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Behold: This Is The Best (And Most Satisfying) Way To Remove Blackheads

Young woman applying facial cleanser in the bathroom mirror
Image by iStock
November 7, 2022
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Pardon the image, but there's nothing more satisfying than receiving extractions and seeing all the leftover grime once lodged inside your pores. Of course, noticing clear, smooth skin doesn't hurt either, but there's a reason why professional pimple-popping videos practically explode on social media. We want the gunk! 

While you should never (we repeat: never) perform extractions on your own, there is an equally satisfying way to rid even the toughest of blackheads. Allow us to introduce you to "skin gritting."

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What is skin gritting?

Skin gritting sounds pretty intense, but it doesn't actually involve grinding your blackheads into dust. "It's a gentle yet effective skin cleansing method used to dislodge the 'grits,' or the contents that fill up a pore and make up blackheads," triple board-certified dermatologist Mamina Turegano, M.D., says in a recent video. It first popped up on Reddit a few years back, but thanks to TikTok (surprise, surprise), the process is once again making waves.

The exact routine may differ slightly depending on who you chat with, but generally, it requires a sequence of oil, clay, and acids. "I like the oil, acid, clay, oil method," says Turegano. Cleanse your face in this specific order, and your stubborn blackheads stand no chance.  

How does it work? 

Again, you might tweak the method depending on your skin type—some prefer a simple oil-clay-oil method, while others swear by the oil-sleep-oil approach (you apply oil to your face right before bed, then use an oil cleanser the next morning). Or if you'd like to throw an acid into the mix, follow Turegano's steps below:

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1.

Oil

"First, cleanse your face with an oil-based cleanser," says Turegano. That way, you can melt away any traces of makeup, sunscreen, etc., that might block your pores from receiving those subsequent clarifying ingredients.

If you have oily skin, the thought of slathering on even more oil might give you pause. But make no mistake: "Oil cleansing really helps dissolve dirt, makeup, sunblock, and blackheads. In fact, I especially like oil cleansers for oily, congested skin," says Britta Plug, holistic esthetician and mbg Collective member. Find our favorite cleansing oils here, if you're in the market for a refill.  

2.

Acid

Next, Turegano recommends applying some sort of leave-on exfoliator (like a serum or mask), "preferably one that contains salicylic acid," she notes. Salicylic acid is a BHA, meaning it's oil- and fat-soluble, so it can break through the oiliest skin and penetrate deep inside the pores to help unclog them at the source.

Turegano specifically touts the Philosophy Purity Made Simple Pore Minimizing Serum, but you can find even more formulas with the beloved BHA here. "Let the serum sit on your skin for about 20 minutes," she advises, so the actives can loosen up all the gunk.

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3.

Clay

Next layer: a clay-based mask. Choose your fighter (I personally adore the Shaant Balancing Clay Mask from Codex), and let it sit on your skin for five to 10 minutes as the clay soaks up all the debris from your pores. Feel free to apply the clay mask to areas you specifically deal with breakouts—like the chin, forehead, and nose—so you can really target those plugs.

4.

Oil

To rinse off your clay mask, "I would end with an oil-based cleanser to help remove any remaining buildup on the skin," Turegano explains. Again, oil cleansers are superb for dissolving grime and excess sebum, plus they simultaneously infuse the pores with healthy fatty acids and antioxidants. Win-win.

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Benefits & risks. 

The skin gritting method is great for those with stubborn blackheads, especially ones tunneled deep within the skin. While surface-level blackheads may clear up with time, "it can take months or even years for them to go away on their own," says board-certified dermatologist Raechele Cochran Gathers, M.D., about the pesky plugs. You can use skin gritting to help speed up the process in a gentle, noninvasive way (on that note: Never perform extractions yourself; wait for a professional if you can!). 

Plus, it involves multiple types of clarifying ingredients (oils, clays, and acids), so you have triple the chance of actually dislodging those spots and paving the way for smooth skin.

That being said, this isn't a cleansing method you'll want to do every single night. "If you deal with blackheads, I recommend doing something like this once a week," says Turegano. Skin gritting is way too harsh to perform nightly—think of it like a deep treatment more than a daily wash. And if your skin ever reacts poorly to the process (redness, itchiness, inflammation, et al.), you might want to find another avenue. Might we suggest one of these blackhead removers

The takeaway. 

If you're dealing with blackheads but aren't able to see a professional for extractions, skin gritting may be the best option to try in the meantime. It's gentle yet effective, and contrary to what you might think, it doesn't involve scratching your skin raw. Consider adding it to your DIY facial routine.

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