Methods for Reducing Blackheads and Their Pros and Cons

The skin condition known as acne can manifest in a wide variety of ways, some of which make it appear as though there is nothing wrong with the affected area.

Let's look at blackheads, those unsightly, blemish-filled bumps of skin. Try as you might, you will likely be met with an angry bump if you squeeze one.

If you're wondering how to get rid of this specific kind of acne, we've got the answers.

As a first step, let's investigate what causes blackheads and who is most at risk for getting them.

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The Root of the Problem: Why You Get Blackheads

Buildups of oil, dead skin, bacteria, and sometimes vitamin C are to blame for blackheads. Nazanin Saedi, MD, director of the Jefferson Laser Surgery and Cosmetic Dermatology Center in Philadelphia, states that "acnes (the bacteria that causes acne) that are stuck in the hair follicle." A blackening of the aperture is caused by the oxidation of these substances in the air, as Dr. Saedi

Comedones is the medical term for blackheads, as revealed by Kathleen Cook Suozzi, MD, director of the aesthetic dermatology program at Yale Medicine and assistant professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. The first sign of acne is comedones, the doctor says. "As the follicle enlarges, it risks rupturing, releasing its contents into the dermis, and setting off an inflammatory response," says Dr. Andrew Weil. This appears externally as an inflammatory papule, or pimple, which is much worse than a blackhead.

Blackheads are more common in those who suffer from acne, but there is also a genetic predisposition, as Saedi explains. Dr According to Suozzi, "Hormonal influences also play a role, stimulating production of sebum (skin oil)." ”

Sun damage can cause enlarged pores, according to Suozzi. Because of a decrease in collagen support in the dermis surrounding the hair follicle, the ostia (small openings) can become enlarged and more dilated. She gives the condition Favre-Racouchot as an extreme case: "Patients with Favre-Racouchot have large blackheads in areas of sun damaged skin, especially around the eyes."

CITATION NEEDED An Extensive Sunscreen Glossary

What to Do If You Have Blackheads on Your Face

To prevent blackheads, Suozzi suggests using retinoids, either topically or orally in the form of prescription drugs like tretinoin or Retin-A. "Retin-A, also known as adapalene or Differin, is a prescription-strength retinoid that was just recently made available over the counter for the treatment of comedonal acne," she explains. The use of oral retinoids, such as isotretinoin or Accutane, may be necessary for patients with severe comedonal acne. " Saedi says, "Chemical exfoliants can also be effective, but I'm not a fan of scrubs because they can cause irritation.

Related: 5 Common Beauty Mistakes to Avoid if You Have Sensitive Skin

A Comprehensive Guide to Treating and Preventing Blackheads

Dermatologists recommend a few different approaches to eliminating blackheads, some of which can be used to avoid future breakouts as well.

Try Salicylic Acid-Containing Items

Salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid that boosts cell turnover and opens pores, is a popular recommendation for reducing blackheads, as stated by Saedi. Suozzi elaborates by saying that the mild chemical irritant in the acne treatment can aid in the drying of active acne lesions.

Numerous studies show that salicylic acid is effective in reducing acne. In a small, double-blind, controlled study, 30 people saw a reduction in acne lesions after using a wash containing 2 percent salicylic acid for two weeks.

Saedi suggests two inexpensive yet effective salicylic acid products from the drugstore: Neutrogena Pink Grapefruit Oil Free Acne Wash () and Proactiv Solution ($5). .95, Target) and Neutrogena's Acne-Proofing Gel Cleanser (. Ref. 29 (Amazon.com)

Suozzi recommends Skinceuticals Blemish Age Defense (, Dermstore.com) for those who are willing to spend a little more on a more potent, multitasking product. This serum combines 2 percent dioic acid with an optimal alpha and beta hydroxy acid formulation, which helps with acne and other skin issues. because not only does it have anti-aging effects, but it also controls oil production in the skin. Her other favorite peel is the DCL Multi Action Penta Peel ( for 28 pads, Dermstore.com), a chemical exfoliant with a very high concentration of peel.

Supplement Your Diet with Retinol

Retinoids, which are available by prescription (such as Retin-A) and over-the-counter (Differin) are a reliable method for ridding the skin of blackheads By increasing cell turnover and decreasing skin "stickiness," retinoids prevent the follicular ostia from becoming clogged, as explained by Suozzi.

As she points out, retinoid treatment can make comedones worse because it increases cell turnover against a clogged opening, which causes further dilatation. However, she says, "with continued treatment, the plugged ostia begin to improve, and with skin turnover promoted, they are less likely to become blocked in the future."

Anti-aging and skin regeneration are two additional benefits of using retinoids, in addition to the improvement of acne. After just four weeks of using retinol (a lower-concentration retinoid), subjects experienced an increase in collagen production and epidermal thickness, and after 12 weeks, there was a "significant reduction in facial wrinkles," according to a study published in March 2016 in the Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology. A nonprescription drug like Differin ($12) is what Saedi suggests. Start with something over-the-counter (#88, Amazon.com) and if that doesn't work, "then see a doctor for prescription strength ”

Related: Learn Everything There Is to Know About the Popular Skin-Care Ingredient, Retinol

Take Alpha-Hydroxy Acids, for example.

Saedi acknowledges the benefits of alpha hydroxy acids like glycolic acid and lactic acid, but she recommends salicylic acid for its ability to unclog pores. Confused Elephant T L C A couple of the best AHAs on the market are Framboos Glycolic Resurfacing Night Serum (; Sephora.com) and Sunday Riley Good Genes Glycolic Acid Treatment ($48; SundayRiley.com).

Choose an Office Visit Instead.

Blackheads can be removed by a dermatologist. The pores on your face don't have to be permanently enlarged because there are in-office treatments that can help, as Suozzi explains. Fraxel, Clear Brilliant, and microneedling are all examples of nonablative resurfacing techniques. Dermatologists estimate that costs can vary anywhere from several hundred to fifteen hundred dollars. Some patients are content after a single session, while others may require a series of treatments.

CONNECTED: Comprehensive Guide to Laser Skin Resurfacing Treatment

Methods That Actually Cause Damage While Trying to Remove Blackheads

Requiring Aggressive Scrubbing

An exfoliating scrub can provide instant gratification by removing dead skin. Saedi says that while chemical exfoliators (like AHAs) can be beneficial, you shouldn't over-exfoliate with a granule scrub, like you might have been taught to do as a teenager. According to her, "harsh scrubs can strip your natural oils and create more oil." Depending on your skin type and the exfoliating product you use, dermatologists recommend exfoliating anywhere from once a week to three times weekly.

Extraction by Hand

Not popping your pimples is something Suozzi suggests you try to avoid. She warns against popping blackheads because doing so can lead to the formation of an inflammatory lesion (or cyst). It's important to note that a blackhead has the potential to develop into a much more severe skin condition. To avoid scarring, only squeeze blackheads that are very close to the skin's surface.

Applying Vacuum Cleaners

It's tempting to try a product that claims to remove excess oil from your skin, but Suozzi warns that there's a risk that it could actually make your problem worse. Specifically around the nose, "this suction can be harmful to delicate facial skin and can induce the appearance of telangiectasias," or "broken blood vessels," as explained by Suozzi.

Related: 10 Skin Signals That Need Your Attention — and How to Decode Them

Advice for Avoiding and Eliminating Blackheads

It's tempting to use your fingers to squeeze out that blackhead, but you should really just leave it alone.

According to Suozzi, "prevention is better than cure." Incorporate a couple of powerful actives, like retinoids, which serve a dual purpose in treating the skin condition and stopping the formation of new blackheads. You could also visit a dermatologist for a more expert touch.

SEE ALSO: The Ultimate Skin Care Glossary for Women

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