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, which creates an oxidation that’s 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.

“The good news is that there is a cornucopia of over-the-counter products that contain effective ingredients to exfoliate, soften, and even remove blackheads,” says Allison Britt Kimmins, MD, MPH.

Keep reading to learn how to:

Instead of benzoyl peroxide, look for over-the-counter (OTC) products that contain salicylic acid.

Salicylic acid is the preferred ingredient for treating blackheads and whiteheads because it breaks down the materials that clog pores:

  • excess oil
  • dead skin cells

By choosing a daily cleanser with salicylic acid, you can remove these elements in addition to:

  • daily dirt
  • oil
  • 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. Britt Kimmins notes that salicylic acid is especially good for those with dry skin.

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. You may not be able to use it more than once every few days. If you continue to react to it, discontinue use.

Find cleansers online:

Murad Time Release Active Cleanser

  • Details: Murad helps clear blemishes and purify skin without overdrying. It provides a sustained release of salicylic acid for continuous acne treatment, even after it’s been rinsed off.
  • Cost: $$

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser

  • Details: This medicated gel cleanser contains 2 percent salicylic acid. The formula helps target excess oil and helps clear up acne breakouts.
  • Cost: $

Dermalogica Clearing Skin Wash

  • Details: Dermalogica helps clear skin and reduce visible signs of skin aging. The formula contains extracts of balm mint, eucalyptus, and tea tree, while menthol and camphor help cool the skin.
  • Cost: $$

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!

“Both AHAs and BHAs are excellent as superficial peels, says Britt Kimmins. “AHAs and BHAs …treat the superficial layer of skin and therefore are safe for OTC use in all skin types.”

Find exfoliating products online:

First Aid Beauty’s FAB Skin Lab Resurfacing Liquid AHA 10%

  • Details: FAB Skin Lab was designed with sensitive skin in mind. Powered by a 10 percent concentration of 4 alpha-hydroxy acids, it helps smooth, brighten, and even out the appearance of rough, dull-looking skin.
  • Cost: $$

Clean and Clear Triple Cleanse Exfoliating Scrub

  • Details: This daily acne face scrub fights breakouts by removing oil from the skin and gently exfoliating, treating acne while also soothing the skin.
  • Cost: $

A skin brush can provide similar exfoliating benefits as AHAs and BHAs by removing excess dead skin cells.

Susan Massick, MD, dermatologist and associate professor of dermatology at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center advises caution.

She recommends that skin brushes only be used occasionally with a gentle cleansing wash and to avoid the use of a brush altogether if you have sensitive skin.

Depending on your needs and budget, there are a variety of skin brushes available to be used with your daily cleanser.

Find skin brushes online:

Clarisonic

  • Details: Clarisonic is an anti-aging and cleansing device designed to gently exfoliate, minimize the appearance of pores, firm skin, reduce under-eye puffiness, and blend foundation.
  • Cost: $$$

Hand-Held Brush

  • Details: Hand-Held Brush is made of 100% natural silicone, which is soft enough for sensitive, delicate, or dry skin. This facial scrubber cleans and exfoliates the skin to open pores and gently remove impurities and dead skin.
  • Cost: $

Retinoids may be useful for stubborn cases of acne by helping to unplug pores. This process can also make other OTC products more effective by helping them to be better able to enter the follicle.

But if you’ve got dry skin, Britt Kimmins recommends avoiding strong exfoliants, like retinoids, altogether.

Shop for the following retinoids online:

ProActiv’s Adapalene Gel 0.1%

  • Details: Adapalene is benzoyl peroxide-free. It’s a once-daily retinoid gel that absorbs quickly to treat acne at the cellular level.
  • Cost: $

Differin Gel

  • Details: Differin Gel effectively targets two primary causes of acne: clogged pores and inflammation. It clears breakouts where they start (deep in pores) and prevents new acne from forming.
  • Cost: $

Clay masks help to draw oils and toxins out of the skin, which helps to unclog pores, says Britt Kimmins. Clay masks are often considered must-haves for oily skin.

Some clay masks 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.

Find clay masks online:

L’Oréal’s Detox and Brighten Pure Clay Mask

  • Details: L’Oréal’s mask claims to detoxify and illuminate skin in just 10 minutes. Potent pure clay and charcoal act like a magnet to clean out pores by drawing out and capturing deep impurities, such as dirt, oil, and pollution.
  • Cost: $

Cetaphil Purifying Clay Mask

  • Details: Cetaphil Purifying Clay Mask is designed to purify skin and deep clean pores. It absorbs excess oil and helps improve skin tone.
  • Cost: $

Like clay masks, charcoal masks work deep in the skin to draw out oil and other impurities, says Britt Kimmins. Charcoal is thought to take these benefits up another notch.

Find charcoal masks online:

ProActiv Skin Purifying Mask

  • Details: ProActive’s mask is formulated with cooling kaolin clay to refine pores, plus a special blend of antioxidants, vitamins, and botanicals that moisturize and condition skin.
  • Cost: $$

Origins Active Charcoal Mask

  • Details: Origins Active Charcoal Mask helps flush out environmental toxins, dirt, and debris that can clog pores and cause skin to look dull.
  • Cost: $

Chemical peels are traditionally used for anti-aging benefits, such as reduced age spots and fine lines. The peels often contain AHAs or BHAs, and they work by exfoliating the skin, says Massick.

In theory, smoother, refreshed-looking skin should be revealed 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 anti-aging benefits too.

Find chemical peels online:

DermaDoctor’s Physical Chemistry Facial

  • Details: DermaDoctor’s Physical Chemistry Facial Microdermabrasion + Multiacid Chemical Peel provides an intensive exfoliating treatment for a clinical at-home chemical peel and microdermabrasion session in one.
  • Cost: $$$

QRx Labs Glycolic Acid 30% Gel Peel

  • Details: QRx Labs Glycolic Acid 30% Gel Peel stimulates collagen production, reducing the appearance of wrinkles, fine lines, and hyperpigmentation in the skin by increasing cell regeneration. New cells replace older and damaged ones, exposing a younger skin surface.
  • Cost: $

The right cleanser, mask, and exfoliator may do little good if you don’t use noncomedogenic makeup and face products. In fact, Massick recommends starting off a blackhead removal regimen with noncomedogenic 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.

Find noncomedogenic products online:

ProActiv Green Tea Moisturizer

  • Details: This moisturizer is lightweight and was made especially for acne-prone skin. It’s designed to deliver deep hydration and gently rejuvenate dull, tired-looking skin — without clogging pores.
  • Cost: $$

Neutrogena SkinClearing Liquid Makeup

  • Details: SkinClearing Liquid contains salicylic acid acne medication to provide fast acne relief and help fight acne breakouts. It’s oil free, hypoallergenic, and noncomedogenic.
  • Cost: $

Neutrogena Clear Face Sunscreen

  • Details: Neutrogena Clear Face Sunscreen is fragrance free and water resistant for up to 80 minutes. It helps keep your skin protected from the sun during outdoor activities.
  • Cost: $

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.

Those with oily skin may want to consider using a foaming cleanser, says Britt Kimmins. Makeup removers can also be used before washing your face for extra cleansing power.

Find makeup removal products online:

Neutrogena Fresh Foaming Cleanser

  • Details: Neutrogena Fresh Foaming Cleanser creates a foamy lather that cleanses without overdrying the skin and helps remove even waterproof makeup. It washes away dirt, oil, and makeup in one easy step.
  • Cost: $

Garnier SkinActive Cleansing Water

  • Details: SkinActive lifts away dirt, makeup, and excess oil, all in just a few swipes. It’s gentle on the skin and can be used as an eye makeup remover.
  • Cost: $

Cetaphil Liquid Makeup Remover

  • Details: Cetaphil Liquid Makeup Remover is dermatologist tested, noncomedogenic and formulated with aloe vera. This gentle, fragrance-free makeup remover can be used all over the face, including the delicate eye area.
  • Cost: $

You’ve already learned 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.

Dermatologists who have years of training sometimes use these tools. When placed into hands with limited experience, extraction tools can turn into a source for scratches, wounds, and even scars.

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

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

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

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. The Healthline FindCare tool can provide options in your area if you don’t already have a dermatologist.

They may even recommend a series of dermabrasion treatments or prescription retinoids to prevent blackheads from coming back.