Bye, Bye Blackheads!


In This Article:

The Paula's Choice Research Team truly understands the struggle of dealing with those persistent, yucky blackheads. Of course we all know a blackhead when we see one--it's that dark spot stubbornly stuck inside an enlarged pore. Although a blackhead looks like a large speck of black dirt, it has nothing to do with your skin being dirty.
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Blackhead-Eliminating Products

The Real Cause Of Blackheads

Diagram of hair follicle

  • Hormones cause excess oil to be produced inside the pore, which prevents it from flowing naturally to the surface.
  • That excess flow of oil gets backed up, and then it mixes with built-up dead skin cells that cannot be shed normally.
  • The combination of too much oil and dead skin cells is then exposed to air, which causes it to oxidize and turns black.

What Can You Do to Get Rid of Blackheads?

To start getting rid of blackheads, you need products that can do all of the following:

  • Restore a normal flow of oil out of your pore by improving the shape of the pore lining.
  • Reduce and absorb excess oil.
  • Remove dead, built-up surface skin cells that aren't shedding normally.

Sadly, lots of products, no matter what they claim, just aren't capable of doing any of the above, mainly because the ingredients they contain actually make matters worse!

Although this might sound discouraging, don't be dismayed. The Paula's Choice Research Team is here to show you the real and effective ways to treat and remove blackheads.

Why Won't My Blackheads Go Away?

Blackheads tend to be stubborn no matter what you do. Often, however, the problem persists or becomes worse because of the skin-care routine you are using. Here's what you may doing wrong:

  • Shockingly, lots of products claimed to address blackheads contain irritants--alcohol, peppermint, menthol, lemon, lime, eucalyptus--that actually increase oil production and make matters worse!
  • Irritation of any kind stimulates nerve endings in the skin that lead to the release of hormones that cause oil production, leading to more blackheads!
  • You can't scrub blackheads away. Blackheads are too deep in the pore to be removed by surface scrubbing, and the irritation of the scrubbing can cause more oil production.
  • Blackheads cannot be pulled out of the pore by using pore strips. Pore strips remove only the very surface part of a blackhead, so you'll see it again soon.
  • Microdermabrasion cannot reach the root of the problem, so any benefit you see from this procedure is only temporary.
  • Bar soap is a problem for fighting blackheads because the very ingredients that keep bar cleansers in their bar form can clog your pores. Your skin might feel squeaky clean with bar cleansers, but that feeling is drying and irritating, and that won't help any blemish on your face.

How Can I Get Rid of My Blackheads?

The secret to solving any persistent skin problem is to use the right products and use them consistently. Here's what you can do to reduce and maybe even eliminate your blackheads:

  • Use a gentle, water-soluble cleanser and a gentle washcloth to add a bit of manual exfoliation, but don't overdo it. No irritating or drying cleansers should ever touch your face.
  • Avoid overly emollient or greasy moisturizers in blackhead-prone areas. As much as possible, use only gel, light fluid lotion, or liquid skin-care products because most of the ingredients that give lotions and creams their thick consistency can clog pores.
  • Use a well-formulated, leave-on salicylic acid–based exfoliant (also called BHA) that contains absolutely no irritants! Unfortunately, there are very few products available that hit this mark. Paula's Choice offers the widest and most affordable selection of BHA (salicylic acid) exfoliants--with options for every skin type (you can check options from other lines by visiting Beautypedia and checking out our list of Best BHA Exfoliants.
  • Absorb excess oil. Those with oily skin will benefit from irritant-free clay masks and oil-blotting papers.

Can I Remove Blackheads Myself?

Extremely stubborn blackheads can be removed, but only by gently squeezing them out of the pore. Using a comedone extractor (a tool which helps extract blackheads without having to use your fingers) and light-handed squeezing can help a great deal.

Follow these steps for gentle, at-home blackhead extraction:

  • Wash your face with a gentle, water-soluble cleanser and follow with a well-formulated toner containing niacinamide to improve the shape of the pore.
  • Place a slightly warm (not hot), wet washcloth for about 2 to 3 minutes over the area you want to squeeze, and then pat the area dry.
  • Use a comedone extractor. First, center it over the blackhead and then gently press down and pull forward at the same time.
  • Next, to get more of the blackhead out, use a tissue over each finger (to prevent slipping and accidentally tearing your skin) and then apply even, soft pressure to the sides of the blackhead area, gently pressing down and then up around the affected pore.
  • Repeat this process only once. If nothing happens, it means that the blackhead cannot be removed with this first treatment, and continuing will most likely cause a wound and scabbing. You can try again in a few days.
  • Follow up with a well-formulated BHA (salicylic acid) exfoliant.

Remember: Never pinch, scrape, poke, press, or squeeze too hard!

Blackheads or Sebaceous Filaments?

If you look closely at the tip of your nose, you might see tiny dots that resemble blackheads. These marks may be blackheads if they are quite dark, but the dark “dot” you see when you look very closely is also the tip of the columnar structures that fill your pores. They're known as sebaceous filaments, naturally occurring hair-like formations that channel the flow of oil along the lining of the pore in which they lie (Source: Archives for Dermatological Research, March 1976, pages 9-21).

Sebaceous filaments are a natural part of skin’s follicle (pore) structure that everyone has; however, if your skin is oily or your pores are large and prone to becoming clogged, you’re more likely to notice them. Removing these filaments manually is possible, but they will come back within a month, as they’re supposed to be there, doing their job of helping oil move through the pore (follicle) lining. There isn't anything you can do to keep them from returning, though ongoing use of a BHA exfoliant will help restore a more normal flow of oil out of the pore lining, reducing the risk of pores becoming clogged.

The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth scientific research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life!

(Sources: The New Ideal in Skin Health: Separating Fact from Fiction, Carl Thornfeldt and Krista Bourne, 2010, page 61; Seminars in Cutaneous Medicine and Surgery, September 2008, pages 170–176; Expert Opinion in Pharmacotherapy, April 2008, pages 955–971; Dermatologic Surgery, January 2008, pages 45–50; Clinical Dermatology, September-October 2004, pages 367–374; and Global Cosmetic Industry, November 2000, pages 56–57)

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

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