Blackheads are pores that have been partially blocked by oil, dead skin cells and bacteria. They are also called open comedones because the pore does not completely close. Additionally, the contents are close to the surface of the pore and turn black from exposure to the air. Blackheads often take a long time to clear and it may be tempting to squeeze to clear them faster. However, many experts recommend against squeezing and suggest other ways of clearing blackheads.
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Why Not Squeeze?
Blackheads contain bacteria beneath the surface of the skin. Normally, these bacteria are contained within the walls of the pore. When you squeeze the blackhead, you risk tearing the pore walls and causing the bacteria to spread into the surrounding tissue. As the bacteria spreads, white blood cells rush to the area and it is possible for acne papules, or pimples, to form. Squeezing also spreads bacteria across the surface of the skin to possibly clog adjacent pores, and increases the risk of scarring.
A comedone extractor is a small loop on the end of at metal rod. The loop gently retracts the skin around the blackhead and brings the contents to the surface. Unlike squeezing, the comedone extractor does not compress the sides of the pore, so there is less risk of breaking the pore walls. However, tissue damage may still occur.
Removal with Pore Strips
Where comedone extractors remove one blackhead at a time, adhesive pore strips remove several blackheads at once. The strips have an adhesive surface and come in different sizes for use on the nose, cheeks, chin and forehead. Because the contents of the blackhead are closer to the surface, they stick to the adhesive and come out when you remove the strip. As with the comedone extractor, there is less chance of damaging the pore, but some may be sensitive to the adhesive.
Cleaning and Time
Blackheads slowly work toward the surface of the skin and, over time, they will clear on their own. Washing your face with a medicated acne scrub, such as benzoyl peroxide, helps kill bacteria and remove excess oil. Wash twice a day, using a gentle cleanser and avoiding abrasives, which can irritate the skin and make acne worse.
Squeezing a blackhead can actually make acne worse and lead to scarring. The best option for blackhead removal is letting them clear on their own, or using extraction methods that do not squeeze the skin.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- Medline Plus: Acne
- Medline Plus: Blackheads
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: What is Acne?
- Dr. Whitney Bowe, MD: Procedural Treatments for Acne
- Dermatologic Surgery: Successful Treatment of Depressed, Distensible Acne Scars Using Autologous Fibroblasts -- A Multi-Site, Prospective, Double Blind, Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial