What causes blackheads and how to treat them

Nose with blackheads

Dealing with stubborn blackheads can be a real hassle. These pesky black plugs affect our appearance, which also could lower our confidence and self-esteem. The rough, uneven skin texture they create only adds to the frustration.

In this post, we’re diving deep into the root causes of blackheads and providing practical solutions to banish them for good. Let’s explore how our blog post can make a difference.

What Are Blackheads And What Causes Them

Blackheads are black small bumps that appear on the surface of the skin.  Those bumps are black in colour hence the name.  Blackheads are small acne and usually appear on the face, mostly on the nose and chin.  However, blackheads could appear on one’s back, chest, other parts of the face, shoulders and arms.

The official, proper name for blackhead is open comedo.  Human skin contains billions of pores, which are basically an entrance for a single tiny hair.  There is a hair follicle of the base of the hair and a sebaceous gland.  Sebaceous gland secretes (produces) sebum (skin oil) that aids in skin hydration and keeps skin soft. 

Blackhead occurs when a plug or clog develops in the opening of hair follicles of one’s skin. Plug develops when dead cells and sebum collects in a hair follicle and clogs up a pore.

If skin over clogged pore stays closed, than a person has a whitehead (white inflamed pimple); when the skin over affected pore opens, then exposure to air, dust and environmental pollution causes acne look black.  If you squeeze a blackhead out, the white or yellowish stuff comes out – this is a clog itself, it is always white or yellow in colour.

Reasons Why Pores Become Clogged

  • hormonal changes that increase oil production (during teen years, menstruation, some medical conditions that cause hormonal imbalances or when taking birth control pills)
  • producing too much body oil
  • build up of bacteria on the skin that causes acne (Propionibacterium acnes)
  • inability of dead cells to shed on a regular basis
  • some medication cause blackheads (corticosteroids, lithium etc)
  • some cosmetics, lotions, sunscreens and cosmetic oils are comedogenic, meaning they cause clogged pores (for example almond, olive and coconut oils can plug pores)

Are Blackheads Harmful?

Blackheads are not harmful and do not cause any serious problems other than they do not look appealing.

How To Prevent Blackheads?

  • Wash face regularly – this will remove oil buildup and some dead cells.  Use gentle cleanser and consider starting double cleansing method (read about it in my post here)
  • Use oil free products or non-comedogenic oils and cosmetics
  • Use exfoliating products (do not use facial scrubs as they tend to damage outer skin layer and dry skin out dramatically) – read here about recommended exfoliating masks.

(Disclaimer: this page contains affiliate links, meaning if you make a purchase, I will get a small commission at no cost to you.)

Which Face Oils Do Not Cause Blackheads?

Oils that do not clog pores and cause blackheads are called noncomedogenic oils.  Many people prefer using oils over commercial creams and products.  Noncomedogenic oils are also called carrier oils meaning that they are used to deliver another oil – for example, an essential oil – that cannot be applied directly to skin.

Here are some noncomedogenic oils:

  • Grapeseed oil – high in antioxidants, vitamin E and linoleic  acid.
  • Sweet almond oil – rich in vitamin E, minerals, antioxidants and fatty acids.  This oil is very good for dry, flaky skin.
  • Avocado oil – rich in fatty acids, vitamins E and C.
  • Hemp seed oil – rich in fatty acids, vitamins C and E.
  • Sesame oil – rich in fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins.
  • Jojoba oil – one of the most used oils in natural cosmetics.  It is full of fatty acids and antioxidants.

How to treat blackheads?

There are many treatments that are designed to treat blackheads. 

Some of them work on preventing clogged pores from happening and controlling face oil production. Enlarged and clogged pores often show up on skin that’s oily or a mix of oily and dry. When your skin makes too much oil, it can block the hair shafts. That’s why controlling facial oil, called sebum, can help treat blackheads.

Others work on removing and/or dissolving a plug itself (for example, clay masks, products with hydroxy acid (BHA) etc).

Skincare Ingredients That Prevent Clogged Pores And Regulate Facial Oil Production

  1. Salicylic Acid containing products: Salicylic acid penetrates into the pores to dissolve oil and exfoliate dead skin cells, preventing clogged pores and acne breakouts.
  2. Glycolic Acid: Glycolic acid exfoliates the skin’s surface, removing dead skin cells and unclogging pores, resulting in smoother, clearer skin.
  3. Niacinamide (Vitamin B3): Niacinamide regulates sebum production, minimizes pore size, and strengthens the skin’s barrier function, reducing the risk of clogged pores and breakouts.
  4. Retinoids (Retinol, Retin-A): Retinoids increase cell turnover, promote collagen production, and prevent the formation of clogged pores, resulting in smoother, more refined skin texture.
  5. Hyaluronic Acid: Hyaluronic acid hydrates the skin without adding excess oil, maintaining moisture balance and preventing dehydration without clogging pores.
  6. Tea Tree Oil: Tea tree oil has antimicrobial properties that help to kill acne-causing bacteria, reduce inflammation, and prevent clogged pores and breakouts.
  7. Clay (Kaolin, Bentonite): Clay absorbs excess oil and impurities from the skin’s surface, tightens pores, and prevents the buildup of sebum that can lead to clogged pores and acne.
  8. Zinc: Zinc regulates oil production, reduces inflammation, and promotes wound healing, making it effective in preventing clogged pores and calming acne-prone skin.

Skincare Ingredients That Remove And Dissolve Plugs From Pores

  1. BHA (Beta Hydroxy Acid) Exfoliants: These products contain salicylic acid, a BHA that penetrates into the pores to dissolve excess oil and dead skin cells, effectively unclogging pores and preventing blackheads.
  2. Enzymes (Papain, Bromelain): Just cut up papaya or pineapple and apply over your face. Enzymes such as papain (from papaya) or bromelain (from pineapple) help to dissolve dead skin cells and unclog pores, leaving the skin smooth and clear.
  3. Charcoal: Activated charcoal acts like a magnet to draw out dirt, oil, and impurities from pores, helping to remove plugs and prevent clogs.
  4. Clay (Kaolin, Bentonite): Clay masks absorb excess oil and impurities from the skin’s surface, including plugs from pores, which helps prevent pore blockages and blackheads.
picture of mango and papaya cuts

Manual Removal of Blackheads

It is the oldest and the most sure way to remove blackheads.  A small opening is made on top of a plug and then clog is removed either with fingers or special device called a round loop.  Skin should be steamed before the procedure to open the pores and make the procedure easier (alternatively, this can be done after taking a shower or applying towels soaked in very warm water several times).  It is advisable to have manual removal done by an aesthetician. 

Microdermabrasion to Remove Blackheads

This procedure is done at cosmetic salons by professionals.  During microdermabrasion aesthetician uses a special instrument with rough surface that gently sands the skin and removes clogs that cause blackheads.

Chemical Peels to Remove Blackheads

These types of peels remove clogs and dead skin cells.  There are chemical peels that you can buy over the counter. However, you have to be very careful with these peels and follow instructions precisely.

Please, remember that if you decide to do chemical peels at home, do it during winter months when sun is not so strong.  Avoid direct exposure to sun and never leave home without applying sunscreen with SPF 60.  Follow manufacturer instructions.  I’ve seen people who were using chemical peels at home and were not careful with sun exposure: these women unfortunately have very definitive dark spots now which cannot be removed even with phototherapy and other whitening procedures.

Derma – E Overnight Peel with Alpha Hydroxy Acids – Derma E Overnight Peel contains 5% Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA) for safe, effective removal of dead surface skin cells. With every use, skin tone becomes more radiant, pigmentation is evened and age spots are visibly diminished. 100% vegan, cruelty-free, paraben-free, sulfate-free, mineral oil-free, lanolin-free, gluten free, GMO-free.

The  Ordinary Glycolic  Acid 7% Toning Solution – It has 7 percent glycolic acid, it also has aloe vera to smooth skin peeling.

First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads – pads that are suitable for daily use.  Contain Lactic Acid, Glycolic Acid, Lemon Peel, and Indian Gooseberry.   It is free of parabens, sulphates and phtalates. Suitable for any type of skin including sensitive.

Caudalie Glycolic Peel – “this gentle treatment buffs away dull, dead skin cells and brightens dark spots to reveal a glowing, smooth complexion. Natural, time-release glycolic—an alpha-hydroxyl acid (AHA)—exfoliates dead skin cells to reveal new, baby soft skin”.

Laser and Light Therapy

In some salons it is possible to get laser and light therapy.  Tiny beams reach sebum gland and decrease oil production.  They also kill bacteria that cause acne to form.

Remember that if skin is dehydrated it tends to produce more oil to compensate lack of moisture.  This excess oil production not only give skin “greasy, oily” look but also causes more blackheads to form.  Make hydration and moisturizing of your skin your priority and you will notice that there will be less sebum development and clogged pores.

Please, share your tips how you manage blackheads and enlarged pores.


I created a small pocket book that will tell you which skincare ingredients should not be applied together. For example, as you can see from the post, AHA and Retinol on their own are awesome for working against pimples, blackheads and retinol is famous for its anti-aging properties.

However, if you apply AHA and Retinol together, you will increase cells turnover, which will cause skin dryness and irritation.

So, this pocket book contains list of 27 skincare products combinations that should not be applied together. Check it out!!!!!

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