If you’ve ever looked into a magnifying mirror you’ve likely obsessed over a blackhead or two.
Acne affects nearly 50 million Americans and is the most common skin disorder in the United States, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.  I get a lot of questions about blackheads and how to “get rid of them” or how to “prevent them” so I thought I would write about some concerns that I get in hopes of answering some questions and to help you better understand those pesky little annoyances!

What are blackheads?
Blackheads are small bumps that appear on your skin due to clogged hair follicles. These bumps are called blackheads because the surface looks dark or black. They are a mild type of acne that usually form on the face, but they can also appear on the following body parts:

  • back
  • chest
  • neck
  • arms
  • shoulders

What causes blackheads?
Blackheads form when a clog or plug develops in the opening of hair follicles in your skin. Each follicle contains one hair and a sebaceous gland that produces oil. This oil, called sebum, helps keep your skin soft. Dead skin cells and oils collect in the opening to the skin follicle, producing a bump called a comedo. If the skin over the bump stays closed, the bump is called a whitehead. When the skin over the bump opens, exposure to the air causes it to look black and a blackhead forms. Some people also believe that what you eat or drink can affect acne. Dairy products and foods that increase blood sugar levels, an excess of  carbohydrates, may also play a part in triggering acne.

Here are some more factors that can increase your chances of developing acne and blackheads:

  • producing too much body oil
  • the buildup of the Propionibacterium acnes bacteria on the skin
  • irritation of the hair follicles when dead skins cells don’t shed on a regular basis
    undergoing hormonal changes that cause an increase in oil production during the teen
    years, during menstruation, or while taking birth control pills.

What are some symptoms of Blackheads?
Because of their dark color, blackheads are easy to spot on the skin. They’re slightly raised, although they aren’t painful because they aren’t inflamed like pimples. Pimples form when bacteria invade the blockage in the hair follicle, causing redness and inflammation.

How are blackheads treated?

Manual Removal
While it may be tempting to pick, push, or scrub the icky black bump out, experts say that’s a big no-no that can just make the situation worse by damaging skin and making it more likely for you to get even more blackheads in the future. Instead, keep your hands off and follow this guide to safely saying goodbye to blackheads for good.If you’re itching to have blackheads removed immediately, a licensed spa esthetician can do the deed. This is done by using a special instrument called a round loop extractor to remove the plug causing the blackhead. After a small opening is made in the plug, pressure is applied with the extractor to remove the clog.  Please remember: Even though beauty-supply stores may sell these tools, it’s dangerous for you to attempt to do it yourself because the possibility of scarring is too great and just not worth the risk.

Spa quality and professional skin care
These products are available in cream, gel, serum and pad (toners) form and are put directly on your skin. The products contain ingredients such as salicylic acid, glycolic acid and resorcinol. They work by killing bacteria, drying excess oil, and forcing the skin to shed dead skin cells. You can also use products containing Vitamin A (retinoids or retinol) to help promote a more rapid cell turnover in order to keep your skin exfoliating on a more consistent basis. In addition, products containing these ingredients are also helpful in the anti aging process, helping to soften fine lines and wrinkles!

Prescription medications
If spa grade products don’t seem to be improving your acne, your doctor may suggest that you use stronger prescription medications. Medications that contain vitamin A keep plugs from forming in the hair follicles. These medications are applied directly to your skin and can include tretinoin, tazarotene, or adapalene. Your doctor may also prescribe another type of topical medication that contains benzoyl peroxide and antibiotics. If you have pimples or acne cysts in addition to your blackheads, this type of medication may be particularly helpful.

During the microdermabrasion treatment, your aesthetician will use a special instrument that contains a rough surface that will glide over the top layers of your skin, exfoliating several layers of dead surface cells and build up. This will help eliminate the clogs that cause blackheads.

Chemical peels
Chemical peels also remove clogs and get rid of the dead skins cells that contribute to blackheads. The chemical peel is performed by a skincare professional.  A strong chemical
solution is applied to the skin. Over time, the top layers of the skin peel off, revealing smoother skin underneath.

How can blackheads be prevented?
You can prevent blackheads without spending a lot of money by trying a few of the following ideas:

Wash regularly
It is important to cleanse your face twice a day. Wash your face when you wake up and before you go to bed to remove oil buildup. You want to start with a fresh clean canvas when applying your makeup in the morning and then you need to remove your masterpiece at night. This will insure that you are not applying makeup to clogged pores or not so clean skin, and also that you are removing all traces of pore clogging build up and debris so your skin can repair itself overnight. However, cleansing more than twice each day can irritate your skin and make your acne worse. If you must due to a hectic schedule, such as going to work or school, and then heading to the gym, be sure to use a gentle cleanser that doesn’t make your skin red or irritated. Talk to your aesthetician about what products are best for your skin type and schedule.

Use oil-free products
Any product that contains oil can contribute to new blackheads. Choose oil-free or noncomedogenic makeup, lotions, and sunscreens to avoid making your problem worse.

Try an exfoliating product
In between visits to your aesthetician you should use an exfoliating scrub and mask once or twice a week to remove the pore clogging dead surface cells and build up from makeup and daily dirt and oils from your face. This will help reduce blackheads, which in turn will also make for a better extraction experience during your future treatments.

So there you have it. I hope that this has helped answer some of your questions. Don’t forget that if you are serious about skincare and want to commit to your skincare goals, it is never too late to start. Let’s Face It together!