Again! Waking up with a pimple is always frustrating. Even more frustrating is that it’s more often than not accompanied by blackheads. Not only are they hard to hide and numerous, but they just keep coming back.
While blackheads are nothing serious on their own, they do make people feel bad about themselves, even causing depression, anxiety, and poor self-image. Especially when you consider that blackheads are often confused with dirt under the skin.
So, what are blackheads and how do they form?
The medical term for blackheads is open comedones, which should also clear up the confusion about the skin being dirty. A blackhead is a type of clogged pore and can arise alone or as a companion of another unwanted occurrence – the zit.
A blackhead is nothing more than a pore that is blocked with gunk – oil or sebum, dead skin cells, and other debris. When this plug reaches the pore opening on the skin’s surface, it turns a dark colour. In scientific terms, when the plug is exposed to air, it oxidises.
People with oily skin are more prone to blackheads. For others, they tend to appear in your T-zone, that is forehead, nose, and chin. You may notice more around the nose area, as it has more hair follicles and produces more oil than other parts of the face. Other factors that can contribute to excess sebum production are hormonal changes, taking birth control pills or certain drugs, diet, and ingredients in cosmetics products.
Areas on your skin that are more oily have a more active sebum production. The excess sebum hinders the newly produced sebum to reach the skin’s surface, which in turn leads to clogged pores. This excess sebum mixes with the built-up dead skin cells and reduces the pore opening even more. If the pore opening remains open, the air oxidises the mixture and it turns a yellowish, greyish, or black colour.
For the sake of completeness, let’s also touch on whiteheads. Whiteheads are closed comedones, which means both whiteheads and blackheads are blocked pores but the surface of the whitehead is covered by a thin layer of skin. This skin cover prevents the air from reaching the oil and changing its colour. Both make your skin feel rough, uneven, and bumpy.
So, now that you know that a blackhead has nothing to do with dirt, so (over)washing is not a good option. You also know that it’s a plugged pore, which means that picking, squeezing, rubbing, and popping also isn’t the way to go.
How to get rid of them?
You can treat the blackheads yourself. Always be gentle with your skin and careful when using tools. Instead of using a nose strip, you can get rid of them painlessly. In general, you want to use cleansers or products that help break down or draw the gunk that lines your pores, no matter where you find the blackheads (your nose or even on your back).
Look for products such as a face wash or a toner containing the active ingredient salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) and oil-soluble. Such a product will be able to cut through the sebum and penetrate below the skin’s surface into your pores where it breaks down dead skin cells and extra oil before they can clog them up.
Retinoids are derivatives of vitamin A and are used for many skin concerns such as anti-ageing as well as acne. It speeds up the cell turnover and so reduced the risk of cells and keratin debris to accumulate and block pores.
Try products such as a mask or a cleansing with activated charcoal. These detox your skin as they’ll draw out oils and impurities from the pores.
Clay masks are made of kaolin or bentonite. Both have the ability to absorb oils and toxins from your skin.
Use steam and two cotton swabs (or a comedone extractor if you have one) to extract the blackhead. Start by steaming your face for about 10 minutes to soften and loosen the dirt and debris on the skin. Boil enough water to fill a bowl. Place the bowl on a sturdy surface and fill it with hot water. Sit in front of it with your face about 15 cm above it. You’ll want a towel draped over your head so that it keeps the steam in. After 10 minutes, take the cotton swabs and gently press on the sides of the blackhead. Never use your hands as this can introduce bacteria and lead to infection. Be sure to have the area cleansed before and after extraction.
You may not like to hear it, but the best way to get rid of these pesky things is to prevent getting them. The highest priority is to be consistent with your skincare and with it to maintain a cleansed face.
You’ll want to maintain a cleansed face. This means also washing your face after sports. Be careful to not over-wash your face so as not to harm your skin-barrier which can cause your skin to produce more sebum to compensate.
It’s also a good idea to wash your bedsheets and pillowcases regularly. If you’re wearing makeup, make sure to double cleanse before bed. Don’t sleep with your makeup on. Just as with sweat after exercise, anything congealed at the surface causing surface bumps should be washed off.
You may want to look for mineral makeup instead of oil-based makeup. In the same vein, opt for oil-free skincare and SPF. Oil-based beauty products can contribute to blackheads.
Exfoliate regularly to prevent a build-up of dead skin cells and keep your pores clean.
Don’t forget to use a moisturiser. Dry skin will start to overproduce sebum to compensate. Maintaining your skin’s oil levels balanced will help mimimise blackheads. You could try a facial oil like jojoba or squalane that is similar to the skin’s own sebum.
Incorporate a DYI mask that not only reduces blackheads but also is relaxing. Think of it as your spa at home.
Let us know in the comments if you want to know DYI mask recipes for treating and preventing blackheads.