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Blackheads Explained

blackheads explained

Does this scenario sound familiar?  Everyone around you seems to have perfect skin.  But you. Your nose and chin are speckled with tiny black dots.  What in the world are these things and how do I get rid of them stat?  The problem is, there are so many myths about blackheads, you could be causing more damage than good.  So let’s bust some of these myths and get to the bottom of blackheads!

fake news

Myth #1: Blackheads are caused by dirt in your pores.

Not true.  Blackheads are formed with a clog develops in the hair follicles on your skin.  Each follicle contains a single hair and a gland, called the sebaceous gland.  These glands produce oil.  As dead skin cells and oil begin to collect in the pore opening, a bump is formed called a comedo.  Blackheads vs whiteheads? As the skin in the bump stays closed, it is called a whitehead.  If the skin over the bump opens, it allows air to be exposed to the pore and a blackhead forms.  

You may be washing your face every day and doing your best to keep it clean and free of dirt and germs.  However, there are 5 million hair follicles on your body and hundreds of thousands of them on your face.  So chances are, we are all susceptible to blackheads forming.  However, there are some important things we can do to increase our chances of eliminating and preventing blackheads.  We will discuss those things below.

Myth #2: Wearing makeup makes your skin more prone to blackheads.

Not true, again.  While blackheads can be irritated by the makeup we put on our skin, it isn’t the cause of them.   Overproduction of oil, mixture of skin cells clogging pores or an inconsistent skincare regimen can lead to blackheads, wearing makeup is not going to cause blackheads to form.  Many women use makeup to cover the appearance of blackheads on the skin, but it does not cause additional distress to the pores that are already blackheads.  But just be sure to adopt a consistent skin care routine for your skin type and budget to remove the makeup before bed.  


Myth #3: You just need to scrub harder!

This is absolutely not true and can actually lead to causing damage to your skin if you are exfoliating incorrectly.  Scrubbing your skin in an effort to scrub away blackheads can strip your skin of it’s natural moisture causing it to increase oil production, thus doing exactly what you are trying to prevent.  Abrasive exfoliation can also contribute to scarring in the process.  Using a gentle exfoliator twice a week is enough to help remove dead skin cells on the skins surface and prevent future blackheads and breakouts from forming.

Myth #4:  You are too old to have blackheads.

Unfortunately, this is also untrue.  Just because you left puberty long ago does not mean you are out of the woods.  Some people are more prone to acne than others and if this is you – you can not slack on your skin care regimen.  Although teenagers do have an increased production of oil on the skin as they go through puberty increasing the chances of blackheads forming, adult men and women are still susceptible to them.  Starting and maintaining a skin care regimen is key in fighting back.  The products you use may need to change over time depending on your climate, skin type and environmental factors.  Be prepared to be flexible on what works and what doesn’t.  But whatever you do – don’t stop taking good care of your skin.

Myth #5: Wash away blackheads.

Wouldn’t that be nice if we could just wash our face and the tiny little dots that have appeared on our skin would suddenly disappear?  If only! As much as we think that washing and rewashing our skin will eventually cause the blackheads to disappear, it can have more negative effects than good.  Strip away moisture, create added dryness and exhaust yourself in the process are just a few of the things that will happen if you try to wash them away.   Much like scrubbing our skin too hard, washing it too often can cause the natural oil on your skin to be stripped away which only tells the body it needs to produce more of it.  Therefore, the more you wash, the more your body will overcompensate by producing more and more oil.  That added oil can end up clogging the mores even more.

sad child showering

Myth #6: If you shrink your pores, they’ll have nowhere to form.

There are products on the market that claim to reduce the size of your pores.  Unfortunately, that is just not possible.  The pores on our skin contain no muscle tissue therefore making it unable to contract or expand simply by force.  The pores have an important job to remove fluids and contain hair follicles.  Many products may help reduce the appearance of the pores on our skin, therefore reducing the visibility of blackheads.  However, simply keeping our skin clean is the best strategy when it comes to treating and preventing blackheads.

Treating Blackheads

Now that we’ve identified the myths associated with blackheads, we can talk about finding solutions that actually work.  Are you popping or treating your blackheads correctly to eliminate the problem and prevent future blackheads and breakouts?

Here are 6 common ways to treat blackheads:

1. Over the counter (OTC) treatments

Walk the aisles of the drug store and see a plethora of options for cleaning and treating skin.  Some of the products are acne medications used to combat bacteria, excess oil, and dead skin cells.  Salicylic acid, resorcinol, and benzoyl peroxide are the ingredients in gels, creams or in pads you can put directly on your skin.  Many of these products can be very effective in treating acne, but must be used according to the directions of each product to prevent over drying or damaging the skin.

If you’re hesitant to use any form of drug or acne medication to treat the skin, try a clarifying face toner like this Geneva Naturals formula that contains natural oils like lavender and tea tree that can help remove dirt and oil from the pores while also hydrating and soothing irritated skin.

Geneva Naturals Clarifying Toner

2. Prescription Medicine

If you’ve tried the over the counter treatments with little to no success, you may need to consult your dermatology specialist for a prescription medication.  Your doctor may prescribe a topical ointment that contains benzoyl and antibiotics.  This ointment applied directly to the skin can treat the existing blackheads and prevent future breakouts.

Your doctor may also recommend a medication that contains Vitamin A.  Vitamin A helps to prevent clogs from forming in the pore and promotes faster turnover of skin cells.  Some of these medications include tazarotene, tretinoin, or adapalene.

In extreme cases, your dermatology specialist may prescribe an oral medication to help treat blackheads and frequent breakouts from the inside out.

3. Microdermabrasion

This is another common treatment that can be used to treat blackheads or clogged pores.  Using microdermabrasion is a sanding of the skin to remove the clogged pores and blackheads by removing the top layers of your skin.  Be sure not to over treat your skin with microdermabrasion, which can cause permanent damage.

4. Chemical peels

This may be another recommendation from your skincare specialist.  A strong chemical solution is applied to the surface of your skin.  After allowing the treatment to penetrate the skin, the top layers of your skin are removed revealing fresh new skin underneath.  This type of chemical peels can remove the clogs and dead skin cells that lead to blackheads and breakouts.  There are mild chemical peels you can purchase from the drug store that can be done at home.  However, the stronger chemical peels that may be more effective in treating blackheads and clogged pores are administered by a skincare professional or dermatologist.  Consulting with a skincare specialist, they may be able to recommend which treatment would work best for your skin type.

5. Extractor

Check out what Tina Yong has to say about these tweezers that remove blackheads:

Manually removing blackheads is another way a dermatologist or skincare specialists can treat blackheads.  By using an instrument called an extractor, they remove the plug causing the blackhead. Pressure is applied using the instrument and the blackhead is extracted.  This can be painful and may not be recommended depending on the age of your skin and severity of your breakouts.

You can also purchase an extractor online without seeking professional treatment.  But please be careful, consult with a professional to make sure you are using the instrument correctly.  Applying pressure to the skin using an extractor can cause irritation to the skin, scarring and could lead to future breakouts if done incorrectly.

Removal strips are another form of extraction that can be purchased at the drug store.  But be cautious of overusing them or using them incorrectly.  This can cause irritation to the skin and damage if misused.  Please follow the directions carefully and consult with a skincare professional if you are concerned.

6. Laser Therapy

Therapy using lasers and lights can decrease oil production and kill bacteria forming on and below the surface of your skin.  This therapy may be performed by a dermatology or skincare specialist.  It can be a very effective way of treating blackheads and acne without causing damage to the top layer of your skin.

Blackhead Prevention

Want to learn how to prevent blackheads?  We got you. Without spending a lot of money, try these few simple steps to help prevent blackheads from forming and future breakouts.

1. Wash your face regularly

Washing your face when you first wake up or in the shower is a great way to start the day with clean skin.  It helps to remove oil and buildup that forms overnight.  Make using a gentle cleanser part of your everyday skin care regimen.  And like grandma always says, “Never go to bed without washing your face.”   Regardless of how inconvenient it may be when you are exhausted after a long day of work or going out with friends, use a gently cleanser to wash away the dirt and grime that has collected throughout the course of the day.  Your face will thank you!

wash face

2. Use oil-free products

Because excess oil is the main contributing factor in causing blackheads, use oil free products such as an oil free face wash and oil free moisturizer twice a day.  You may think by not moisturizing you’re actually helping to prevent additional oil on the skin, but if your skin is thirsty and not getting the moisture it needs – it will produce more oil to compensate.   And that is exactly what we are trying to prevent.

3. Exfoliate

Gently exfoliate your skin using scrubs or masks to remove the dead skin cells from your face thus helping to reduce blackheads and prevent future breakouts.  Look for products that are oil free and won’t irritate your skin.  If you are looking for at home exfoliating solutions, there are many options such as a sugar scrub, egg mask, lemon wash, or mud mask.

4. Rest and relax

Sometimes getting extra rest or taking time to stop and destress is not at the top of our to-do this.  If you are a student, working full time, stay at home mom or a combination of all 3, making time to take care of ourselves often falls to the bottom of the list.  However, when it comes to taking care of our skin, it can be one of the most important things.  Getting rest helps to reduce stress, as does exercise.  A reduction in stress can help minimize the production of oil on the skin increasing our chances to manage clear and healthy skin.

man sleeping in field of flowers

There are those few rare souls who are just born with naturally perfect skin.  However, for the rest of us, our skin requires gentle love and care.  Being consistent with an affordable and safe skin care regimen can help treat existing blackheads and breakouts and help prevent more in the future.  The bottom line is know the facts: what is really the truth behind blackheads, what are the best ways to treat them for your skin type and what can you do to prevent them in the future.  

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