Blackheads refer to pores that are clogged with oil and dead skin cells. When air oxidizes this clog, it turns dark, giving it the distinctive blackhead appearance.
This type of acne is also called open comedones, while whiteheads are closed comedones.
If you get blackheads, you might already know you shouldn’t pinch or squeeze them — but you do have plenty of different options for removing them.
One of the more recently popular methods of blackhead removal involves using a pore vacuum, also known as a blackhead vacuum.
A blackhead vacuum is a small vacuum you position over a blackhead. It uses mild suction to extract oil, dead skin, and other debris out of the pore, according to New York City-based dermatologist Hadley King, MD. Some vacuums may also have an exfoliating component, King adds.
There are two main types of blackhead vacuums:
- professional devices approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and used by experienced technicians
- inexpensive devices you can purchase yourself and use at home
When using a blackhead vacuum at home, you’ll generally want to follow the directions provided in the manual.
Here are the basic instructions King recommends following:
- Plug in the device.
- Position the circular nozzle tip directly on the blackhead.
- Turn on the vacuum.
- Slide it slowly over the blackhead and surrounding area for a few seconds.
- Repeat up to three times.
“Stop after a maximum of three passes,” King says. “It is possible to traumatize the skin, which could lead to scabbing and discoloration.”
Yes, pore vacuums can work — but typically only with already-loosened blackheads.
Wondering how to loosen up your pores so you can vacuum the blackheads out?
You can try different methods of exfoliation and pore penetration, such as:
It’s essential to avoid overdoing the suction when using a pore vacuum yourself.
Too much suction can cause:
- bruising and discoloration
- telangiectases, or spider veins, which involves small, broken, or dilated blood vessels near the surface of the skin
- micro-tears in your skin
King also notes that people with sensitive or rosacea-prone skin may be more likely to experience irritation after using a pore vacuum.
You’ve probably heard it before: Avoid squeezing or pinching your blackheads, since squeezing can lead to skin damage and scarring.
Instead, try these techniques to address blackheads:
- an over-the-counter (OTC) cleanser with salicylic acid to help break down the dead skin cells and oil clogging your pores
- an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) exfoliant, such as glycolic acid
- an OTC topical product containing a retinoid
- a clay or charcoal facial mask
- noncomedogenic beauty and skin care products
Washing your face after sweating and making sure to remove makeup before going to bed can also go a long way toward preventing blackheads.
You can also connect with a dermatologist for blackhead prevention and removal procedures, such as a chemical peel or professional extraction.
Still have questions about pore vacuums before giving it a try? We’ve got answers.
Do blackhead vacuums damage your skin?
King says blackhead vacuums can lead to skin damage if you use high suction, especially if you have sensitive or rosacea-prone skin. Common unwanted side effects include:
If you have darker skin that’s prone to hyperpigmentation, this redness or irritation could lead to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation, King explains.
How often should I suction my face?
King doesn’t recommend suctioning your face. Instead, she recommends other options, such as retinoids and salicylic acid.
If you do want to try suctioning, she suggests limiting it to once per week.
Can you use a pore vacuum on pimples?
You can, but King doesn’t recommend it.
“As with picking or trying to pop a pimple, you risk increasing inflammation, which can prolong healing time and increase risk of discoloration and scarring,” she says.
Can I use moisturizer after removing blackheads?
King says it’s fine to moisturize after removing blackheads.
“A noncomedogenic moisturizer that contains emollients to support the skin barrier can be applied afterward to help minimize irritation,” she explains.
Blackhead vacuums for blackhead removal may have more benefit after you’ve already loosened the blackhead with steam or a chemical exfoliant, like glycolic acid or salicylic acid.
If you’d like to try pore vacuuming, consider making an appointment with a specialist for professional blackhead removal.
It’s generally a good idea to ask your dermatologist before trying pore vacuuming yourself. That said, if you do choose the DIY route, use care and gentle suction to avoid bruising, spider veins, and other unwanted side effects.