How To Actually Get Rid Of Blackheads + The Best Prevention Tips, From Experts
No matter how satisfying it might be to watch videos of other people getting facial extractions, no one likes seeing blackheads on their faces. Frustrating as they are, know that you're not alone—pretty much everyone will experience blackheads in their lifetime.
And surprise, surprise: Blackheads aren't limited to your nose or forehead. Just like other types of acne, you can get blackheads on other parts of your body—which is why acne body wash is a thing. But before you start picking at your skin (and please don't because that can make an annoying situation worse), let's have a chat about what blackheads are and how you can make them go buh-bye.
What are blackheads?
Annoying as they are, blackheads are one of the many forms of acne. As we mentioned in the introduction, while your face is usually the first place you'll notice this skin condition, it can also appear on your neck, chest, and back. And similar to pimples or whiteheads, they can occur at any age—although it's most commonly an issue for adolescents. According to the Cleveland Clinic, anywhere from 10 to 20% of adults also struggle with blackheads.
Similar to other types of acne, blackheads are caused by dirt, oils, and even dead skin that get clogged in your pores. Unlike whiteheads though, that combo gets through the skin and is exposed to the air, leading to that telltale black discoloration.
Tips to prevent blackheads.
The most important thing to know about blackheads? They're somewhat preventable. If you find that blackheads are a constant or too frequent recurrence, then it's time to revamp your skin care routine. Your core focus for prevention is ensuring that your skin is free from dirt, excess oil, and dead skin.
Wash your face regularly.
Dirt and oil are two parts of the blackhead-causing trifecta. Make it a point to regularly wash your face both in the morning and at night as your skin produces oil throughout the day. Be sure to use a gentle cleanser that removes dirt and grime without stripping the skin. Here are some of our favorite cleansers.
Don't forget to exfoliate.
The other member of the blackhead crew is dead skin. While you shouldn't exfoliate every day, routinely incorporating this step one to three times a week can help minimize the chances of dead skin getting stuck in your pores and manifesting as a blackhead. Popular exfoliators are alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs).
Avoid comedogenic moisturizers.
To be fair, "comedogenic" is a relative term that's not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA1) because the cosmetics industry is essentially managed on an honor system. According to a 1984 study published in the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology2, the higher concentrations used to test common comedogenic ingredients in a lab aren't always applicable to real-world scenarios when many brands use significantly smaller amounts in their products.
This means an ingredient may not cause acne for an individual if it's used in smaller quantities. It also means that a product labeled as noncomedogenic didn't have to get certification to make that claim.
However, if you have oil-prone skin, you might want to avoid heavier moisturizers that might encourage oil production. And people with dry or sensitive skin should skip products loaded with alcohol or harsh ingredients, which can strip the skin's natural barrier. When in doubt, check the ingredients list. The higher on the list an ingredient is mentioned, the more of it that's in a product.
Check your lifestyle habits.
Acne in all its forms also has a lot to do with genetics—but lifestyle choices matter too. While you can't control your genes, some habits can increase your chances of developing acne and blackheads. James Beckman, M.D., a biochemist, board-certified plastic surgeon, adjunct associate clinical professor of the Dermatology Department at the University of Arkansas Medical School, and founder of Theraderm Skin Care, shared that, "Drinking six to eight glasses of water daily is very beneficial [and] keeping a good sleep pattern and healthy diet maintains healthy skin."
Sleep and stress can be particularly annoying triggers of acne, as a lack of sleep and increased stress levels trigger cortisol production in the body. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone and does a number on the skin. It's notorious for its role in breaking down collagen, but it also increases sebum production3. This increase of oil in the pores can lead to blackheads.
Remedies for blackheads.
Blackheads can and do happen. And when they do, you want them gone—yesterday. Skip those pore strips because they won't solve your problem. Instead, consider these proven tips depending on the severity of your blackheads.
For mild blackheads:
Investing in a gentle, yet effective, exfoliator that you use routinely can help to gently banish blackheads. Paul Nassif, M.D., a board-certified facial plastic surgeon and founder of NassifMD Dermaceuticals, advises that "AHAs and BHAs exfoliate dead skin cells and clear the pores that lead to blackheads. [They] help to remove oil and dirt that clog pores without stripping the skin and improve overall skin texture."
Popular options include salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and even lactic acid. Nassif recommends the NassifMD Dermaceuticals Micro-Spa Radiance Resurfacing Peel, which contains AHAs and salicylic acid that help to remove dead skin and reveal a glowing complexion.
Or consider incorporating a good mask routine—either store-bought or DIY—to help not only moisturize and balance your skin but to lift any gunk clogging your pores. Follow up with a good moisturizer as dry skin can cause your body to produce more oil to compensate for the lack of moisture.
For moderate blackheads:
If you find that blackheads are a more common occurrence, you might want to kick up your exfoliation routine by incorporating manual exfoliation as well for a deeper clean. Whereas chemical exfoliants like topical acid serums and toners work to break down dead skin without any extra work on your part, manual exfoliation is usually centered around products with texture.
These can be textured cleansers (think a gentle facial scrub) or skin-safe tools (not professional-grade aesthetician tools!) like konjac sponges or the Repêchage Ultrasonic Skin Spatula, which can aid in exfoliation and relies on ultrasonic waves.
Note that you shouldn't use any cleansing tools on dry skin as this can make your skin woes worse. It's also a good idea not to use textured cleansers in addition to a textured tool, as this can be too abrasive. (Just stick to one means of exfoliation, thank you!)
Keep in mind that if you've just manually exfoliated your skin, you may want to avoid using a chemical exfoliator during the same skin care session as this may be too aggressive for your skin. And of course, don't use exfoliants every day.
For severe blackheads:
If you've got serious or persistent widespread blackhead woes, it's time to talk to a dermatologist. Your skin concerns might be something that goes deeper than not washing your face enough, using the wrong exfoliant, or skipping the moisturizer step. A dermatologist can get to the bottom of what's bothering your skin and either extract them, recommend products catered to your needs, or prescribe topical or oral treatments to treat your blackheads at the source.
Everyone gets blackheads, even people with K-beauty-inspired multistep skin care routines. But depending on the severity of your blackhead acne, you can often keep them at bay by stepping up your cleansing and exfoliating routines or reexamining the ingredients in your beauty products. In severe cases, you might need to see a derm to get professional help. And above all else, no picking or popping—keep your fingers out of your face!
Dorian Smith-Garcia is a diverse writer across beauty, fashion, travel, parenting, consumer goods, and tech. She has written for Inverse, Healthline Parenthood, The Confused Millennial, XONecole, Glowsly, and The Drive along with a variety of other publications. She is a bridal and beauty expert/influencer and the creative director behind The Anti Bridezilla. When Dorian's not writing she's collecting stamps in her passport, learning new languages, or spending time with her husband and daughter.