Instead, I suggest you try to get rid of it in one of two ways: You can visit a dermatologist or esthetician for an extraction, which is the process of removing blackheads with special tools which minimize damage to the surrounding skin. This is a great option if you want to get rid of them quickly. But it can be expensive, costing around $100-200 per session.
Or you can try topical treatments, which will take longer to work, but are cost effective and will do the most for you in the long run, as they can prevent future blackheads from forming. They are also readily available at most pharmacies and at different prices, so you can find the best option for your budget and your skin tone.
Salicylic acid chemical peels can also be helpful in treating comedonal acne. Be sure to consult a practitioner experienced in administering peels, particularly if you have deeply pigmented skin, as peels can be irritating and cause discoloration.
To understand which treatments are effective, it helps to know how and where blackheads form – technically a type of acne.
Blackheads form in an area of the skin called a follicle, commonly referred to as a pore, which is a channel that begins under the skin and opens to its surface. A hair protrudes from the opening of the pore, but it is usually so small that it is not visible.
There are millions of pores covering your body. Each pore has an oil-producing gland, which travels to the opening of the pore and functions as a moisturizer for the skin and hair. Dead skin material is also extruded through the pores, where it can be washed away.
But sometimes oil and dead skin can accumulate inside the pore and at its opening. This causes a blockage which leads to more oil buildup. When this oil and dead skin material is exposed to air, it turns black and creates the appearance of blackheads.
Blackheads can develop anywhere, but are most commonly found in areas with the most sebaceous glands, such as the back, chest, and face.
They can cause scarring, which usually appears as tiny “ice-pick” scars on the skin and may be associated with a type of acne called comedonal acne. In this type of acne, you may see blackheads with closed comedones, also called whiteheads, which are small flesh-colored bumps. These are also clogged pores, but instead of being open to the air like blackheads, they are closed so that the material inside does not darken.
Some moisturizers can make blackheads worse
Blackheads usually start during puberty due to increased production of hormones, especially androgens. These hormones stimulate the glands to produce more sebum, which in turn leads to clogged pores. Teenagers aren’t the only ones with acne. Hormonal changes that occur throughout life, such as those of pregnancy or menopause, can lead to adult acne.
Many of my patients use oils in their hair, which can end up on their face and cause blackheads. Oils applied directly to the skin or through moisturizers can cause the same result. If you’re prone to developing blackheads, look for moisturizers designated as non-comedogenic (meaning they won’t clog pores) or oil-free.
Topical treatments that actually work
Most acne and blackhead treatments require patience. It can take three months to see improvement, and consistency is key.
Retinoids: Retinoids can help fight the oil production and dead skin buildup that cause blackheads. They are also effective in treating discoloration that can result from the formation of blackheads, which is more common in people with darker skin.
If you opt for a prescription-only retinoid, such as tretinoin, you should discuss the appropriate concentration with your dermatologist. Adapalene gel 0.1% is available over the counter.
Retinoids can be applied anywhere on the body where acne exists, but most are intended for use on the face. They can cause irritation, so it’s important to only use a small amount and start by using the product a few times a week. Use moisturizer for dryness and wear sunscreen as they can also make your skin more sensitive to the sun.
Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid: Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid can help exfoliate the skin and reduce oil production. They are sold as a cream, gel or wash.
I generally recommend wash preps at 4-10% concentration – as they treat an entire area – but some patients prefer to use them as spot treatments to speed up the resolution of a particular stain.
Like retinoids, they can dry out the skin, so they should be introduced gradually and combined with moisturizer when needed.
Benzoyl peroxide can bleach your clothes or towels, so keep that in mind after applying it, or choose products that contain salicylic acid instead.
Solar cream: Sometimes blackheads can develop as a long-term consequence of unprotected sun exposure in a condition called Favre-Racouchot. It is not known why this happens, but it is believed that sun damage causes the pores to widen.
Protect your skin by wearing wide-brimmed hats if you will be outdoors for an extended period between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Wear a sunscreen of at least SPF 30 daily and reapply it regularly.