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Unless you’re blessed with genetically perfect skin that’s never been exposed to grime and oil, chances are you’ve had a close encounter with a blackhead or two.

Blackheads are a mild form of acne caused by clogged hair follicles in your skin.

When you see a blackhead, it’s tempting to want to squeeze out the blockage in your pore and move on with your life.

In most cases, though, squeezing a blackhead opens up a Pandora’s box of possibilities for other problems.

The little black dots you see on the bridge of your nose or the sides of your cheeks might not be blackheads. While blackheads do involve your hair follicles, sometimes pores and follicles that appear to be blocked are simply more visible because of oil buildup.

If oil buildup is indeed the issue at hand, you risk damaging your skin if you try to pop a blockage that isn’t there. Popping a blackhead that’s really just oil buildup won’t solve anything, as the oil will typically come right back.

When you try to force a blockage out of a pore, you’re risking skin damage and infection. But unlike popping other kinds of pimples, blackheads are open pores, which makes them less risky to pop.

If you’re sure you’re dealing with a blocked hair follicle, and you’re convinced you can’t avoid popping it, there are safer ways to go about it. This article will cover how to pop a blackhead safely.

Before removing a blackhead, spend some time in a warm shower or bath. Steam can help your pores relax, and the clog in your pore will start to loosen on its own.

Once you’re ready to set your pore free, follow these steps:

  1. Wash your hands. This is absolutely critical to preventing the spread of infection on your dermis, the layer of your skin where bacteria can be easily trapped. You might want to put on plastic or latex gloves if you have them.
  2. Apply pressure around the clogged pore. You can use a tissue or clean cotton gauze as a barrier between your hands and the blackhead itself, if needed.
  3. Rock your fingers back and forth around the clogged pore. Remember that you’re trying to pop out an intact blockage made of dried oil and dead skin cells. You may need to experiment with different levels of pressure and different finger positions. Don’t press so hard that you cut or bruise your skin.
  4. Feel the clog pop out. If you’re not able to remove the clog via these steps, you may need to give your skin some time to recover before trying again.
  5. Cleanse the area with a mild astringent or toner. This will kill harmful bacteria and help keep your pores free of debris that caused your blackhead.

You can typically feel if a blockage in your pore is close to the surface of your skin or not.

Oil blockages in your pores turn black when they’re exposed to oxygen — that’s how they get their color in the first place. Most blackheads are close enough to the skin’s surface to attempt safe removal.

If you’ve tried to remove a blackhead and the blockage won’t come out, leave it alone for a day or two. In most cases, your skin will clear the blockage on its own if you give it time.

Products that can help

You might also want to try using over-the-counter products, such as pore-clearing strips, retinoids, and cleansers that contain salicylic acid.

Be aware that most blackheads are caused by overproduction of natural oils in your skin. Even if you find a product that helps you remove blackheads, they’ll keep coming back unless you address the underlying cause.

For stubborn blackheads, consider see an aesthetician or a dermatologist for an extraction. Some aestheticians offer extraction-only facials that last about 30 minutes.

Find blackhead-clearing products online.

Tools called comedone extractors can be used to remove blackheads. These tools are typically made of stainless steel and have a small circle at the end. You’ll need some practice with comedone extractors to remove blackheads easily.

Removing a blackhead yourself with a comedone extractor is no safer than any other way of doing it yourself. It’s safest to have an aesthetician do it for you.

After you remove a blackhead, your pore will appear smaller. That’s because the dirt and oil have been removed. Swipe a toner, such as witch hazel, over the area to kill any bacteria you may have spread and to condition your pores.

You may want to avoid directly touching the area while your skin heals. Introducing dirt or any irritant to the area can result in another blackhead.

Buy witch hazel online.

Being proactive about blackhead prevention and skin care can help you avoid having to try to extract blackheads yourself. Consider these ways to treat and prevent blackheads.

If you have sensitive skin, or dry skin that’s prone to flaking:

  • Exfoliate your skin gently each day using a cleansing scrub or a dry brush. Skin flakes can block your pores and create an environment that causes blackheads to form.
  • Keep your skin hydrated with a fragrance-free moisturizing cream.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day for healthier skin.
  • Make sure to cleanse your skin properly of excess makeup and products every night. A gentle cleansing agent like micellar water or cucumber-based makeup-removing wipes can add moisture while cleansing.

Find a dry brush, micellar water, and makeup remover wipes online.

If you have oil-prone skin:

  • Try a clay mask to absorb excess oils in your skin and achieve a more matte look.
  • Try introducing salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide products into your skin care routine. These ingredients can dissolve oil plugs before they clog your pores.
  • Make your own baking soda scrub to absorb oils and condition your pores.
  • Use a retinoid cream or serum to condition your skin. Be aware that this ingredient can make your skin more prone to damage from the sun, so always pair it with a light SPF when you venture outside.

Find salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and retinoid products online.

Removing a blackhead once in a while is safe for most people, but it’s important not to make a habit out of removing them yourself.

If you have recurring blackheads, make an appointment with a dermatologist who can help you address them with more permanent treatment options.