Everything You Need to Know about Blackheads

Large-pores-blackheads-open comedones
Blackheads - Open Comedones

Whilst almost everyone will be familiar with blackheads and who hasn’t suffered from those stubborn little dots. They’re actually a mild form of acne and tend to cluster across your nose, cheeks, forehead, chest and back. But don’t be fooled by their teeny, tiny size – blackheads are notoriously tricky to shift.

So, how do you remove them?

Not with pore strips or putting your fingers into pimple popping position. Trust me. Pore strips might have been a rite of passage in our youth, but they can irritate and cause trauma to the epidermis, the outermost layer of skin, which can result in redness or broken capillaries when frequently done.

But don’t lose hope as there’s a shining light at the end of this tunnel: skincare. Using the right active ingredients can help to safely remove blackheads avoiding scarring, redness, inflammation and without a manual extraction tool in sight.

An “open comedone” is the scientific name for a blackhead. An “open comedone” doesn’t have skin covering the opening of the hair follicle, whereas a “closed comedone” is better known as a whitehead and does have a covering of skin.

Blackheads appear when a build-up of sebum and dead skin cells form a plug in our hair follicles, otherwise called pores. This blockage presents as a teeny, dark bump on the surface of the skin. Ever wondered why blackheads appear dark brown or black? Well, that’s all down to the melanin (pigment-producing cells) found in our sebum oxidising when exposed to air – it’s rarely dirt in the pore.

The Good News

Blackheads, as well as whiteheads, are a non-inflammatory form of acne which means you shouldn’t experience any redness, tenderness or swelling. Although, blackheads can get infected if you squeeze them – so don’t open that can of worms. To compare, pustules (pus-filled spots), papules (red pimples), cysts (hard bumps filled with pus) and nodules (large, hard bumps) are inflammatory forms of acne – that’s why they feel sore and look inflamed.

Blackheads are caused by a pore-clogging recipe of sebum and dead skin cells but there are a few factors that can contribute to their development. You might be surprised to hear that pregnancy, puberty, stress and humidity can cause an influx of teeny blackheads to develop.

Fluctuations in hormones – experienced during puberty, pregnancy, the menstrual cycle or if you have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – can directly influence sebum production. Our sex hormones stimulate the sebaceous glands, found in the hair follicle, to produce more sebum. An influx of sebum equals an increased risk of hair follicles getting clogged and a blackhead developing. Similarly, stress can influence our hormones which trigger increased sebum secretion.

It should come as no surprise then to hear that being in a hot and humid environment can ramp up sebum activity too. That’s why you’re more likely to experience breakouts when the warmer weather rolls around.

How Do You Treat and Remove Blackheads?

A Salicylic Acid Cleanser

A salicylic acid cleanser is a powerful ally for combating blackheads. It’s an oil-soluble beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that can penetrate deep into pores to dissolve sebum. Salicylic acid is also a keratolytic, which means it exfoliates the epidermis to promote the shedding of dead skin cells.

Salicylic acid is beneficial for all pimples – not just blackheads. The acid has anti-inflammatory properties which means it can help to bring down redness in inflammatory acne lesions such as papules, pustules, cysts and nodules.

Please Note:  Salicylic Acid and AHA’s / BHA’s are not suitable for use whilst pregnant or lactating.

Our recommended skincare products include

Aspect Dr AHA BHA Cleanser

A foaming exfoliating cleanser ideal for acne sufferers. Harnesses the power of hydroxy acids to exfoliate dead & dull surface cells, revitalising the skin & leaving you with a smooth, healthy glow. The key ingredients & foaming action help to purge impurities & clear congestion deep within the epidermal layers.

Aspect Exfoliating Clay Mask

A gentle purifying clay-based mask is designed to exfoliate the skin to draw out impurities and decongest pores, while AHA's and BHA's help to exfoliate, leaving skin looking clean and clear. Kaolin and bentonite provide an absorbent action to assist help mattify the appearance of the skin, while also drawing out impurities.

Societe Blemish Clarifying Complex
Societe Blemish Clarifying Complex

A unique blend of ingredients designed specifically for problematic acne skin, targets bacteria, oil production & cellular build-up on the skin’s surface. Societe Blemish Clarifying Complex not only destroys skin blemishes but also targets the key factors that contribute to a variety of challenging skin conditions.

Alpha-Hydroxy Acids & Enzymes

A salicylic acid-based cleanser might not be the best shout for dry or sensitive skin types. Instead, I would recommend using alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) to exfoliate and slough dead skin cells – our Aspect Dr AHA BHA Cleanser is just that. AHA’s are pretty special because they’re naturally derived humectants – ingredients that attract and retain moisture in the skin. That’s especially important for dry skin types that want in on the exfoliating action without the risk of drying out their skin with powerful active ingredients.

Pregnant or Sensitive Skin Types

For those that are pregnant or those with very sensitive skin should turn to enzymes. They’re the gentlest form of exfoliants and are very unlikely to cause irritation or sensitisation. So, for our mothers-to-be and sensitive skin types we recommend making an appointment with our skin care specialist where we can deal with your blackheads by way of a PCA Trio Oxygenation Facial as well as manual extraction.

As a cleansing skincare option, we recommend Aspect Illuminating Polish

Aspect Illuminating Polish
Aspect Illuminating Polish

A triple-action exfoliant combining enzymes & Ecoscrub® to gently polish skin, removing lifeless cells. Leaves skin instantly smoother & more radiant. Suitable for all skin types

Professional Extraction

Extractions are typically performed by a skin specialist during a facial. They’ve got the know-how on the spots to squeeze or leave – as well as the proper technique and tools to get the job done safely.

Want advice about blackheads and spots that are specific to you and your skincare regime – make a booking today at Nascent Skin and Beauty Clinic


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