Ways to Get Rid of Blackheads

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / Honayst

    1. Cleanse with salicylic acid

    Instead of benzoyl peroxide, look for over-the-counter (OTC) products that contain salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is the preferred ingredient for treating blackheads and whiteheads because it breaks down the materials that clog pores:

    • excess oil
    • dead skin cells

    By choosing a daily cleanser with salicylic acid, you can remove these elements in addition to: daily dirt, oil and makeup

    Although you still need to wash your face twice a day, try using a cleanser that has salicylic acid in it just once a day to start. Britt Kimmins notes that salicylic acid is especially good for those with dry skin. You may consider using it at night only and then using your regular cleanser in the morning. As your skin gets used to the product, you may choose to use it both morning and night.

    Many people are sensitive to salicylic acid. You may not be able to use it more than once every few days. If you continue to react to it, discontinue use.

    2. Gently exfoliate with AHAs and BHAs

    In the past, you may have heard that exfoliating produces a negative effect on acne. This can be true for inflammatory acne, as the process can cause further redness and irritation. For blackheads, though, regular exfoliation can help remove excessive amounts of dead skin cells that can lead to clogged pores. The process may also gently remove existing blackheads. Rather than looking for harsh scrubs, you’ll want to focus on alpha and beta hydroxy acids (AHAs and BHAs). Glycolic acid is the most common type of AHA, and salicylic acid is a prominent BHA. Both work by removing the top layer of your skin. In theory, this can improve the appearance of wrinkles and age spots, all while cleansing pores and making your skin softer. You’ll find that BHAs are more widely available on the market, and in some cases, they’re more affordable too! “Both AHAs and BHAs are excellent as superficial peels, says Britt Kimmins. “AHAs and BHAs …treat the superficial layer of skin and therefore are safe for OTC use in all skin types.”

    3. Pick up a skin brush

    A skin brush can provide similar exfoliating benefits as AHAs and BHAs by removing excess dead skin cells. Susan Massick, MD, dermatologist and associate professor of dermatology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center advises caution. She recommends that skin brushes only be used occasionally with a gentle cleansing wash and to avoid the use of a brush altogether if you have sensitive skin. Depending on your needs and budget, there are a variety of skin brushes available to be used with your daily cleanser. 

    5. Use a clay mask

    Clay masks help to draw oils and toxins out of the skin, which helps to unclog pores, says Britt Kimmins. Clay masks are often considered must-haves for oily skin. Some clay masks also contain sulfur. Sulfur is another ingredient that works to break down the dead skin cells that make up blackheads. No matter which mask you choose, you can use it once a week in addition to your once- or twice- weekly exfoliating treatment. 

    6. Use a charcoal mask

    Like clay masks, charcoal masks work deep in the skin to draw out oil and other impurities, says Britt Kimmins. Charcoal is thought to take these benefits up another notch.

    7. Consider a chemical peel

    Chemical peels are traditionally used for anti-aging benefits, such as reduced age spots and fine lines. The peels often contain AHAs or BHAs, and they work by exfoliating the skin, says Massick. In theory, smoother, refreshed-looking skin should be revealed after going through the process. Though they’re not considered a primary treatment for blackheads, chemical peels can possibly remove dead skin cells and shrink enlarged pores. This treatment method may be especially helpful if you’re looking for anti-aging benefits too.

    8. Make sure you’re using noncomedogenic products

    The right cleanser, mask, and exfoliator may do little good if you don’t use noncomedogenic makeup and face products. In fact, Massick recommends starting off a blackhead removal regimen with noncomedogenic products. Noncomedogenic means that the product in question won’t cause comedones, or clogged pores. Not all products are noncomedogenic, so you’ll have to read labels carefully. Find noncomedogenic products online:

    9. Don’t sleep in your makeup

    At the end of a long day, the last thing you may want to do is to take off your makeup. However, sleeping with your makeup on is asking for more blackheads. If left on overnight, even noncomedogenic makeup can clog your pores. Those with oily skin may want to consider using a foaming cleanser, says Britt Kimmins. Makeup removers can also be used before washing your face for extra cleansing power.

    10. Avoid pore strips and other home extraction methods

    You’ve already learned that picking, scratching, and popping any form of acne is considered off-limits. Still, it can be tempting to locate some form of extraction to get rid of those pesky blackheads. In recent years, there’s been an uptick in masks, pore strips, and extraction tools that promise clean pores.

    Although pore strips and masks may help remove junk from your pores, they can also remove elements that actually help your skin. This includes natural oils and hair follicles. Removing all of these elements can cause your skin to dry out and become irritated.

    When irritation occurs, your sebaceous glands may go into survival mode and produce even more oil — resulting in more blackheads.

    Other extraction methods include professional-grade metal or plastic tools. These purportedly work by removing clogged blackheads without scratching your skin. The keyword here though, is professional.

    Dermatologists who have years of training sometimes use these tools. When placed into hands with limited experience, extraction tools can turn into a source for scratches, wounds, and even scars.

    11. Don’t waste your time on benzoyl peroxide

    When it comes to over-the-counter (OTC) acne spot treatments, you’re likely to find that many products contain benzoyl peroxide. The problem is, benzoyl peroxide doesn’t work for all types of acne. Benzoyl peroxide works by reducing swelling, which a key marker of inflammatory acne, which includes cysts and pustules. It can also get rid of underlying bacteria in a pimple. However, blackheads aren’t considered inflammatory. Also, they are not caused by bacteria, so products featuring benzoyl peroxide won’t do much good.

    12. See your dermatologist for professional extraction

    Any new acne regimen, including one for blackheads, can take anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks to take effect.

    If you continue to see new and preexisting blackheads after this time, you may need to make an appointment with your dermatologist. They can use professional tools to extract blackheads.

    They may even recommend a series of dermabrasion treatments or prescription retinoids to prevent blackheads from coming back.

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