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Ever find yourself watching countless blackhead removal videos? Well, you may be into the following skin care trend.

It’s called skin gritting, and it’s become a staple in some people’s routines.

Skin gritting is said to be a way of removing the grime from your pores.

The deep cleansing technique uses a number of steps involving oil cleansing, clay masks, and facial massaging to dislodge “grits.”

These grits are generally said to be from blackheads, but may also come from the general dirt and debris that clog up pores.

A successful gritting session is visible to the naked eye, as the grits resemble teeny, tiny bugs on the hand.

There isn’t a medical reason to try skin gritting — it’s more a case of aesthetics.

“Technically, you don’t need to unclog pores,” explains dermatologist Dr. Sandy Skotnicki.

But larger pores — such as the ones on the nose and chin — “fill up with oxidized keratin, which looks black.”

“This is often not a desirable optic so people like these not to show,” she notes, adding that squeezing these pores can make them look even bigger over time.

As well as liking the look of unclogged pores, some simply get satisfaction from seeing the grits in their hand afterward.

Plus, people who’ve tried it say it’s gentler (and much less painful) than having a professional pore extraction.

However, Dr. Peterson Pierre, board-certified dermatologist at the Pierre Skin Care Institute, says this is generally “a job best left to the professionals.”

Honestly, it’s hard to say. Are grits just a mixture of dead skin and lint? Or are they actually dislodged blackheads?

Many people say it does, as something does come out of the pore, and that their skin feels cleaner.

But some aren’t convinced, wondering if grits are nothing more than leftover bits of clay mask.

iCliniq’s Dr. Noushin Payravi says the black bumps are “mainly dead skin build-up.”

It is, however, possible to remove blackheads and unclog pores via the clay mask part of gritting, according to Skotnicki.

Some of the earliest mentions of skin gritting appeared 5 years ago on the SkincareAddiction subreddit.

People with sensitive skin and conditions like acne should be careful when skin gritting.

Oils, acids, and masks can “certainly” irritate, Pierre says. Clay, in particular, can dry skin out.

The oils used may even further clog the pores, says Skotnicki, author of “Beyond Soap: The Real Truth About What You Are Doing to Your Skin and How to Fix It for a Beautiful, Healthy Glow.”

And Payravi says that frequent massaging that’s too aggressive “could irritate the facial skin and lead to micro injuries along with inflammatory lesions.”

Broken capillaries — small, red vein-like lines — may also appear.

Three methods have become popular among skin gritting aficionados.

They all rely on the same core ingredients — oil, clay, and massage — with a few minor adjustments.

Oil-clay-oil method

The original technique involves a three-step process.

The first step is to cleanse the skin with an oil-based cleanser. This aims to soften pores.

DHC’s Deep Cleansing Oil is a popular choice among skin gritters. So is Tatcha’s Pure One Step Camellia Cleansing Oil.

Find DHC’s Deep Cleansing Oil and Tatcha’s Pure One Step Camellia Cleansing Oil online.

A clay mask is applied next, “which dries and pulls debris in the pore out when removed,” Skotnicki says.

Aztec Secret’s Indian Healing Clay regularly receives rave reviews, along with Glamglow’s Supermud Clearing Treatment.

Shop for Aztec Secret’s Indian Healing Clay and Glamglow’s Supermud Clearing Treatment online.

Remove the clay mask and dry your face before moving onto the last step: using oil to gently massage your skin for 2 to 3 minutes.

This is designed to physically remove blackheads which, if you’re lucky, will show up as grits on your fingers.

Skotnicki notes that the first and last steps are “likely not necessary,” but says oil may have a benefit when used with clay masks.

These masks “are very drying, and they take off some of the surface skin,” she explains. “This can disrupt the skin’s ability to act as a barrier.”

Oil may help replace what is lost, she says.

Oil-acid-clay-oil method

This method adds an extra product in between the cleansing oil and clay mask.

After cleansing the skin, apply an exfoliating acid. One containing a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) is usually preferred, as they can dissolve oil and dislodge dead skin cells.

Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant is touted as a good option to try.

Shop for Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant online.

Skin gritters say to leave the acid on for around 20 to 25 minutes, though you should make sure to read the label for product-specific instructions.

Don’t rinse off the acid. Instead, apply the clay mask straight on top. Once that’s removed, go ahead with the same facial massage.

Skotnicki cautions using this method. Adding the acid, she says, “would certainly lead to possible irritation from the clay mask.”

Oil-sleep-oil method

Consider this method if:

  • you’re not a fan of clay products
  • you’re worried that your skin will react negatively to a mask
  • you don’t have a lot of time to spend on gritting

It simply involves applying oil to your face, going to sleep, and washing your skin the next morning with an oil cleanser.

Leaving oil on for hours is said to send more “impurities” to the surface of your skin, making the resulting grits even more satisfying.

When examined closely, a true grit will be black or gray on one end and relatively clear, yellow, or white on the other.

This is because the top of a blackhead darkens on contact with oxygen.

If what you see is completely black, this isn’t a grit, according to Reddit users. It’s more likely to be other skin-related dirt, product residue, or something like lint.

Don’t expect all grits to be big. Some may resemble tiny black dots.

The other thing to look out for is shape and texture. Grits may be small, but they’re also noticeably long and thin, or bulb-shaped.

They’re also typically waxy. If you can flatten it with your finger, for example, it’s likely a grit.

Once a week maximum. Any more than that and you’re likely to make your skin a little too dry.

People with sensitive skin may want to avoid weekly gritting and instead try it monthly.

And if you have the likes of acne, eczema, or rosacea, it’s worth checking with a dermatologist to see if skin gritting is really right for you.

If you notice a lot of inflammation or broken capillaries post-massage, you may be massaging too hard or for too long.

Try reducing the pressure and time. And if this doesn’t help, it’s best to avoid gritting altogether.

Extra dry skin is also a sign that you may be gritting too excessively. Tone down how often you’re using the method to see if your skin improves.

Some skin types may just be predisposed to irritation with a technique like this. But there are a couple of things you can do to avoid a red, raw look afterward.

Don’t massage too hard or for too long, and try not to excessively scrub skin when cleansing.

Take into account the products you’re using. If you believe a particular one is causing irritation, then swap it for a milder alternative.

“More is not better,” states Pierre. “The fewer products you can use on your skin to reach your goals, the better.”

Pierre adds that: “One product may be fine, but the combination of products may be harmful.”

The trick to trying out any new skin care regime is to listen to your skin and keep your expectations in check.

As Pierre says, “The skin on the face is delicate and needs to be handled with care.”

Don’t expect a huge difference after one go. In fact, you may not see a difference no matter how many times you try or how many different products you attempt it with.

And if your skin is showing warning signs, then skin gritting probably isn’t for you.


Lauren Sharkey is a journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.