The battle against blackheads. To many of us, it seems like a fight you just can’t win. Get rid of one and three more pop up in its place.
Desperate to rid our faces of these unwanted invaders, we often resort to magnifying mirrors and long, painful squeezing sessions. Even when we know a hands-on attack is a big no-no.
As dermatologists often warn us, this DIY method can actually irritate your skin, break capillaries, cause scarring and introduce harmful bacteria into your pores. Yikes!
So what’s a blackhead-plagued person supposed to do? According to experts, there’s no single approach that will wipe out these pesky black spots for good. But with a killer skin routine and a few handy tools, you can definitely reduce them and help prevent new ones from forming.
From pore vacuums to salicylic acid, masks, facial brushes and exfoliants, we’ve got the lowdown on what you need to keep your face from being overrun by these baddies. But before we dive in, let’s review what a blackhead really is.
Why, Oh Why, Do I Have Blackheads?
Blackheads (also known as open comedones) are a combination of dead skin cells, pollutants and oil that build up and clog your pores. Because the oil oxidizes over time, they show up as little black dots on your skin.
Yes, keeping your face clean is crucial to keeping them at bay. But dirt isn’t the only factor here. Unfortunately, pore size and genetic factors make some people more prone to them than others.
But don’t give up hope! According to Beverly Hills dermatologist Dr. Ava Shamban, “We have a considerable range of advanced active ingredients and treatments options available to us now.”
She also counsels against poking and prodding your pores in favor of an “active skincare routine to prevent, clean and protect the pores in order to stop the formation of blackheads by treating their underlying causes.”
So what do Dr. Shamban and other skincare experts recommend?
Let’s get down to specifics.
When it comes to exfoliation, gentle is the keyword.
And while it’s not recommended for inflammatory acne, the right exfoliator can help remove dead skin cells that clog pores and cause blackheads.
Exfoliators fall into two categories: mechanical and chemical. Mechanical exfoliators include grainy face scrubs that help to buff away the top layer of skin.
Chemical exfoliators rely on ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) to dissolve dead skin cells. AHAs include citric, lactic and glycolic acid. BHAs include salicylic acid.
So which type of exfoliator is best for you?
Well, if you’re any kind of beauty buff, you probably know that grainy scrubs have gotten a bad rap over the years. All those exotic ingredients like shells and pits have been vilified to cause micro-tears in the skin and exacerbate acne.
And while the debate rages on about the safety of scrubs, when it comes to blackheads, skin-penetrating chemical exfoliators are more likely to yield results.
According to Dr. Shamban, BHA’s are particularly effective because, “they are oil soluble and work double duty to help clear up the dead skin cells on the surface that cause blockages, as well as penetrate into the pores to get to and through the oil to help normalize the pores and lining. They are also highly antibacterial and have inflammation-fighting properties.”
Ready to get started with a good exfoliator? Here are some great ones to put on your blackhead fighting list:
This Proactiv gel tackles blackheads with both BHAs and AHAs. Lactic Acid (an AHA) sloughs off dead cells on the surface of your skin while Salicylic Acid (a BHA) penetrates into the pores for deeper cleaning.
Aloe vera and bisabolol help to keep this gel non-irritating on your skin. But as with any exfoliator, a little goes a long way.
Use it once or twice a week at the most.
Both effective and affordable this popular Ordinary serum mildly exfoliates your skin with lactic acid and reduces inflammation with Tasmanian Pepperberry. It’s sure to keep your complexion and your outlook a lot brighter!
Made with glycolic acid, this exfoliating toner from Pixi penetrates the skin to loosen dead skin cells and prevent blackheads. Reviewers love that it helps to keep their skin clear while being gentle enough to use every day.
Salicylic acid, zinc compound and hyaluronic acid form a triple threat to blackheads by unclogging pores and reducing excess oil. The Inkey List Beta Exfoliant is definitely a must-have.
When it comes to chemical exfoliation, there’s more than one way to get those skin cells overturning. Retinoids are a derivative of vitamin A that helps to promote cell turnover through accelerated exfoliation (and wipe out blackheads in the process).
So is it okay to incorporate both an AHAs or a BHA along with a retinoid into your skin routine? Yes! But they need to be applied at the right times to avoid irritation and get the best results.
Applying an acid and a retinoid at the same time can cause skin irritation as they’re both strong exfoliators. But that’s not the only reason they don’t work well together.
Retinoids don’t work well on acidic skin, so applying it after an AHA or BHA pretty much nullifies its effects. Conversely, it also raises the pH level of the acids and also makes THEM less effective.
If your skin isn’t sensitive and you decide to use both a retinoid and AHA or BHA, try using your acids in the morning and your retinoid at night as it can make your skin sun-sensitive. Using an AHA or BHA in the morning is also great for removing the flaky skin that retinoids can cause.
Susan Bard, MD also adds, “Retinoids (ie. Retin-A) and other comedolytics, like hydroxy acids and exfoliative brushes (ie. Clarisonic), help break down clogs and decrease oil production and can help minimize the appearance of pores.”
Bard continues, “Treatments such a hydra facial, microdermabrasion and chemical peels are great at breaking down and removing clogged pores as well.”
Incorporated into your routine at the right times, this combo can be a great one-two punch to blackheads and give you brighter, glowing skin!
This powerful treatment from Dermalogica is made with retinol and vitamin C to diminish the appearance of fine lines and uneven skin tone and improves skin firmness. It also comes with a moisturizing buffer cream to help the skin acclimate to the retinol.
This economical retinoid was once sold only with a prescription but is now available over the counter. Yay!
As with any retinoid, you’ll have to start slowly and be patient as results may not show up for three to months.
But the payoff is worth the wait!
Masks are another effective way to say bye-bye to blackheads as they remove dirt and oil from the skin. Clay and charcoal are especially known for their ability to draw out toxins and unclog pores.
Try adding one of these masks to your beauty regime once a week for clearer skin.
Pro-Tip: Exfoliating just before you use your mask will help it penetrate the skin better!
This popular mask from Origins combines bamboo charcoal and white China clay to draw out dirt, oil and environmental toxins.
Vegans and sensitive skin types will love this unscented mask that was formulated by a team of dermatologists.
Using French clay to draw out impurities and reduce blackheads, it also contains spirulina proteins and fatty acids to help soften skin. Reviewers loved the fact that it cleaned their pores without drying their faces out.
This well-reviewed mask from Philosophy uses white clay and exfoliating salicylic acid to draw out impurities and scrub away blackheads. Good for oily, combination and even sensitive skin, it’s an all-around winner for clearer, softer skin.
Gentle enough for even sensitive skin, this purifying mask from Fresh is packed with minerals. Umbrian clay helps to unclog your pores while sandalwood oil, chamomile and lavender calm and soothe it.
In case you haven’t gotten the message by now, dead skin cell build-up is a huge culprit when it comes to blackheads. Using a facial brush can help buff them off while also removing your makeup.
Sensitive skin types will want to exercise caution and buy a gentle brush to avoid irritation. Fortunately, there are some great ones on the market.
This popular facial tool uses sonic technology to exfoliate, minimize pore size and firm your skin gently.
Available with brushes for both sensitive and normal skin types, the Clarisonic Mia also has a pulse indicator that tells you when it’s time to move on to the next area of your face.
This soft silicone brush also uses sonic pulsations to thoroughly cleanse your skin while unclogging pores and removing dead skin cells. It’s also super easy to clean!
This little beauty is touted to remove 99.5% of dirt and has tons of rave reviews on Sephora.
As a user of both Clarisonic and Foreo myself, I can personally attest that both brushes have given me an extra glow. Not only are they more effective than hand washing, but they’re also more fun to use!
Related: The Top 15 Products for Glowing Skin
Yes, we are now about to venture into some serious blackhead fighting technology. So can you safely vacuum pores, and does it really work to suck the gunk out of your face?
According to New York City derm Dr. Anetta Reszko the answer is “yes,” as long as you proceed with caution. While vacuums can help to remove blackheads, they are a temporary solution that should be used in conjunction with a healthy skincare routine.
She also emphasizes that they need to be used on the proper setting to avoid bruising and broken capillaries. If your skin is extra sensitive or you have a special condition like rosacea, you’ll need to proceed with extreme caution if at all.
That being said, used properly on the right skin they can be effective.
Pro Tip: To make your vacuum more effective, steam your skin with a warm towel, by taking a shower or with a facial steamer to loosen the sebum beforehand.
This Lonove pore vacuum comes with five different settings to remove blackheads without harming your skin: sensitive, dry, neutral, combination and oily. It also comes with a rechargeable battery, and a full charge will get you about three weeks of use.
This well-reviewed blackhead vacuum has three different suction settings and an LCD display. Users claim it helps remove blackheads and reduces the appearance of pores.
A facial steamer may not be absolutely necessary, but in conjunction with the right skin routine, there’s no denying that it’s a handy little piece of technology. It’s also easier than holding your face over a steaming pot of water (though that can work too).
Not only does it help to unclog pores and remove dirt and makeup residue, but it also increases circulation and improves the absorption of your skincare products, which will help minimize future breakouts.
As mentioned, using a steamer before your pore vacuum or facial mask can increase their effectiveness.
This economical facial steamer by Villsure has great reviews and also comes with mask brushes and a hairband.
Use Non-Comedogenic Products
Yes, that’s a mighty long word that you’ve probably stumbled over on various beauty products. It means that the product in question isn’t supposed to clog your skin or cause comedones. If you’re especially blackhead prone, read your labels carefully to be sure they won’t clog your pores.
This lightweight moisturizer from Proactiv was formulated with acne-prone skin in mind. It hydrates tired looking skin with a combination of antioxidants and botanicals without clogging your pores.
It can be used day or night to nourish your skin.
This lightweight, vegan foundation is great for acne-prone skin and won’t clog your pores. Quinoa helps with inflammation and increases elasticity, while blackcurrant provides vitamins and antioxidants. The coverage is light to medium.
Looking for medium to full coverage? Eve Perez’s Oat Milk Foundation is also a great choice (and a personal fav of this author).
Having tried various products from this line, I admit I’m obsessed!
Wash Your Face with Salicylic Acid
As most skincare experts will tell you, washing your face twice a day is a must for clear, healthy skin. To get extra help combating blackheads, try washing your face once a day with a cleanser that has salicylic acid.
Remember, salicylic acid is especially great for breaking down materials that clog pores like excess oil and dead skin cells. Just be sure to exercise caution as some people are sensitive to this acid.
Don’t use it every day at first and stop using it if there are signs of irritation. And don’t forget to moisturize after!
This La Roche-Posay cleanser with salicylic acid gets rave reviews for combating acne and is also fragrance-free, oil-free, paraben-free and allergy-tested.
A Word About Pore Strips
Just to put it out there, many dermatologists don’t recommend pore strips for blackhead removal as they can strip your skin of essential oils and also, um, skin.
But if you can’t resist the thought of instantly ripping blackheads off your nose, proceed with caution and don’t do it all the time. And with proper skincare, you shouldn’t have to!
Charcoal acts like a magnet in these Biore strips to attract dirt and clear your pores.
As you can see, there’s plenty of hope for blackhead plagued skin. Just be patient and keep in mind that no one product will clear them away forever.
Starting a multi-faceted skincare regime is your best bet to remove blackheads and keep new ones from forming. From exfoliators to retinoids and techie tools like steamers, you’ve got plenty of options to remove those clogged pores.
So choose your blackhead weapons of choice and hang in there. With a little persistence, we shall all overcome!
You might also be interested in: Our 7 Favorite Hypoallergenic Makeup Brands
The 20 Best Blackhead Removers:
- PROACTIVE BLACKHEAD DISSOLVING GEL
- THE ORDINARY LACTIC ACID 10% + HA
- PIXI GLOW TONIC
- THE INKEY LIST BETA HYDROXY ACID (BHA) BLEMISH + BLACKHEAD SERUM
- DERMALOGICA OVERNIGHT RETINOL REPAIR
- DIFFERIN ADAPALENE GEL
- ORIGINS CLEAR IMPROVEMENT ACTIVE CHARCOAL MASK TO CLEAR PORES
- REN CLEAN SKINCARE CLARIMATTE INVISIBLE PORES DETOX MASK
- PHILOSOPHY PURITY MADE SIMPLE PORE EXTRACTOR MASK
- FRESH UMBRIAN CLAY PURIFYING MASK
- CLARISONIC MIA
- FOREO LUNA MINI
- LONOVE BLACKHEAD REMOVER VACUUM PORE CLEANER
- EUNON BLACKHEAD REMOVER PORE VACUUM
- VILLSURE NANO IONIC FACIAL STEAMER
- PROACTIV GREEN TEA MOISTURIZER
- ERE PEREZ QUINOA WATER FOUNDATION
- ERE PEREZ OAT MILK FOUNDATION
- LA ROCHE-POSAY EFFACLAR MEDICATED GEL ACNE FACE WASH
- BIORE CHARCOAL DEEP CLEANSING PORE STRIPS
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Sherry De Alba
Sherry is a freelance writer who worked as an actor before transitioning to an award-winner career in advertising. During a vacation to Mexico, she fell in love and never left. Sherry (aka Cherita) now spends her time bouncing between the US and Mexico writing, running, cooking, meditating and exploring lots of cool stuff on the other side of the wall.view post