You know when you find a mirror with really great lighting and you get an up-close, clear look at your skin and then you notice all the little imperfections, including your blackheads? So you start picking at them and half an hour later you pull yourself away and remember where you are and that you were supposed to be at dinner 20 minutes ago? You’re not the only one, we’ve all been there. The trouble is, getting rid of blackheads in this way is actually really terrible for your skin. Luckily, we’re here to help you learn better ways to combat blackhead extraction.
WHAT ARE BLACKHEADS?
Before we dive into these methods, let’s start off with the basics in order to get a better understanding of what a blackhead actually is.
The follicles of your skin contain hairs as well as sebaceous glands which are responsible for producing sebum (or in layman’s terms: oil) the substance that helps keep skin hydrated, soft and moisturized in general. The problem is when dead skin cells, dirt, and oil collect in the openings of your skin follicles, comedos which are the beginning of a pimple begins to form. If the skin over a comedo stays closed it eventually results in what is commonly known as a whitehead, while if the skin over the comedo remains open, the interior goes through a process of oxidization and as a by-product darkens (hence the name) eventually resulting in a blackhead.
Blackheads aren’t painful like pimples, and they are generally less inflamed than whiteheads. You’re most likely to see them appear on your face, specifically within your T-zone as this is the area that is most prone to them. You may also spot blackheads on your back, chest, neck, arms as well as your shoulders.
SEBACEOUS FILAMENTS VS. BLACKHEADS
If you’ve noticed tiny dark spots on your nose and chin and thought they were blackheads, chances are they actually are the tips of sebaceous filaments, that help channel the flow of sebum to the lining of your pores. Don’t freak out, because we all have sebaceous filaments on our face and they aren’t related to forms of inflammation like acne.
HOW TO TELL THEM APART?
- Blackheads are usually the darker as well as the larger one of the two.
- Sebaceous filaments are smooth to the touch while blackheads often feel slightly raised.
- When they form in a fairly even pattern and not by themselves they probably are sebaceous filaments.
WHY DO BLACKHEADS FORM?
There are a number of factors that contribute to blackheads and inflamed skin in general. Some of these are manageable but others are just biological and depend on your luck in the genetic lottery:
COSMETICS & SKIN CARE PRODUCTS
Cosmetics, cleansers (like makeup removers) and skin care products, in general, can contribute to clogged pores. When your follicle get dredged with oil, dead skin cells, dirt and you add the additional burden of pore-clogging products, this can lead to the formation of blackheads that may otherwise avoidable.
Make sure to check out our guide If you’re looking to explore moisturizers that won’t clog pores (well at least they shouldn’t) that also covers the truth behind the word non-comedogenic.
Some people are simply prone to excessive oil production, and this is luck of the draw when it comes to genetics. If one or both of your parents (or even your grandparents) were prone to oily skin, you might have this genetic trait as well.
Heat, humidity, excessive sweating, pollution and clothing that prevent the flow of oil are all environmental factors that can cause blackheads. You might notice that your pimples dry out after a day in the sun but larger breakouts appear a few days after exposure. So be sure to cover up and protect your skin with a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
Discover what makes a good sunscreen through our guide that includes how they work and the ingredients to look out for.
If you’re a smoker, have a poor diet (with lots of fats and sugars), or find yourself consistently stressed-out, you might notice that you’re more prone to breakouts. These lifestyle factors all contribute to the overproduction of oil. Stress can also cause hormonal imbalances that lead your body to produce too much oil, as it also does during pregnancy or your period (not that these are lifestyle choices).
Various medications will cause inflammation inclusive of Corticosteroids, Topical Steroids and Mood Stabilizers like Lithium. In fact, even taking birth control pills may contribute to the excessive sebum production that leads to blackheads.
WHAT IS A BLACKHEAD REMOVAL TOOL?
A long thin skin instrument you may have encountered at your facialist, that is officially known as a round loop extractor and is used to remove the plugs that cause blackheads. When used correctly this type of tool can be an effective way to manage blackheads at home.
THE MAIN TYPES OF BLACKHEAD REMOVAL TOOLS
When considering a blackhead remover tool, there are two types to choose from:
The first type of blackhead extractor has two sides: one side has a small spoon-like fixture with a hole in the middle and the other side is a very sharp lancet. The hole in the spoon-like head of the tool fits over the blackhead and, when gentle pressure is applied, the comedo is released from your pore. The lancet side of this type of blackhead removal tool is used in the fight against whiteheads: it punctures the whitehead to allow the oil out.
The second type of blackhead removal tool has the spoon-like head on one or both sides of the tool. With the two-headed type, each spoon is a different size – because not all blackheads are the same size. You may also find this type of extractor with an angled head to help you reach difficult areas and crevices.
HOW TO PICK OUT A BLACKHEAD REMOVAL TOOL?
Below are a few things to consider to ensure you pick the best blackhead tool out.
- High-quality stainless steel
- Angled loops for better flexibility and accessibility
- A product with good customer reviews
- Easy to clean to minimize infection
BLACKHEAD REMOVAL TOOL PRODUCT RECOMMENDATIONS
Below is a selection of some of the best blackhead extractors available:
Tweezerman Skin Care Tool $12.50
This blackhead removal tool features two sides: one side with a thin angled loop that works well on mature whiteheads and a flatter side to treat blackheads. This tool is super easy to clean and because it’s 100% stainless steel, you don’t have to worry about it corroding.
Bestope Blackhead Removal Kit $10
If one blackhead removal tool doesn’t seem like it can cover the variety of skin concerns you’d like to address, then consider Bestope’s popular stainless steel kit that contains five of them with ten different heads inclusive of one lancet. For those of you who are unsure of how to use all of these tools, this kit also comes with diagrams of how each one works.
Rapid Vitality Blackhead Tweezer $10
Made from 100% stainless steel the Rapid Vitality blackhead tool is a bit different than the rest in that it’s a tweezer – it’s meant to pinch and pick up the plug of a blackhead. The curved tips of the tweezer is a preventative measure to avoid damage to your skin in the process of extracting blackheads.
Trophy Skin Ultrasonic Skin Spatula $149
This ultrasonic tool has two modes: one for cleaning your pores and another for infusing your favorite serum into your skin. With regular use, this easy to use skin spatula will gently clean clogged pores, remove excess oil, reduce the appearance of large pores, extract blackheads and exfoliate your skin.
HOW TO USE A BLACKHEAD REMOVAL TOOL PROPERLY?
One of the most important things you need to know about owning a blackhead extractor is how to use it properly in order to minimize the chance of long-term damage to your skin.
Below are some general guidelines to consider for effective extraction with a blackhead removal tool:
- Disinfect your hands with soap and water.
- Submerge the tool in alcohol to sanitize and rinse it with water.
- Wash your face with a gentle cleanser and warm water.
- For up to 2-3 minutes either hold a warm face cloth to the area you are working on or alternatively, steam your face over a bowl of hot water.
- Place the loop or hole of the extractor over the blackhead you want to extract.
- Gently press on one side of the blackhead and move the tool across the top to release the sebum (do not press straight down with the loop or hole) until the plug comes out.
- Dab substance with a tissue to remove it from your skin (avoid using your hands as this might transfer dirt or bacteria to the open pore).
- Cleanse your face and apply a toner and moisturizer.
- Wash the blackhead extractor in hot soapy water or wipe with alcohol.
It’s important to note not to push very hard – if the sebum isn’t released upon the application of gentle pressure, then consider treating skin first with a chemical exfoliant like Salicylic Acid (which we’ll talk more about later).
SHOULD YOU REMOVE A DEEP BLACKHEAD YOURSELF?
Deep blackheads are often difficult to remove because the oil is tightly sealed in your skin follicles. If they are not extracted correctly the process may end up leaving you with a scar. If you’re having trouble with doing it yourself consider leaving deep blackhead removal to the professionals to minimize the chance of damage.
ALTERNATIVE EXTRACTION METHODS TO CONSIDER
If you’re apprehensive about using blackhead extraction tools or find that they aren’t suitable for your skin below are some other removal methods to consider:
CHEMICAL EXFOLIANTS FOR BLACKHEADS
Using a chemical exfoliant will incrementally shed the top layers of the dermis to reveal the smooth, fresh skin underneath. This treats blackheads by removing the dead skin cells that contribute to the formation of comedos.
There are two important ingredients in the fight against, and prevention of, blackheads: Alpha Hydroxyl acids (AHA’s) and Beta Hydroxyl Acids (BHA’s). The most common form of AHA’s and BHA’s are Glycolic Acid and Salicylic Acid, respectively. Look out for them in leave-on products rather than in cleansers because the longer your skin is exposed to them, the better they work. Consistent use of AHA’s and BHA’s will prevent blackheads and help keep your pores unclogged by removing the top layer of skin but BHA’s are often easier to find.
If you’re looking more advanced results explore our in-depth guide on how chemical peels improve skin that covers the different types as well as best practices.
CHEMICAL EXFOLIANT RECOMMENDATION
Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant $9
With 2% Salicylic Acid Paula’s Choice exfoliant is specifically formulated for the treatment of blackheads, enlarged pores, and breakouts in general. Gentle enough to be used on a daily basis, this leave-on exfoliant will also improve skin clarity, texture, as well as hydration.
USING RETINOIDS FOR BLACKHEADS
Retinoids like Retin-A or Retinol actually help with blackhead management, but they typically take 2-6 weeks to start working. By boosting healthy cell turn over these types of topical skin care treatments exfoliates skin and therefore not only make for a good preventative measure against blackheads actually forming but they also help clear the active ones up. One of the main downsides of using a Retinoid is before you see any results, your skin has to get used to them and this means you may temporarily have to deal with some level of irritation like flakiness. If you’re ready for a longer kind of commitment this option may make sense.
Explore our in-depth guide to learn more about how Retinol works and what it can do for your blackheads and other skin concerns.
RETINOL BLACKHEAD PRODUCT RECOMMENDATION
Skin Medica Retinol Complex 1.0 ($93)
Skin Medica’s powerful Retinol-based lotion helps combat an assortment of skin concerns inclusive of discoloration, lines and even blackheads. Other key ingredients to look out for include Niacinamide (Vitamin B3) that supports the start ingredient as well as Vitamin E and Squalene to nourish. As 1% Retinol is quite high consider the gentler options of the 0.25% ($62) or the 0.5% ($78) formulations.
MICRODERMABRASION FOR BLACKHEAD TREATMENT
Microdermabrasion is a skin treatment that has multiple benefits inclusive of combatting sun damage, diminishing wrinkles, improving skin tone and targeting acne as well as blackheads. This minimally invasive procedure is safe and works through the application of either crystals or an abrasive surface to the skin to gently exfoliate its surface.
If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of microdermabrasion inclusive of more on how it works and what it does be sure to check out our in-depth overview.
Krasr Comedo Microdermabrasion Diamond Vacuum $59
This safe, at-home microdermabrasion unit will do more than just remove dirt and oil to help with your blackheads (and it will). The Diamond Vacuum treats rough skin, discoloration, dead skin cell buildup, enlarged pores and fine lines while also improving skin firmness and elasticity. With 3 treatments per week, you should start seeing t results within 2-4 weeks.
ALTERNATIVE BLACKHEAD EXTRACTION METHODS TO AVOID
Some blackhead removal techniques often actually make the situation worse.
We all have been here. It takes every ounce of self-control to stop yourself from pinching or picking blackheads. Keep in mind that whatever you do in terms of blackhead extraction, this is the last thing you should resort to as it can actually result in damage like scarring or enlarged pores and even infection. If it helps, this method of extraction is also not effective as it won’t even completely remove a blackhead properly.
Pore strips are one of the many products that promise to remove your blackheads but actually may do more harm than good. At this point, you might be giving some side-eye to your screen swearing that they are actually the holy grail of blackhead extraction. Truth be told, they may do their job a little too well as they remove elements from your skin that are actually healthy, like oil and hair follicles, resulting in concerns like dry skin as well as irritation. This, in turn, often leads to the overproduction of sebum resulting in more blackheads. Vicious cycle indeed!
Attempting to remove blackheads with a physical exfoliant like a scrub more often than not will not achieve anything except to make the situation worse. Just like with pore strips, this extraction method is too harsh and in more cases than not may result in an overproduction of oil and lead to the same blackhead cycle as above. If this doesn’t keep you away from a physical exfoliant, consider the fact that the small hard particles found in the formulas actually damage skin by causing little tears.
There are numerous methods to help manage blackheads that have already appeared on your face, but for the long-term health of your skin, consider adopting a good skin-care system to fight blackheads and other forms of inflammation forming in the first place. This may include using a gentle cleanser and a moisturizer that won’t irritate as well as the incorporation of Retinoids, Glycolic Acid and/or Salicylic Acid into your regime. Not only will checking these items off your list help with blackheads, but they will keep your skin looking better longer.