is fluctuating hormones, which means they are most frequently seen during puberty, menstruation, and pregnancy when there's an increased production of oil.

Certain medications (like steroids) can also play a role, as does wearing tight clothing, and using very occlusive creams or oil-based skincare products. And in the end, it could just be that you have larger pores, which winds down to your genetics.

How to Get Rid of Blackheads

In general, because blackheads are hard and trapped inside pores, they can't really be scrubbed away or washed off; most of the time, they will need extraction.

"Extraction most commonly involves pricking the top of the blackhead with a clean needle or blade and then pressing on the edge of the blackhead with an extractor," explains Dr. Sarkar. "An extractor is a metal device that has a hole in the center, so when you push on a blackhead, it releases the material in it into the hole. It's almost like you're milking out the contents of the lesion."

Alternatively, you can take two clean Q-tips and, after pricking the spot, apply the Q-tips to either end of the spot and push them towards each other.

The one thing Dr. Sarkar suggests not doing is using your germ-laden fingers to pick at the spots. "That tends to cause inflammation and can cause dark marks and scarring," she says.

Dendy Engelman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, isn't a fan of at-home manual extractions. "Although it's tempting to pick at or pop blackheads, using your hands to remove them can put you at risk for infection and new breakouts," she says. "If you want to remove blackheads, I recommend leaving it to the professionals—your dermatologist can perform professional extractions in-office to get rid of blackheads."

Chemical peels can also help remove blackheads and prevent new ones from forming by exfoliating the skin, removing dead skin cells, and clearing pores. "Stronger peels should be performed by a skincare professional, but you can do milder peels yourself at home," explains Dr. Engelman. "I recommend Glo Skin Beauty's GlyPro AHA Resurfacing Peel ($85; dermstore.com) because it's easy to do yourself and yields professional-quality results—plus, in addition to resurfacing and clarifying the skin, it will also leave your complexion bright and glowy."

Preventing Blackheads

Another way to get rid of blackheads is to prevent them from forming in the first place. "If you have blackheads, keeping your pores from getting clogged will help prevent them," explains Dr. Sarkar. "The simplest way to do this is to make sure you wash your face once a day, especially if you're sweaty."

Dr. Sarkar is also an advocate for using acids to prevent blackheads from forming. "Certain topical acids like glycolic acid, salicylic acid, and to a slightly lesser extent, lactic acid will also help," she says. "Salicylic acid is great for smaller, more superficial blackheads—I like Nip + Fab Glycolic Acid Fix Night Pads Extreme ($18; amazon.com) that have glycolic and salicylic acid, First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads ($36; ulta.com), Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta® Universal Daily Peel ($88; sephora.com), or for a swipe-and-go option, the Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Salicylic Acid Exfoliant ($29; amazon.com) is great! I recommend wiping your face and nose and then rinsing off if you find it drying or irritating."

Dr. Engelman loves Ambari's PM Active12 Serum ($98; neimanmarcus.com) and Gold Profection22 Mask ($92; neimanmarcus.com) for blackhead prevention and treatment. "Using Ambari's proprietary blend of hydroxy acids, adaptogens, and broad-spectrum oil, these products provide excellent results that are supported by 24-hour clinical trials," says Dr. Engeleman. "Salicylic acid is also great for eliminating acne—I like Bliss Clear Genius Body Acne Spray ($15; target.com), which utilizes 2 percent salicylic acid and witch hazel to reduce the severity of acne by half in just one week (clinically proven)." Prescription-strength blackhead fighters include tretinoin, adapalene, and prescription-strength retinoids.

What You Shouldn't Do

If you've thought about using a pore strip or a pore vacuum to nix your pesky blackheads, Dr. Engelman suggests thinking again. "I personally do not recommend pore strips—although they can be effective at removing blackheads, they cause more harm than good," she says. "Pore strips aggressively rip blackheads from the skin, which can damage the skin and widen pores."

Dr. Engleman also doesn't recommend using tools to extract blackheads at home. They can be too harsh, and you risk damaging the skin, causing infection, enlarging pores, and leaving your skin more susceptible to future breakouts.

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Sources
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