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The Science of Blackheads

What's the scientific reason for blackheads? We take a detailed look. Learn what causes blackheads and how to prevent and treat them.

Blackheads: Why Do Some People Get This Type of Acne?

Not many of us have heard of an open comedo, but we’ve all heard of, or experienced, blackheads. An open comedo is a small dark lesion that appears on the skin. It’s commonly known as a blackhead because of its dark appearance. A blackhead is a clogged pore with an open top. The pore is usually clogged with the oil produced by the sebaceous glands that are then blocked inside the pore by dead skin cells. The plug inside the pore turns dark when exposed to air. It is this, and not dirt, which causes the black appearance.

Blackheads are a form of acne and commonly appear on the face, but can also form on the shoulders, back, neck, chest, and arms.

What Causes Blackheads?

Overproduction of oil by the sebaceous glands, combined with dead skin cells that don’t shed properly is the most common cause of blackheads. They can also be caused by a build-up of skin bacteria called Propionibacterium Acnes. Blackheads are common during times of hormonal changes such as puberty, teen-aged years, menstruation, and the use of birth control pills and other medications.

Other factors that can contribute to blackhead breakouts are over coverage by makeup, excessive sweating, high-humidity or frequent cooking in greasy environments. Stress can also cause blackhead breakouts.

Blackheads: Dos and Don’ts for getting rid of this type of acne

While blackheads are infamously difficult to get rid of completely, you can reduce the number of blackhead breakouts by washing twice a day with an acne formula cleanser. Cleansers containing salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are helpful.

Weekly exfoliation can help rid your skin of dead skin cells which are one of the causes of pore blockage which can result in blackhead formation. You can also use noncomedogenic cosmetics which are formulated to not clog pores.

Prescription treatments are also available.

Don’t sleep in your makeup! Night hours are when your skin is supposed to breathe and recover from the stress of makeup, sweat, and dust that it gathers during the daylight hours. Leaving makeup on while you sleep means that the day’s bacteria, dead skin, and oils, remain trapped under your makeup all night, increasing breakouts. Try keeping makeup removing wipes on your nightstand or bedside table for those nights that you are too tired for proper cleansing.

Don’t try to squeeze blackheads at home, though it may be tempting because you can visually see the gunk that comes out. Squeezing blackheads causes the pores to open further and can invite infection.

Don’t try to steam the pores open for removal. It’s a common misconception that steaming can help, but research suggests it can worsen the problem.

Don’t over-scrub. Too much scrubbing can cause your skin to produce more oils in response.

Don’t use pore strips. Though they can provide temporary relief, pore strips often strip away so much from your skin that sebaceous glands will overcompensate in response and cause further breakouts.

Avoid oil-based skincare products, humid environments, and cooking greasy foods.

What Medical Treatment for Blackheads can you get?

A dermatologist can remove blackheads using a medical instrument called a round loop extractor. This opens the blackhead and applies pressure to safely remove the plug.

Microdermabrasion is another effective treatment. It basically sands the top layer of skin away and that can quickly remove the pore clogs.

Chemical peels can also remove blackheads and help prevent future outbreaks by removing the dead skin cells which contribute to clogs.

Laser and light therapies can be used to kill the bacteria that causes blackhead breakouts and to decrease oil production.

Also available are some plant-based treatments such as rose oil, aloe vera, thyme oil, and tea tree oil, all of which provide some beneficial antimicrobial properties.

Charcoal blackhead remover masks are also helpful for removing and preventing blackheads. They draw impurities out from deep within the skin and remove dead skin cells and excess oils to reduce the number and frequency of blackhead breakouts. Charcoal masks for blackhead treatments should be done weekly.

While blackheads can be bothersome and many people find them embarrassing, they aren’t harmful and unlike inflammatory acne, they don’t leave scars. Even so, if you are struggling with self-esteem issues caused by frequent blackheads, make an appointment with a dermatologist for treatment suggestions.

Resources— Medical News Today, NetDoctor, Healthline