Everything you need to know about Blackheads
Updated: Jan 14
Pores, blackheads... one of the (more) common complaints I receive while helping women with skincare recommendations or new beauty routines.
We are going to break it down in this post so you have an understanding of what blackheads are and a plan of attack for getting rid of them.
First things first, we are all human. We have pores. We have pores on our face. Some have larger pores than others. IT IS OKAY TO HAVE PORES. It's also okay to struggle with blackheads.
Welcome to having skin and taking care of it :)
Let's have a quick anatomy lesson.
There are a couple of components to a skin pore. We have the hair follicle, the sebaceous gland (produce sebum), and blood vessels (provide nutrients).
Pictured below is an image that shows a normal skin pore, a whitehead (a clogged, closed pore), and a blackhead (a clogged, open-pore) (image via Blausen.com staff)
If you compare the images, the blackhead pore looks like a volcano, right? There's enough build-up to cap off the top of the pore (even though we call it open -- look at the white-head, the clog is happening below the surface which the blackhead is higher up). The blackhead pore is "capped" to releasing the oil from inside the pore.
The skin pore becomes blocked with excess dead skin cells and the oil (sebum), which oxidizes (the real cause of blackheads) and turns dark/black color we see. Lovely, isn't it?!
Typically, people who struggle with oily or combination skin will have more problems with blackheads, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing because your skin is producing oil, you just need to follow some methods below to keep it under control. If you have super dry skin and don't produce a lot of oil, you may not have this issue.
I'm going to start with what to AVOID because these are the most tempting methods we try to get rid of blackheads, and potentially the most damaging. They seem to make sense logically when you don't have a great understanding of the skin.
(X) AVOID picking, squeezing, pore strips, or other extraction methods.
This is one of those "but it makes sense!" things that can actually end up doing more damage than good. Though these methods will remove the junk, they ALSO can remove nutrients that help the skin including natural oils and hair follicles! Without the good, your skin may dry out and become irritated, which leads to oil production, which leads to blackheads.
Here's the Cycle:
Strip > Dry Out > Produce Oil > Blackhead
If you do want to use an extraction method, go to a professional who is trained not to damage the skin in the process! They know how to gently break the cap and "stir" out the blackhead without taking the nutrients.
How to Get Rid of Blackheads:
I must mention, blackheads can take a LONG time to get rid of. WHY? We get new OIL and new SKIN CELLS every single day!! So what's causing the issue is regenerating all the time. If you are really unhappy with them right now, go to a professional to start with a clean slate and then use the steps below for maintenance :)
(1) Consistent & Gentle Exfoliation
Gentle exfoliation at home with AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acids) and BHAs (Beta Hydroxy Acids) have been life-changing for me. I know that sounds dramatic but they have seriously made a huge difference in my skin, and blackheads (which I do still struggle with).
AHAs are water-soluble acids that help peel away the surface level of your skin. Examples: Glycolic, Lactic, Tartaric, Citric, Malic.
BHAs are oil-soluble and help to remove that top layer, but also penetrate deeper into the skin to the sebum/hair follicle level to dry oil. Examples: Salicylic, some Citric
Why exfoliate? Regularly removing dead skin cells is going to remove one of the main causes of clogged pores and may also help remove existing blackheads.
My favorite products for this? Overnight Resurfacing Peel from Beautycounter, hands down.
(2) Ingredients Matter: Try Salicylic Acid (Not Benzoyl Peroxide)
Salylicic Acid is a BHA that breaks down oil and dead skin cells - the 2 causes of clogged pores! A cleanser that has this ingredient may be very helpful, but can also be a lot for the skin to handle. Perhaps try a cleanser that has this ingredient once a day to start. If you have combination skin and are dry in some areas, following up with an effective moisturizer that won't clog your skin is also helpful.
I want to mention here that Benzoyl Peroxide is an ingredient commonly used in acne/oil products. This ingredient will not be effective on blackheads because it targets inflammation and bacteria. These are not the root causes of blackheads.
Beautycounter's Countercontrol Clear Pore Cleanser is a fabulous option that doesn't feel like it strips the skin of moisture. Though it doesn't have salicylic acid in it, I also like the Charocal Cleansing Bar for 1x/day exfoliating/cleansing use if you struggle with oil/balance/blackheads.
The Countercontrol SOS Spot Treatment is also a concentrated dose of salicylic acid. I adore this product because it doesn't dry out the skin surrounding a breakout. Can you use it for blackheads? Perhaps 1 time a week you could put a concentrated layer on the blackhead area, but I would not do it every day because of the cycle mentioned above. If you dry out the area, it will only cause more oil to produce!
(3) Increase Cell Turnover (Not with Retinol!)
If you search for "blackhead help," you may find suggestions to use Retinoids. Oh lordy, please don't use retinoids as the cons outweigh the pros here, in my opinion, ESPECIALLY with safer options on the market!! (Read about retinoids here.)
I have discovered my cell turnover rate is painfully slow. Like do they even generate new ones? How did I know? Congested, clogged skin (especially around chin) & acne that lasts a lonnnng time.
Products that have helped me with cell turnover:
Overnight Resurfacing Peel (again, lifesaver!)
Rejuvenating Toner Pads (the use of a pad naturally removes some dead skin cells in the process which is amazing. This is a pretty active product too!)
Countertime Collection - This set uses Retinatural Complex, a safe version of anti-aging made from Bakuchoil + Swiss Alpine Rose that delivers the same results as retinol with no health risks. (Read about this collection here and the study results here).
(4) Use a Charcoal or Clay Mask
Charcoal masks work deep to remove excess dirt and oil from the skin and pores. Charcoal is a rather amazing ingredient, especially for oily skin. Clay masks can also provide the same results. I'd recommend adding this is once a week, in addition to your consistent exfoliation.
Beautycounter's Balancing Charcoal Mask is one of two products that convinced me to join as a consultant for the discount. It's pretty amazing and has been a part of my "Sunday Mask Day" routine for over 3 years now!
Primally Pure, another great company, recently came out with clay masks that may also be worth a try! I haven't personally tried the masks, but I have loved a couple of their other products.
(5) Don't Sleep in Makeup
This is my superpower. I CANNOT, repeat CANNOT, sleep with makeup on. In fact, if I'm exhausted and fall asleep with it on, I will (most likely) wake up in the middle of the night and do my skincare routine. I just feel so dirty and like my pillow on contaminated if I sleep in makeup.
A couple tips here if this is NOT your superpower:
Do your skincare routine BEFORE you start to veg. If you get home from work and you know that after dinner you are going to hit the couch and you NEVER feel like washing you face once you go down, do it before! Heck, do it at 5 pm if you need to! Early is better than never.
Find a face wipe you love and trust. Beautycounter's are freaking amazing (and biodegradable!), but as I'm writing this, they are currently looking for a new manufacturer that fits their high standards.
Well, that's all I've got about blackheads! I hope this was helpful for you!
Full disclosure: I am a proud Beautycounter consultant and can help you find appropriate products for your skin type and skin concerns. Please reach out to me!
I earn a commission from Beautycounter products purchased in this post that attribute Kate Markovitz as the consultant. Thank you for support my business and blog :)