12 Ways to Get Rid of Blackheads

Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on August 21, 2017Written by Kristeen Cherney

What you can do

Blackheads are one of the most common forms of acne. Although people who have oily skin are more vulnerable to blackheads, anyone can get them. They form when pores become clogged with a combination of dead skin cells and excess oil (sebum) from your sebaceous glands.

Unlike whiteheads, which create closed pores, blackheads have open surfaces. This creates an oxidation that is dark in color.

It may be tempting to try to pinch or push the black plug out, but this can cause unnecessary scarring and other damage to your skin.

You’ll likely have better results using the tips and tricks outlined below. Keep reading to learn how to get rid of your blackheads and prevent future ones from forming.

1. Avoid pore strips and other home extraction methods

You already know 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 — these tools are sometimes used by dermatologists who have years of training. When placed into novice hands, extraction tools can turn into a source for scratches, wounds, and even scars.

2. 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 that benzoyl peroxide doesn’t work for all types of acne.

Benzoyl peroxide works by reducing swelling, which a key marker of inflammatory acne. This includes cysts and pustules. It can also get rid of underlying bacteria in a pimple.

However, blackheads aren’t considered inflammatory, and they aren’t caused by bacteria, so products featuring benzoyl peroxide won’t do much good.

3. Cleanse with salicylic acid

Instead of benzoyl peroxide, look for OTC products that contain salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is the preferred ingredient for blackheads and whiteheads because it breaks down the materials that clog pores: excess oil and 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. 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 and you may not be able to use it more than once every few days. If you continue to react to it, discontinue use.

The following cleansers contain salicylic acid:

4. 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!

Consider First Aid Beauty’s FAB Skin Lab Resurfacing Liquid AHA 10% or Clean and Clear Triple Cleanse Exfoliating Scrub. Exfoliating products should be used once or twice a week.

5. Pick up a skin brush

A skin brush can provide similar exfoliating benefits as AHAs and BHAs by removing excess dead skin cells. The key, though, is to use it only once a week so you don’t cause irritation. You’ll also want to use your skin brush on alternating days from AHA or BHA exfoliators.

Depending on your needs and budget, there are a variety of skin brushes available. You can opt for a whole electric-based system from Clarisonic, or you can use a more affordable hand-held brush, such as Dermalogica’s Exfoliating Face Brush. Both types of brushes can be used with your daily cleanser.

6. Try topical retinoids

Retinoids may be helpful for stubborn cases of acne by helping to unplug pores. This process can also make other OTC products more effective, because they’ll be better able to enter the follicle.

You may wish to try ProActiv’s Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment or Differin Gel. Both were previously available by prescription only.

7. Use a clay mask

Clay masks are often considered must-haves for oily skin. They work by retrieving dirt, oil, and other elements deep from your pores. As far as blackheads are concerned, clay masks can even loosen and remove clogged pores. L’Oréal’s Detox and Brighten Clay Mask is one such product worth looking in to.

Some clay masks, such as Michael Todd’s Kaolin Clay Detoxifying Facial Mask, 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.

8. Use a charcoal mask

Like clay masks, charcoal masks work deep in the skin to draw out oil, dead skin cells, and other impurities. The ingredient charcoal is thought to take these benefits up another notch.

Used once weekly, the following charcoal masks may help get rid of your blackheads:

9. 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, and they work by removing the top layer of skin.

In theory, you should be able to reveal smoother, refreshed-looking skin 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 antiaging benefits too.

DermaDoctor’s Physical Chemistry Facial Microdermabrasion + Multiacid Chemical Peel and Murad’s Hydro-Glow Aqua Peel are both worth looking into.

10. 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. 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.

Nearly every type of skin product has a noncomedogenic counterpart, such as:

11. 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. Plus, eye makeup left on overnight can lead to eye irritations or infections.

Try taking off your makeup with the following products:

These can also be used before washing your face for extra cleansing power.

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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