Blackheads form when a hair follicle becomes clogged with dirt, bacteria, dead skin cells, excess sebum (AKA the oil produced by the skin), or other debris. These blemishes are slightly raised, but not as much as pimples. The black (or grey) color doesn’t come from dirt. Rather, the color develops when the pore-clogging debris is exposed to oxygen.
There are a variety of factors that can lead to blackheads. This can include hormonal fluctuations (like in pregnancy or puberty), certain medications, and your own genetic makeup. Using comedogenic (pore-clogging) products in your skincare routine may also contribute to blackheads if you have acne-prone skin.
Blackheads can get bigger and deeper over time, so it’s a good idea to treat them in order to keep them in check. There are some great over-the-counter exfoliants you can use regularly to help treat blackheads and prevent them from coming back (more on that below).
In more severe cases, a dermatologist may prescribe a topical product (such as a retinoid) or an oral medication (such as antibiotics or isotretinoin), particularly if you’re also dealing with other forms of acne. In-office professional treatments (such as a chemical peel, microdermabrasion, or laser therapy) may also be recommended by a dermatologist.
When it comes to treating blackheads, salicylic acid (a beta hydroxy acid, or BHA) is one of the best skincare ingredients to look for. This BHA is oil-soluble and works deep in the pores, unclogging debris to help treat blackheads and other forms of acne. There are also alternatives to salicylic acid that work similarly but are generally gentler on the skin, including betaine salicylate and willow bark extract.
There are a variety of exfoliants that contain these ingredients that can help fight blackheads and acne in general. You can find some effective options recommended here on Skincare Hero.
Another option is using a comedone extraction tool to extract your blackheads. That said, this should be used very gently, and you should know how to properly use the tool. Improper use can damage the skin.