What causes blackheads and how to treat them

what is your skin type

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Majority of people would have blackheads on their noses at some point of life; especially through teenager’s years and with aging.

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.

(photo by Cosmetic and Skin)

There are few 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)

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.

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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.

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?

Over-the-counter treatments

There are many treatments that are designed to treat blackheads.  Many of them work on outer skin layer and remove dead cells, which contribute to plug formation.  Other products work like manual removal (read below) and remove clogs right from pores. 

Enlarged and clogged pores is mostly a problem for people with oily to combination skin.  Overproduction of skin oil clogs hair shaft.  Thus focusing on sebum (facial oil) control may also assist in blackheads treatment.

I myself have oily skin with enlarged pores on my nose and chin.  Blackheads is a huge problem for me and I am constantly searching for products which could help me with this issue.

First of all, it is very important to cleanse skin well in the morning and at night using double-cleansing method.   

Innisfree Green Tea Cleansing Oil – it is very gentle and anti-inflammatory, it cleanse skin well removing all dirt and pollution of my skin. 

Double cleansing oil innisfree

Tosowoong Enzyme Powder Wash – this wash made with papain enzyme and loaded with vitamin E.  It is excellent for removing all skin products, sebum and dirt.

Tosowoong powder enzyme wash

Innisfree Green Persimmon Toner – this toner contains pure Jeju green persimmon and is designed to control overproduction of skin oil thus preventing pores from clogging up. It is applied with cotton pad after the cleansing.  I usually use this toner in the morning to help control oil production throughout the day.

Innisfree Green Persimmon Essence – also contain pure Jeju green persimmon.  It helps to moisturize skin as well as control sebum production. I use this essence in the morning after applying the above toner.

what causes blackheads and treatments

Tony Moly Egg Pore set – this set contains 3 products – The Blackhead Out Oil Gel, Pore Tightening Pack and Pore Silky Smooth Balm – that are designed to remove dead skin cells, control production of sebum, clear skin impurities and minimize skin breakouts.  The third product – balm, also acts as a primer that is applied to the skin as a last step and helps visibly minimize appearance of enlarged pores and blackheads.  I use this trio once or twice a week.

what are blackheads and treatments

Cosrx – BHA Blackhead Power Facial Liquid – this is one of my favourite products to fight annoying blackheads.  BHA is oil soluble and penetrates deep into pores.  It loosens clogged sebum, softens blackheads and makes them easier to extract.  It also regulates skin oil from overproduction, minimizes pores and kills acne causing bacterial.   

what causes blackheads and treatments

Apply this liquid to your face concentrating on the problem area, let sit for 20-30 minutes; do NOT rinse off.  Follow with your usual skin care routine.  Always apply sunscreen when using this product.

Corsx – Two in One Poreless Liquid – another my favourite product.  It contains BHA and Willow bark, it also loosens plugs in pores, makes them to become smaller and easier to extract.  It also whitens the skin, evens out skin tone, minimizes or removes old acne scars and bumps.  It is applied to the whole face for 20-30 minutes and is followed by usual skin care routine.  Sunscreen is required when this product is used.

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1 % – this is an amazing product that truly reduces sebum production, minimizes pores, kills acne-causing bacteria and evens skin tone.  I apply it after my tones and essence before using moisturizer and heavy creams.

Scrubs – there are many scrubs that are available at any drug store.  They are all designed to mechanically clear blackheads.  Go for gentle ones as harsh scrubs can damage skin surface and even cause micro wounds on the skin.

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 are designed to remove clogs and dead skin cells.  During chemical peels chemical solution is applied to the skin.  Outer layer will sloth off over the next few days.  There are mild over-the-counter chemical peels that can be done at home.  Strong solutions should only be done by skin care professionals at a salon.

Please, remember that if you decide to do chemical peels at home, do it during winter months when son 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, along with soothing aloe vera, so your skin sloughs. 

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.

Boscia Exfoliating Peel Gel – very gentle peel; it is applied to dry skin and rubbed in gently.  Tons of flakes begin to appear which should be rubbed off.  It is kind of gross, but remember – those flakes represent dead cells that are peeled of your skin right in front of your eyes.

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.


What causes blackheads and how to treat them

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