It seems simple, but do you really know how to get rid of blackheads? Personally, I’ve been at war against my blackheads since I first discovered Bioré pore strips back in high school. Seeing that black gunk is just so satisfying! However, that may not be the best way to get rid of them—or to prevent them in the first place.
First, it helps to know what blackheads actually are. “A blackhead is a clump of oil and dirt mixed together in a pore,” Cecilia Wong, a celebrity facialist based in New York City, tells SELF. “If you don’t take care of your pores, eventually the dirt and oil will accumulate. If someone has a lot of blackheads, you can feel it—the skin is rough, scratchy, and bumpy.”
Pores, also called comedones, are little dimples in the skin that surround a hair follicle, SELF explained previously. They also house your sebaceous glands, which produce the oil (sebum) on your face. When those pores get clogged, a blackhead can form. Blackheads are also called open comedones because, unlike whiteheads, they don’t have a layer of skin cells on top. That allows the gunk inside the pore to be exposed to the air and get oxidized, which causes it to change to a darker color.
Basically anyone can get blackheads, but those with combination or oily skin are most prone to developing them, Marnie B. Nussbaum, M.D., New York City–based medical, cosmetic and laser dermatologist, tells SELF. And if you feel like you get them around your nose more often than anywhere else on your face, you’re not imagining it: The skin around your nose has a particularly high concentration of sebum glands, meaning extra oil and a higher potential for clogged pores.
Perhaps because blackheads are both so common and so frustrating, people have tried countless weird (sometimes reckless) ways to remove them, including the grits exfoliation technique from Reddit and the DIY gelatin mask.
But at the end of the day, we’ve found that the best—and least damaging—ways to treat and prevent blackheads tend to be on the simpler side. If you’re wondering how to get rid of blackheads, here are 15 helpful dermatologist-approved tips to make it easier to get rid of blackheads on your nose, chin, and forehead.
1. Wash your face at least twice a day.
This seems like basic advice, but cleansing can go a long way to help prevent dirt and oil from accumulating in your pores. Washing your face is one of the three most important steps in your skin-care routine for good reason: Regularly cleansing your skin will help remove any excess dirt, oil, dead skin cells, bacteria, or makeup that’s lingering on your face.
For most people, washing your face twice a day is the right move. But some people with especially dry or sensitive skin may only be able to wash their face with cleanser once a day.
If you’re trying to manage acne, you might find that a cleanser containing a chemical exfoliant like salicylic acid or glycolic acid helps to keep those issues in check. For those with inflamed acne, a cleanser containing benzoyl peroxide could be helpful instead. But know that all of these ingredients can be harsh and drying if used too frequently. Some people with oilier skin may be able to use them twice a day, but once is plenty for others.
Products to try:
- Peter Thomas Roth 3% Glycolic Solutions Cleanser, $39, Ulta
- La Roche-Posay Effaclar Deep Cleansing Foaming Cream, $23, Dermstore
- L’Oréal Paris Exfoliate & Refine Pure Clay Cleanser, $7, Amazon
2. Also wash your face after exercising.
Excess sweat can combine with dirt, bacteria, and dead skin cells to clog your pores, possibly leading to blackheads. So it’s important to wash your face before and after a workout or any activity that causes excessive sweating, Dr. Nussbaum says.
But it’s important to be gentle because irritating the skin by rubbing too hard or wiping sweat off your face too aggressively can actually exacerbate inflammation and breakouts, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says.
Products to try:
- Vichy Normaderm Deep Cleansing Gel with Salicylic Acid, $18, Amazon
- La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Cleanser, $15, Ulta
- Avene Extremely Gentle Cleanser Lotion, $24, Amazon
3. Use pore strips carefully and sparingly.
Pore strips are like a Band-Aid, using adhesive to rip away dead skin cells and dirt. If that sounds a little aggressive, you’d be correct, which is why experts are divided on whether it’s ever a good idea to use pore strips to remove blackheads.
Products like these suddenly and forcefully pull out the plug of gunk that’s clogging your pore, but leave the pore dilated and easily clogged again, SELF explained previously. That’s why some experts recommend opting for gentle chemical exfoliation methods (using products with glycolic or lactic acid, for instance), which gradually reduce the clog. But this process can take weeks or months to really work.
However, Wong stands by the effectiveness of pore strips to get rid of blackheads quickly. But, she says, save these for newer breakouts. “Pore strips only really work for blackheads that haven’t been in pores for a long period of time,” she says. For blackheads that have been hanging around for a while, you’ll need to use other methods.
Products to try:
- Bioré Deep Cleansing Pore Strips, $7, Amazon
- Boscia Pore Purifying Black Charcoal Strips (12 count), $28, Ulta
4. Exfoliate regularly to keep your skin clear.
If cleansing your skin regularly isn’t enough to remove all the dirt and dead skin cells that can clog your pores, you may need to add some exfoliation into your routine. And, just a heads up, there are a lot of options to choose from.
The two major categories of exfoliants are physical (manual) and chemical exfoliation. Where manual exfoliants use scrubby bits of sugar or walnut shells to physically remove those impurities, chemical exfoliants are skin-care ingredients that dissolve the bonds between dead skin cells, allowing them to be washed away easily.
For most people just exfoliating once or twice a week is plenty. Some can increase that to three times per week without any issues, while others can only exfoliate once a week or every other week before experiencing irritation and dryness. The most important thing is to (carefully) experiment and see what types of exfoliating products and frequencies work for you and your skin.
Products to try:
- Tatcha Indigo Soothing Rice Enzyme Powder, $78, Tatcha
- Caudalie Glycolic Peel Mask, $39, Amazon
- Murad Pore Extractor Pomegranate Mask, $39, Ulta
5. Try chemical exfoliation for a gentler option.
Gentle exfoliating acids are an effective way to break down the dead skin and oil clogging the pore, Lily Talakoub, M.D., dermatologist at McLean Dermatology and Skincare Center in Virginia, tells SELF.
That includes both alpha-hydroxy-acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid and lactic acid as well as beta-hydroxy-acids (BHAs), such as salicylic acid. More recently, polyhydroxy acids (PHAs), like gluconolactone, have become popular ultra-gentle acids.
All of these have exfoliating properties that help prevent excess oil and dirt from getting trapped in the follicles, Dr. Nussbaum says. But some may be better suited to your skin over others.
For instance, glycolic acid tends to be the most irritating, so if you have sensitive or dry skin, you may want to try lactic acid or a PHA instead. But if your skin is particularly oily, you may get more out of using salicylic acid because it can get deeper into oily pores than other acids.
It’s also important to pay attention to the concentration of the exfoliating acid you’re using. Although these tend to be gentler than physical exfoliation methods, they can still be intense and irritating!
Products to try:
- First Aid Beauty Facial Radiance Pads, $32, Skinstore
- Dermalogica Gentle Cream Exfoliant, $43, Dermstore
- Sunday Riley Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment, $158, Skinstore
6. Use a clay or charcoal mask occasionally.
Masks containing clay or charcoal can help get rid of excess dirt and oil from the skin. Products like these may not “detox” your skin, but over time they can help get rid of blackheads and manage other acne issues.
You can use the products as directed (such as wearing it for 10-15 minutes and then rinsing it off) or you can use them as spot treatments overnight, Wong says. Just be sure to use these products with care and to apply moisturizer after using them because they can dry the skin out.
Products to try:
- Queen Helene Mint Julep Mask, $6 Amazon
- Tata Harper Clarifying Mask, $68, Tata Harper
- Kiehl’s Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleansing Mask, $35, Nordstrom
7. Spot treat clusters of blackheads rather than trying to treat your whole face.
If you only get blackheads on a certain part of your face, like your nose or your chin, you don’t need to apply your treatments to your entire face. Not only will you spare yourself potential irritation, but you might also be able to withstand more concentrated treatments on that smaller surface area. Plus, spot treating with a salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide–based product can help you resist the urge to try to extract blackheads yourself.
Products to try:
- Glossier Zit Stick, $14, Glossier
- La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Acne Spot Treatment, $20, Amazon
- Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Facial Cleanser, $7, Amazon
8. Get extractions from a professional.
In general, it’s best to avoid popping any pimples at home—as tempting as it may be. They’ll go away on their own if you don’t mess with them (really!) and, if done incorrectly, a popping session can cause irritation and even an infection.
But if you happen to deal with stubborn blackheads frequently, it may be worth it to see a professional to have them professionally extracted. During that process, an esthetician will use a small tool to squeeze the clog out of a pore without breaking the skin or enlarging the pore even further. Ideally, this should be done every four-to-six weeks, Wong says.
9. If you do try to extract your own blackheads, ice the skin after.
Okay, yes, it happens. Sometimes you just have to go for it, despite the warnings from your dermatologist. And when that happens, it’s important to care for the skin afterwards to reduce inflammation and help prevent more acne.
In particular, Dr. Nussbaum recommends icing the area for a few minutes to help decrease redness and inflammation. Just make sure to put the ice inside a paper towel or washcloth rather than applying it directly to the skin as that can cause more damage.
10. Know that self-tanning products can make blackheads more visible.
Using self-tanning products is obviously a safer alternative to getting intentional UV exposure (which causes skin cancer and premature signs of aging and can exacerbate acne). But Dr. Talakoub warns that using a product like self-tanners that will make your skin look more tan will also make blackheads look darker and make them stand out more.
So, yes, definitely continue to use self-tanners if the alternative is getting an actual tan. Just know that those products can make your blackheads more visible as well.
11. Wear (oil-free) sunscreen every day.
Wearing a daily sunscreen is undoubtedly the most important part of your daily skin-care routine because it can help prevent skin cancer and premature signs of aging. Plus, UV rays can dry your skin out, which makes acne worse. So it’s important to be protected for a bunch of reasons.
You should make sure your daily sunscreen (or SPF moisturizer) contains broad spectrum protection of at least SPF 30. And if you have oily or acne-prone skin, be sure to use a product that’s non-comedogenic and oil-free so it won’t clog your pores.
Products to try:
- EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46, $35, Amazon
- Neutrogena Hydro Boost Gel Lotion Sunscreen SPF 30, $12, Ulta
12. Avoid comedogenic makeup and skin-care products.
Sunscreen isn’t the only product that can clog your pores—there are tons of ingredients in all kinds of makeup and skin-care products that can be comedogenic, such as dimethicone, Dr. Talakoub says. Additionally, many oils (including coconut oil) can be comedogenic, Dr. Nussbaum says.
It’s not always easy to know what is and isn’t actually a comedogenic product, SELF explained previously. The term “noncomedogenic” isn’t regulated by the FDA, so a company can put it on basically any product regardless of the ingredients. And the way an ingredient is determined to be comedogenic is pretty confusing. Still, looking for the phrase “noncomedogenic” or “oil-free” on products is the best place to start when trying to find non-clogging products.
And, in general, if your skin is acne-prone it’s a good idea to avoid heavy oil-based products which will sit on top of the skin trapping sweat, dirt, and dead skin cells in your pores. Instead, pick a gentle cleanser and a lightweight, hydrating moisturizer.
Products to try:
- Avene Hydrance Light Hydrating Cream, $32, Skinstore
- La Roche-Posay Effaclar Mat Daily Moisturizer for Oily Skin, $32, Ulta
- SkinCeuticals Renew Overnight Oily, $62, Dermstore
13. Try an over-the-counter retinoid product.
Retinoids are derivatives of vitamin A that will speed up the cell turnover process in your skin, which is helpful for managing acne, reducing and preventing signs of aging, treating hyperpigmentation, and many other conditions.
You can start exploring the world of retinoids on your own by checking out an over-the-counter retinoid, like retinol serums or adapalene gels. Retinol is a less intense form of retinoic acid (tretinoin), which can be prescribed by a dermatologist for more severe cases. And adapalene is a synthetic form of retinoid acid that is now available over-the-counter as Differin or in a gel by La Roche-Posay.
However there are some drawbacks with retinoids. The first one is that, because retinoids are known to cause birth defects, you should not use them while pregnant. The second issue is that they can also cause serious skin side effects, including dryness, redness, irritation, flaking, and sensitivity. So it’s best to start slow with a lower concentration and just use them a few days a week at first—and to always, always, always moisturize.
Products to try:
- First Aid Beauty FAB Skin Lab Retinol Serum, $58, Ulta
- SkinMedica Age Defense Retinol Complex 0.25, $62, Dermstore
- La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel 0.1% Retinoid Acne Treatment, $30, Dermstore
- Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment, $15, Amazon
- Peter Thomas Roth Retinol Fusion PM Overnight Resurfacing Pads (30 count), $52, Dermstore
- Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic + Retinol Wrinkle Recovery Peel (16 count), $88, Nordstrom
14. Talk to a dermatologist about prescription treatment options.
If you’ve been trying to reduce your blackheads for a few weeks without any luck, it may be time to talk to a dermatologist to see what else you can do—especially if you also experience other types of acne, like cysts or inflamed pimples.
They might recommend you try prescription retinoid products, such as tretinoin (Retin-A), Dr. Talakoub says, which is stronger than the retinoids you’ll find over-the-counter. But you will still need to be patient. Typically, a retinol product will take four to five weeks to start working properly, though experts say the real results won’t be seen until after about three to six months of use.
Be mindful that even prescription retinoids come in different concentrations and you’ll want to ease into them (and any potential side effects) by applying the treatment at night followed by moisturizer and, in the morning, sunscreen.
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