Blackheads are a common skin complaint, affecting most of us at some point in our lifetime. Some of us might get one or two occasionally, whilst others suffer frequent and widespread blackheads.
There are many myths surrounding skin problems, such as eating chocolate causing acne (it doesn’t necessarily), and myths surrounding blackheads are no exception.
So here’s our rundown on this common skin problem, the causes and whether or not you should squeeze them...
What are blackheads?
Blackheads are small, dark spots that appear primarily on the face, under the chin and on the neck. However, they can also appear on the back, shoulders, arms and chest.
Because they’re dark in colour, they can be very visible on the skin, especially so in lighter skin tones. They can form more commonly on acne prone skin, but someone who doesn’t suffer from acne can develop blackheads too.
They often feel slightly raised above the surface of the skin, but generally aren’t red or inflamed as they’re not normally infected like some cases of pus filled acne spots can be.
What causes blackheads?
Despite common urban myths about blackheads, they’re not caused by dirt, nor are they a plug of dirt trapped in the skin pores.
Instead, blackheads are the result of a clogged skin pore. The skin pores can become clogged with dead skin cells and sebum, the waxy substance naturally produced by the skin.
Some oily skin types produce too much sebum that can overload the pores, causing them to trap dead skin and cellular debris in the pores. Sometimes, the skin covering the pore stays intact, leading to the formation of whiteheads.
Blackheads form when the skin covering the blocked pore opens, exposing it to the air. The substances trapped within the pore then react with the air, causing them to turn black, and hence a blackhead forms.
It isn’t just excess sebum that can cause blackheads, an overgrowth of the acne causing skin bacterium, Propionibacterium acnes can also cause blackheads, especially in acne prone skin. Blackheads can also be caused by irritated hair follicles that allow dead skin cells to build up, preventing shedding.
Using heavy, pore clogging, oil based skin products, heavily sweating, regular shaving and being in a humid or greasy environment can all also cause blackheads.
Hormonal imbalances, such as during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy or whilst taking the contraceptive pill can also make the skin more prone to developing blackheads. As can taking certain other medications including steroids and lithium.
Are blackheads common?
Blackheads are very common and are most common on the sides of the nose, along the jawline, on the chin and inside the ear.
How do I get rid of blackheads?
Although not generally painful nor red or inflamed, blackheads are still a skin annoyance. So getting rid of blackheads is on the minds of many of us. There are a few options for clearing away problem blackheads, some being more effective than others.
Here’s all you need to know about treating and removing blackheads including what products are useful for blackheads...
Should you squeeze blackheads?
As much as it can be tempting to squeeze away blackheads, the top beauty therapists and skin specialists advise against this (sometimes immensely satisfying) practice.
Doing so can break the surrounding skin, leading to redness and inflammation. It’s one thing getting rid of a blackhead, but replacing it with broken or irritated skin is quite another!
If you can’t resist, make sure your hands are clean and you use the pads of your fingers to apply pressure either side of the blackhead, rather than your fingernails. Placing a tissue over your skin and applying pressure through this will also help to minimise skin damage.
There are blackhead tools that can help to remove blackheads. They’re generally made from metal and look like a small wire loop.
However, they can cause the same damage and irritation as manual squeezing using your fingers and are best left to the professionals who may use one during an extraction facial.
Face masks and nose strips
You’ll find that some beauty brands offer face masks and nose strips that promise to remove blackheads. However, approach these with caution as they can be harsh on the skin and cause damage.
They’re also met with scepticism as they’re often not very good at the job they claim to be good at.
Topical products for blackheads
Some products can be good for removing blackheads, however, and these include products that contain salicylic acid.
Salicylic acid is a type of fruit acid that acts as a type of exfoliant by removing the top layer of skin and unblocking the pores, in turn helping to treat blackheads.
It’s found in face washes, toners, moisturisers and treatments that can be bought from pharmacies and beauty counters. It’s also used in stronger concentrations in chemical face peels that are administered by trained beauty and skin professionals.
Laser and microdermabrasion
Laser skin treatments involve the use of tiny beams of intense light that reach the lower levels of the skin, promoting cell renewal. This helps to ‘push up’ the cellular debris clogging the pores, helping to clear away blackheads.
Microdermabrasion effectively ‘sands away’ the top layers of skin that helps to unclog blocked pores and also remove blackheads.
Both procedures can only be carried out by trained skin care professionals and advanced beauty therapists.
How to get blackheads out of ears
If you’ve ever tried to remove a blackhead from inside your ear, you’ll know how difficult it is! If you must, and you can, try using a blackhead remover tool, with extreme caution and only if the blackhead is on the outer surface of the ear.
If in any doubt, simply keep the area clean and wait for nature to take its course and for the skin to eventually push the blockage out of the pore.
How can I prevent blackheads from returning?
Preventing blackheads is all about your skincare. Although blackheads aren’t caused by poor hygiene, the right skincare products and regime will help to keep them at bay.
If you suffer from blackheads, it’s important to use oil free products that won’t block the pores or overload the skin. Equally, it’s important to not use products that contain alcohol as these will strip the skin of too much oil.
Exfoliate once or twice a week using a gentle fruit acid product to help clear the pores and always wash the skin after exercise and remove your makeup before bed to help prevent blocked pores.
Using skincare products designed for non conformist skin, such as our alkalising cleansers, toners and day and night moisturisers will also help. Free from harsh chemical ingredients and rich in natural plant botanicals and silica salts, they’re ideal for all types of stressed out skin.
This article is not meant to treat or diagnose. Please visit your doctor for advice about any health concerns you may have.