Blackheads are often one of the most pesky (and common!) types of acne we deal with, but fortunately, there are a whole range of techniques to swiftly extract blackheads from your nose, or any other area, they just always seem to congregate around my nose! Before we dive into how to treat blackheads, what exactly is a blackhead? It is a collection of oils, dead skin cells and debris within the pore which oxidizes due to the top of the pore being open (rather than closed, like it would be for a whitehead to form.)
There are many options that will suit every budget for removing blackheads, and below we will walk through 7 remedies that anyone can try at home. These techniques include those that refine pores allowing the easier removal of dead skin cells and oils, chemical exfoliants, as well as physical extractions. Whilst removal of blackheads is helpful, addressing the root cause is often the best option for any skin concern so we will also look at prescription medication options, as well as lifestyle and diet modifications which although taking longer to work, often are safer and more effective for preventing blackhead recurrence.
1. Using Steam / Sauna To Open Pores
Steam rooms and saunas are similar, with the main difference being the type of heat provided when you sit inside one. Saunas provide a dry heat, at a higher temperature of 160-220°F whereas steam rooms, as the name suggest use steam, making the heat moist. Steam rooms are also kept at a lower temperature of 110-120°F, and of the two the steam room is more suitable for reducing pores clogged with oil and dead skin cells. Something to note is pores cannot open and close as such, due to the fact they lack muscles!
Steam rooms and saunas can make it easier to reduce blackheads overnight in conjunction with other methods outlined below, such as physical extractions as well as skin care exfoliators.
If it isn’t possible to access a steam room, many beauty brands now make steaming devices which are also fantastic – I also own one! They’re a great way to get the spa feel at home, whilst delivering the steam directly to your pores! If you want to invest in a steaming device just yet, filling a bowl with steaming water and placing your face in close proximity (but please be careful as the water will be hot to touch!)
2. Salicylic Acid Helps Exfoliate Pores
Salicylic acid is a type of acid known as Beta Hydroxy Acid, aka BHA. These are oil soluble, meaning they will dive deep into the pore and break down the gunk and debris which makes up the blackhead. By acting on this debris, less will fill up in the pore, and over time BHA’s decrease the number of blackheads which will form. It’s also likely the size of the pore will look smaller – due to there being less debris packed into a small space! It’s possible to find salicylic acid in a wide range of products, some with a lower percentage which take longer to see results and may suit more sensitive skin, such as face cleansers or serums whereas overnight blackhead treatments such as powerful exfoliating masks would be only left on for 10 minutes. The way I consistently get salicylic acid in my routine is via face cleansers, as I know I will use it every single night without fail and the key with salicylic acid is to use it consistently to prevent blackhead recurrence, and these are some brilliant Non-comedogenic cleansers with salicylic acid.
3. Benzoyl Peroxide Helps Increase Skin Cell Turnover
Benzoyl Peroxide is probably an equally famous ingredient within the acne community, alongside salicylic acid. Ask anyone who has been dealing with spots for more than a year and it’s likely they’ve heard of both! Benzoyl peroxide acts in an interesting way, it increases the rate at which skin cells are produced and removed – aka the ‘turnover’ – meaning they spend less time on the surface of your skin. Less time sat on the surface equals less time to clog pores within acne-prone individuals, and this is one of the reasons benzoyl peroxide can be so effective! It also unclogs pores which are filled with oil, debris, and dead skin cells, alongside reducing excess oil. If this sounds like something you want to try, this inexpensive face wash with benzoyl peroxide is fantastic.
Benzoyl peroxide is both anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial, meaning it directly targets acne causing bacteria and destroys it – helping to both target current blackheads as well as reduce the future formation of blackheads or progression of other acne lesions into more severe acne.
It sounds like a dream, right? You’re probably wondering why every person on the planet isn’t raving about this! Unfortunately, benzoyl peroxide acts as a bleaching agent, meaning if it comes in contact with any material like towels, clothing or bedsheets it will bleach them (I’ve lost many a good pillowcase to benzoyl peroxide!) Alongside this it can also be quite drying, so it’s important to alternate its use with a very hydrating moisturizer, and as skin cell turnover is increased, skin purging is also expected.
4. Retinol Products Prevent Pores From Clogging
Retinol is probably my favorite ingredient for treating all types of acne (if you’ve read any of my articles before you’ll likely know this already!) It helps in a number of ways to remove blackheads, of which are outlined below:
- Promotes skin cell turnover
- As with benzoyl peroxide this means there are less skin cells piling up at the surface, meaning a lower likelihood of pores becoming clogged. As pores aren’t as likely to become clogged it means blackheads won’t form as easily – hence their appearance reduces over time!
- Unclogs pores
- As retinol increases the skin cell turnover, it means less skin cells will clog the pores, so less blackheads can form. This means that continually using a retinol in your routine will reduce the clogging of pores.
- Helps to regulate sebum production
- Retinol works at a genetic level to trigger the production of proteins that have a wide range of actions, such as repair of UV-damaged skin, anti-inflammatory roles as well as suppression of sebum production. This sebum suppression helps with managing blackheads, as acne-causing bacteria usually feed off sebum – and the decrease in sebum will naturally decrease the population in blackheads.
- Improves collagen production
- Retinol when applied to the skin causes a decrease in many enzyme types, including collagenase which breaks down collagen. By preventing this breakdown, collagen is maintained which enables skin to look more plump and voluminous. Fresher skin is more difficult to become clogged with blackheads.
Upon reading the above you will probably want to purchase a retinol product – this list contains lots of effective retinol products that increase skin cell turnover.
5. Pores Strips Immediately Uproot Gunk Out of Clogged Pores
Pore strips are made of two substances – one sticky polymer which attaches to the sebaceous filaments (aka oil plugs) + blackheads, and another which is the non-tacky substance that you use to hold the strip with. Pore strips deliver immediate results and when used in conjunction with facial steaming, will get even better results for clearing blackheads overnight. However, it is worth noting that although pore strips are a short-term solution, they may make it easier for blackheads to form long-term as the pores may widen or in the worst-case scenario, become torn.
A fantastic new alternative to the traditional pore strips are hydrocolloid strips – which absorb gunk out of your nose pores (or anywhere else!) without damaging the pore themselves. All the satisfaction, none of the pain!
6. Blackhead Extractor Tools Can Remove Stubborn Blackheads
Blackheads extractors are tools that you can use to extract blackheads at home manually; they won’t prevent the recurrence of blackheads in the future but they can be fantastic as a quick fix to ease the appearance of blackheads before a big event. Another use of blackhead extractor tools is for the removal of stubborn, deep-rooted blackheads (although this may be best left to professionals – unless you’re very confident!)
There are a few different types of blackhead extractors, with the most popular types outlined below:
- Comedone Remover: These are my personal choice, as you have complete control over the pressure you place on each individual pore, meaning they can be individually manipulated. This allows them to be easily unclogged, especially when used in conjunction with the steaming method outlined previously.
- Pore Vacuum: These mechanically loosen debris from clogged pores, making blackheads easier to remove. It’s important when using these devices to continually move them, and not stop in just one area (no matter how tempting it is to remove that stubborn blackhead!) as this will cause bruising.
- Ultra Sonic Blackhead Remover: Ultrasonic wave devices are the next generation devices, they use specific frequency wavelengths to extract blackheads as it loosens the oil and sebum first, and the spatula-like shape then scrapes out the gunk! It’s ultrasonic, and ultra satisfying!
7. Shaving Can Safely Remove the Outer Layer of the Skin
Dead skin cells accumulate on the surface of everyones skin – it’s natural, and dullness of the skin occurs when many layers of dead skin cells have accumulated. These dead skin cells can contribute to the formation of blackheads when mixed with oils and debris, as previously outlined. Shaving helps to remove this outer layer of skin, alongside the hair which reduces the likelihood of it clogging pores and leading to blackheads.
Can Blackhead Removal Cause Skin Damage?
Blackhead removal relies on a variety of techniques ranging from chemical exfoliation to physical extraction. Chemical exfoliation can often sensitize skin, especially if you haven’t used a particular exfoliant before, or if it is used too often. It’s important to keep the skin barrier healthy alongside rotating chemical exfoliants for decongesting pores.
When physically extracting blackheads, via blackhead strips or devices, it’s possible to damage the pore, such as tearing.
What is the best way to safely remove blackheads at home?
I would recommend always starting with steaming your face, as this will make the blackheads less solid – making them less stubborn to remove. You would do this by using an at home steaming device, repeatedly using a warmed cloth, or carefully placing your face over a bowl of warm water. Once this is complete, use a salicylic face cleanser as this helps to get rid of blackheads that are deep within the pore as salicylic acid as oil soluble so it can dive deep into the pore! Make sure you massage the cleanser onto your skin for a few minutes so it has time to work, then remove it. Apply a hydrocolloid pore strip, as mentioned previously, as these will absorb all the gunk out of the pores overnight, and finally choose a non-comedogenic moisturizer to apply on any areas which you didn’t apply the pore strip to.
Best Diet for Preventing Blackheads
In general, there is a link between diet and acne, so paying attention to your personal triggers and blackheads will be useful. Before we discuss this further, I’d like to say please remember there is more to life than acne – don’t let it consume you. If you find out that dairy really triggers your acne, but you adore stuffed crust, ultra cheesy pizza please don’t deny yourself – life is too short.
Now onto the science; at the basis the way our diet triggers acne is usually down to how it alters our hormones. These hormones range from the more well-known insulin, to the lesser-known IGF-1 (which is impacted by insulin.) IGF-1 increases congestion as well as the overproduction of oil. This means any food with a high glycemic index will trigger insulin (As this helps to bring blood sugar back down within a normal range) which then triggers IGF-1, triggering the production of blackheads and other forms of acne.
This means that a diet rich in non-processed, whole food will be best for maintaining healthy skin – this anti-acne diet can be read about here and includes fresh meats, fruit and vegetables.
Does Prescription Acne Medication Help Prevent Blackheads?
Accutane is probably the most well-known, and potent prescription medication used for severe acne. Accutane is extremely effective at removing blackheads, and all types of acne. It is a form of vitamin A, similar in structure to retinol – but ingested rather than applied topically. Accutane takes a long time to work, hence it will not remove stubborn blackheads overnight and often there is a purging period where acne will get worse before it gets better. Due to Accutane being a serious medication it also comes with many side effects including alcohol and sun sensitivity, weight gain and mental health impacts.
What are Other Good Products for Preventing and Treating Blackheads?
Alongside the previous skincare products mentioned, it’s important to double-check other beauty products in your routine ensuring they are not comedogenic. Common examples of products which often cause breakouts due to being comedogenic are moisturizers, makeup, oils, hair care products (especially conditioners) and sunscreen.
How Do Blackheads Develop?
Overtime sebum, debris and dead skin cells all accumulate within the pore and compact together, collectively this is called a plug. When there is no skin covering the top of the plug, the plug can become oxidized – which occurs as the air changes the color of the plug to black.
Where Do Blackheads Develop?
Blackheads can form anywhere you have pores, and the locations you will be more prone to them will vary depending on your genetics. Common places people experience blackheads on the face are the T-zone; the forehead, nose (I personally always get them around my nostrils and any creases), and chin. Blackheads also can affect the body, with the chest, back and buttocks being hot spots!
Yes, to a degree. You will certainly be able to reduce the appearance of the blackheads overnight on any budget. Varying skin types (highly sensitive skin will mean less extractions would be able to be performed, so less blackheads could be removed), budgets and product availability will impact the level of blackhead removal completed.
The safest procedure will be the one a well-researched, and medically trained dermatologist (or aesthetician) recommends for your skin after a consultation in person. Professional blackheads removal procedures include extractions, microdermabrasion or chemical peels – the doctor will assess what would be safest and most appropriate for your skin to achieve your goal of removing blackheads.