When it comes to skin care, blackheads are the bane of our existence. Not only do the little black dots stand out, even under makeup, but they tend form in multiples, making them seemingly impossible to treat. Unlike whiteheads that consist of an enclosed pore filled with dirt, oil, and dead skin cells, open comedones (aka the medical term) are exposed to air, causing them to become oxidized and dark in color, explains Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Yale New Haven Hospital and co-creator Pure BioDerm. While squeezing them is strangely satisfying, it’s only a temporary fix and can potentially cause more damage (hello, large pores and acne scars) in the long run. So, we asked top dermatologists how to get rid of blackheads – for good – with the proper products and pro treatments.
In addition to its ability to kill the blemish-causing bacteria on skin that leads to inflammation and redness, benzoyl peroxide helps clear the dead skin cells that play a role in the creation of blackheads, explains Erum Ilyas, MD, a dermatologist at Montgomery Dermatology in King of Prussia, PA. “By gently exfoliating and treating the bacteria on the skin, benzoyl peroxide can be very useful in reducing the buildup in pores that leads to blackheads developing,” she says. Her recommendation: Clean & Clear Continuous Control Acne Cleanser ($7; walgreens.com), which contains a concentration of 10 percent benzoyl peroxide. “It’s less likely to irritate your skin in a face wash form than some of the leave-on products,” she adds.
Salicylic acid, a type beta hydroxy acid, is another great topical solution for dissolving blackheads and cleaning out pores — and luckily, it can be found in a plethora of over-the-counter products. Because it is oil soluble, salicylic acid penetrates deeper into pores where it works to loosen dead skin cells and debris; it can also reduce sebum secretion, which helps keep pores clear and less prominent. Simone McKitty, MD, a dermatologist in Torrance, CA, suggests using a leave-on product rather than a cleanser or soap, since the longer the skin is exposed to the active ingredient, the better it'll work. Try Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant ($30; dermstore.com) or The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution ($5; sephora.com).
Gone are the days when you could only score retinoids with a prescription from your doc — they’re now available over-the-counter in the form of Differin Gel Acne Treatment ($29; ulta.com). “Retinoids have been a mainstay of acne treatments for decades and work by preventing the formation of clogged pores and promoting cell turnover,” says Dr. Ilyas. “Although for some there can be excess dryness, these are overall well tolerated and work well on blackheads, as long as you continue to use them.”
Unlike traditional facials, hydrafacials involve the use of a medical-grade device that gently suctions debris out of your pores, like a vacuum, explains Dr. Robinson. After this part of the procedure, a certified esthetician follows the treatment with a customized hydrating routine, utilizing serums that are tailored to your skin’s specific needs. “It’s an excellent way to clear out dead skin cells, as well as trapped oil and bacteria from the pores,” she says. “If you can squeeze in a hydrafacial every one or two months, your skin will thank you.”
Laser treatments like Clear + Brilliant can be particularly effective in treating blackheads. “The laser resurfacing facial treatment is gentler than the Fraxel and uses pulsating beams of light to exfoliate away layers of skin to reveal a smoother, clearer complexion,” says Dr. Robinson. “After around a week of recovery, most patients notice smaller pores and improved skin texture and tone.” As an at-home alternative, you can try light therapy treatments like LightStim ($169; revolve.com), which uses UV-free blue and red lights that work together to destroy acne-causing bacteria and reduce inflammation without damaging or drying healthy skin.
Adhesive pore strips
“Products such as Biore Deep Cleansing Pore Strips can be effective at manually ‘unclogging’ pores containing blackheads,” says Dr. Ilyas, noting that it’s only a temporary solution. The sticky strips use a strong adhesive to extract anything on the surface of skin, including dead skin cells, dirt, oil, and even hair. “A tip to make blackhead removal easier is to use a topical retinoid for several days before extracting,” Dr. Ilyas adds.
Prescription meds, such as Accutane or Isotretinoin, are perhaps the most effective option for providing long-lasting prevention against all sorts of acne, blackheads included. “They work by shrinking the oil or sebaceous gland and reducing the amount of oil produced, which then decreases the chances of blackheads developing,” explains Dr. Ilyas. “Both medications come with their own ‘baggage’ of side effects, but they are worthy of a mention simply because they're the only ‘once and for all’ option for acne.”
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