Along with why you got bangs and J.Lo’s skin care routine, how to get rid of blackheads is one of the great mysteries of life. Fine—maybe it’s not a mystery so much as a challenge. You can try and dig them out, but you risk traumatizing your skin in a way that makes a blackhead in question seem like NBD (think scarring or hyperpigmentation). Fortunately, there’s some middle ground in both removing and preventing blackheads. We called in the experts to get the scoop.
First, it helps to know what causes blackheads. (As Sun Tzu says, know thy enemy.) “Blackheads form when the opening of a pore on your skin becomes clogged with sebum,” says Deanne Mraz Robinson, M.D., a dermatologist in Westport, CT. “Dead skin cells and oils collect in the pore. And if the pore isn’t covered by skin, exposure to air causes it to turn black as it oxidizes.” Hence, blackhead.
Learning how to get rid of blackheads can be a game-changer, since they can stick around when left unchecked. “Some blackheads can persist for days, weeks, or even months if not extracted, while your body usually clears small whiteheads within a week to 10 days,” says dermatologist Laurel Geraghty. These tweaks to your skin care routine can help.
1. Wash With a Gentle Cleanser
Resist the temptation to launch a scrubby assault on your blackheads. In fact, your best bet is to use a mild cleanser. “It will not overly strip your skin of moisture, which actually can trigger the overproduction of sebum and further exacerbate the problem,” says Robinson. She’s a fan of those that contain glycolic acid, which clears out pores. Try SkinCeuticals LHA Cleanser Gel, which, she says, “marries glycolic acid and salicylic acid with glycerin and sorbitol, which act as humectants and help your skin retain moisture.” Win-win.
2. If You Must Squeeze, Never Use Your Nails
If you’re DIY-ing the extraction, “the key is to be gentle,” says Geraghty. “Every day, I see patients who pick, scratch and extract spots on their skin, and this puts them at risk of permanent scarring.”
Here’s a primer: Start with completely clean hands and remember not to place your fingers too close to the blackhead. “Widen them out a bit so that the blackhead will be extracted easier from a deeper level within your skin,” says celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau. While squeezing, relocate your fingers to make it easier and to avoid creating marks. “For example, position fingers at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock, and then 5 o’clock and 10 o’clock, then 2 o’clock and 7 o’clock,” she says. Do not use your nails, lest you risk puncturing your skin.
3. Exfoliate Regularly
For exfoliation, opt for acids. “I much prefer a chemical exfoliant to a physical one, which means turning to chemical peels and alpha-hydroxy acids versus a scrub,” says Robinson. “They can cause microtears in your skin.”
Specifically, she likes salicylic acid, which can dive deep into your pore and the dissolve the sebum that’s causing the clog. “It essentially keeps pores open and clean,” she says. We love BeautyRx Skincare Dermstick for Pores, since you can use it to exfoliate smaller, blackhead-prone areas like your nose.
And if you’re wondering about pore-clearing devices, proceed with caution. While they’re largely safe, “some of the at-home vacuum-based tools can actually cause other problems, ranging from temporary bruising to long-term broken capillaries,” says Robinson.
4. Use a Pore Strip
An oldie but a goodie, these help get rid of blackheads in the most basic way: by plucking it out. “It’s essentially putting a band-aid on your nose,” says Robinson. “So if your skin has been adequately prepped with warm water and the pore is open, the suction from removing the strip will lift the trapped debris to the surface.” That said, they’re not really treating the blackheads; they’re just removing the uppermost (and visible) portion. Bioré Charcoal Deep Cleansing Pore Strips pairs its clearing power with charcoal, which has detoxifying properties.
5. Make Sure to Moisturize
Even though oil is a contributor to blackheads, avoiding it will only backfire. In fact, keeping your skin’s oil levels balanced (versus nonexistent) is key to minimizing blackheads. While some heavy oils, such as avocado oil, can clog pores, a lack of it causes skin to produce more—which leads to, you guessed it, more breakouts.