Most people are self-conscious of blackheads on their faces, but almost everyone gets them at some point. Figuring out how to remove a blackhead can sometimes be tricky.
What Are Blackheads?
If you've ever woken up to the sight of acne or other tiny bumps on your skin, then there's a good chance you know what blackheads are. "Blackheads are tiny bumps found on the skin that appear when a hair follicle becomes clogged with sebum and grime," says board-certified dermatologist, Debra Jaliman, M.D. Sebum, she says, is a natural oily secretion of the sebaceous glands that keep the skin moisturized.
Blackheads are often mistaken as dirt specks. That's because people often think that the black color they're seeing is dirt. However, board-certified dermatologist Aubrey Wagenseller, M.D., says this color is actually due to the natural melanin in our pores and fats that get oxidized with exposure to air.
Ideas for Removing Blackheads at Home
Getting rid of a blackhead permanently requires removing the entire blockage, not just the black, oxidized section. You can easily clean out your pores and remove blackheads at home.
1. Use a Hot Compress
Apply a hot compress to your skin, using a soft cloth and hot water. The heat will open up your pores, making it easier to remove blackheads and blockages. Keep the compress on your face for five to 10 minutes before you remove it.
2. Apply a Pore Strip
Apply a blackhead removal strip or pad to your face while your skin is still damp from the compress. The moisture on your skin will help the strip bind to your skin and blackheads. Allow 10 to 15 minutes for the strip to bond itself.
Pull the strip off. It should remove blackheads from your skin to varying degrees of success. In some cases, the entire pore blockage will be removed; in other cases, only the head of the blockage is torn from the pore. Some blackheads may not have moved at all.
3. Squeeze With Fingertips
If you must remove a blackhead, board-certified dermatologist Anna Guanche, M.D., recommends placing a tissue around your fingers and instead of pushing toward the center in both directions, try pushing with minimal force down with downward pressure.
"This is less likely to cause a rupture in the blackhead or pimple," she says. You can also apply a hot compress and try squeezing once more immediately after removing the compress. If you cannot get the blackheads out on the first or second squeeze, they likely cannot be removed safely with your fingers.
4. Use Salicylic Acid
Apply a salicylic acid liquid or paste onto your skin to help remove blackheads. Salicylic acid breaks down sebum oil and can get deep into your pores where your fingers cannot. After using salicylic acid, apply another hot compress. Try to squeeze out more blackheads.
5. Sonic Cleansing System
Dr. Jaliman says a sonic cleansing system can help remove blackheads. Cleansing systems, or cleansing brushes as they're also referred to as, use sonic waves, remove makeup, dirt and oil. Plus, many brands have different heads you can use that allow you to customize your cleaning treatment. For example, a brush head made just for acne and acne-prone skin.
If it's extra exfoliation you're looking for, cleansing grains might be the answer. Dr. Jaliman likes gentle mechanical exfoliation with rice powder. "It doesn’t irritate the skin but helps with blackheads," she says. At-home mechanical exfoliation uses a tool such as a scrub or brush to remove dead skin cells.
Tips to Make Blackhead Removal Easier
Before you start squeezing or brushing away those pesky blackheads, it's a good idea to prep the area for easier removal. To make blackhead removal easier, give one of these tips a try.
- Try removing blackheads after taking a hot shower. Dr. Guanche says this can make it easier to remove the blackhead since the keratin is softer and the pore is not as tight. "The plug can essentially slip out," she says.
- Saunas are also effective at opening up pores all over your body.
- Use an exfoliating scrub one or two times a week to work over the pores and reduce the presence of blackheads.
- Use a topical retinoid for several days before removal. Board-certified dermatologist, Erum Ilyas, M.D., says you can try over-the-counter products like Differin. You can also try prescription strength versions such as tretinoin and tazarotene. "These products loosen up and break apart the keratin and dead skin cells making them easier to extract," she says.
- Toners with glycolic or salicylic acid are helpful in getting rid of blackheads or using pads with these ingredients in them.
Professional Blackhead Removal Options
If at-home methods for removing blackheads aren't working, you have a few other options, but they're usually more expensive and more time-consuming. Here, Dr. Jaliman shares three professional options to remove blackheads.
- Microdermabrasion can be very effective because it helps to smooth out the skin. It also helps to remove blackheads and whiteheads.
- Medical facials are very a effective acne treatment, as the face is steamed and blackheads and whiteheads are removed.
- Light peels with salicylic acid and lactic acid are effective in unclogging the pores and removing blackheads.