Squeezing blackheads ranks as one of the strangest yet most mesmerizing pastimes (guilty), but psychologists explain that the reason we feel a sweet sense of satisfaction from it is for the same reason we can't look away from a horror movie or enjoy the thrill of a roller-coaster ride—it's an adrenaline rush.
The science of disgust
Let's be real, popping is pretty gross. But it's this exact factor that makes it so irresistible. Daniel Kelly, author of the book Yuck!: The Nature and Moral Significance of Disgust, explains that repulsion is a trait that humans evolved to keep themselves safe. "Disgust is a psychological component to this arsenal of protective weaponry," Kelly said. "Instead of waiting until something gets into our system that we have to fight to push out, disgust helps us to stay away from objects and people that are likely to get us sick." We do everything in our power to avoid things that disgust us, and as a result, the instances when we pop blackheads that make us feel icky are few and far between. According to Kelly's theory, it's this desensitization that allows the "experience" to truly capture our attention. "Negative sensations are interesting, particularly when you're in a context where they can't hurt you," said Nina Strohminger, author of The Hedonics of Disgust. Like all primates, we're still wired for grooming, and dopamine release. "Releasing dopamine, the feel-good hormone, is the basis of habit," says green beauty aficionado and licensed medical esthetician Jordana Mattoli. "We do it, we feel good," she says. Whenever I squeeze something on my face, it feels like a purging of sorts, and I get immediate satisfaction from the thing (inside my face) that is bothering me (analyze that).
If you want to remove your own blackheads—because let's be real, we all get them—this is how to do it correctly. In the grand scheme of understanding extractions, the first thing to know is that our pores are actually hair follicles. "If you are looking closely at the skin, any dark/black spot could be a tiny hair, a blackhead (oxidized oil), or a sebaceous filament," says Mattioli. I've had plenty of facialists tell me it's never a good idea to do my own extractions, but I often don't listen. Blackhead extraction tools, I figured, are a better alternative to my fingers, right? "Maybe," says Mattioli, "but no one uses them correctly."
So, what's the right way?
Prep skin before you extract
Properly prepping skin is always a good place to start. You'll want to clean your face like with a mild cleanser like Pai Skincare Camellia and Rose Cleanser ($50) and use steam to help open and soften the hardened oil within your pores. I personally like to do extractions after a hot shower.
Technique, technique, technique!
When extractions go wrong, skin can darken and get red spots due to the slight injury caused, so use the Tweezerman No-Slip Skin Care Tool ($10.45) with with gentle pressure, press in a downward manner and follow up with a Q-tip dipped in lavender oil to sanitize the area.
The moral of the story? By all means, get a blackhead extractor, but please use your impulse control wisely and pressure gauge beforehand...