Searching for a way to combat blackheads? This guide will give you a good grasp of what causes blackheads and how you can prevent them.

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Blackheads: What They Are, Causes, And Treatment

1/18/20238 min read

Chances are you've had a blackhead or two. You may even be wondering how in the world you got them since you wash your face daily. Unfortunately, many factors can contribute to the annoying formation of blackheads.

But if you’re frustrated with your blackheads, you’re in luck! This article will open your eyes to what blackheads are and help you learn how to treat and prevent them.

Table Of Contents

What Are Blackheads?

Woman with towel on her head squeezing acne on her nose

Blackheads are a type of acne. But they are different from pimples, which are small, pus-filled bumps. Blackheads are painless, open pores filled with excess oil and dead skin.

Blackheads are very common and affect mostly your face, neck, back, and chest. And they’re more common in adolescents because of the hormonal changes teens experience. However, blackheads can pop up at any age.

Their dark color is the result of a process called oxidation, when the skin pigment melanin inside the blackhead reacts with oxygen in the air and changes color. When the skin covering the bump opens, air exposure causes it to look black.

On the other hand, if the skin covering the bump does not open, a whitehead forms instead of a blackhead.

What Causes Blackheads?

As we mentioned, there are many different causes of blackheads. Some people believe they are caused by poor hygiene, but that isn’t always the case.

Here are a few of the reasons you may experience this skin condition.

1) Clogged Hair Follicles

Blackheads can form when a hair follicle becomes clogged or plugged. This causes dead skin cells and excess oil to collect in the follicle’s opening, which produces a bump.

Blackheads are referred to as open comedones, while whiteheads are closed comedones. Essentially, when the hair follicle becomes inflamed, comedones form.

2) Age And Hormonal Changes

Age and hormonal changes are also significant causes of blackheads.

Similar to regular acne, blackheads are most common during puberty, when the change in hormone levels triggers a spike in sebum production (the oily material produced by the sebaceous gland).

While acne can occur at any age, puberty tends to kick things up a notch.

3) Androgen

Speaking of puberty, androgen is a male sex hormone that triggers a greater secretion of sebum and a higher turnover of skin cells around puberty. Boys and girls experience higher levels of androgens during adolescence, which can lead to blackheads.

4) Menstruation

Female logging menstruation on calendar

Another common cause of blackheads is oil gland overproduction. This happens during hormonal shifts, such as menstruation and pregnancy. After puberty, hormonal changes related to birth control pills can also bring on blackheads.

5) Other Causes

Additional causes of blackheads may include:

  • Overproduction of skin cells by the body
  • Heavy sweating
  • Blocking or covering pores with makeup or clothing
  • High humidity
  • Shaving
  • Medications that cause rapid skin cell turnover
  • Steroid-based drugs
  • Medical conditions such as stress, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and premenstrual syndrome (PMS)

Treatment For Blackheads

A woman with blackheads on her nose

Blackheads can be an annoyance, especially if they are in a highly visible location. Luckily, you have a variety of treatment options. Let’s take a look.

1) Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid dissolves dead skin cells to prevent your hair follicles from clogging and helps remove the top layer of damaged skin. It’s available over the counter in some cleansers and lotions.

2) Retinoids

Retinoids, which are vitamin A derivatives, break up blackheads and whiteheads and help prevent clogged pores.

You may experience a change in skin color or some peeling while using retinoids. Using them only every other day or with a moisturizer can reduce these side effects.

3) Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide can be found over the counter and targets surface bacteria, which often provoke acne.

Keep in mind that irritation and dryness are common side effects. However, lower concentrations of benzoyl peroxide and wash formulations tend to be less aggravating to your skin.

4) Azelaic Acid

Azelaic acid is a naturally occurring acid found in grains such as barley, wheat, and rye. It kills microorganisms on your skin and reduces swelling, clearing your pores of bacteria that may be causing blackheads. It can be used in gel, foam, or cream form, making it highly versatile.

5) Oral Antibiotics

Oral antibiotics treat blackheads from within, unlike topical medications. They work by targeting acne-causing bacteria in and around the follicles to reduce inflammation and decrease sebum production.

6) Prescription-Strength Retinoids

Prescription-strength retinoids are a much stronger alternative than those found over the counter. In addition to treating acne, they can also help reduce fine lines and wrinkles.

7) Microdermabrasion

Dermatologist performing microdermabrasion on a woman

Microdermabrasion is a facial conducted by a dermatologist. The fine jet that passes over your skin loosens dead skin and removes the top part of the blackhead to free the sebum and dirt inside.

The more you repeat the process, the more blackheads gradually disappear. And microdermabrasion speeds up cell renewal, so blackheads are less likely to form.

8) Microneedling

Microneedling, also known as collagen induction therapy, is another effective treatment for blackheads.

It is minimally invasive and uses tiny needles to puncture the skin. These punctures cause the skin to produce more collagen and elastin, which helps reduce the appearance of blackheads. Old blackheads form scars, but microneedling can minimize the appearance of these marks.

While anything with the word “needling” in it might sound scary, during a microneedling treatment, a numbing cream is applied to your skin. As the needling pen moves over the surface of your skin, microneedles pierce it and create a series of micro-injuries.

This process triggers the body to produce new collagen and elastin, and the entire treatment takes about 20 minutes. The good news is it’s relatively pain-free and can produce amazing results!

9) Chemical Peels

Chemical peels are an excellent solution to clear up blackheads. They are special acid solutions applied to the face by a board-certified dermatologist or esthetician. When applied correctly, the acid solution damages and removes the top layer of dull skin over two weeks or more.

Chemical peels reveal the smooth, healthier skin underneath. They happen in several sessions and can treat even deep acne scars. Your dermatologist will use different types of peels to target different layers of your skin.

10) Laser Skin Resurfacing

Woman receiving laser therapy for blackheads

Laser therapy is a safe and effective way to eliminate blackheads with little to no side effects. Laser skin resurfacing directs short, concentrated, and pulsating beams of light to your blackheads. The light beams reduce the amount of oil that your sebaceous glands produce.

11) Sugar Or Salt Scrubs

If you prefer home remedies, turn to sugar and salt scrubs to exfoliate dead cells on the surface of your skin and treat blackheads.

Wet your face and apply the salt or sugar scrub to your affected areas. Massage your skin in small, circular motions for up to 30 seconds. Then, rinse your face with water when you’re finished.

12) Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil effectively treats blackheads by drying them out and unclogging your pores.

Tea tree oil can also prevent or stop the growth of bacteria when you apply a small amount to a cotton applicator and rub it on your blackheads. Add this at-home remedy to your skincare regimen two or three times a week to reduce their appearance.

13) Green Tea

Wet green tea leaves can help reduce oil production in your skin, too. Mix dry green tea leaves with water and massage them into your skin in small, circular motions for up to 30 seconds. When finished, simply rinse your face and gently pat dry.

Preventing Blackheads

Man washing his face

Now that you know a bit more about how to treat your blackheads, let’s talk about possible prevention. Here are some steps you can take to keep blackheads at bay:

  • Use non-comedogenic products, and make sure to remove your makeup at the end of the day
  • Wash your face every day with a mild facial cleanser
  • Use a moisturizer on your face daily
  • Keep your hands away from your face
  • Avoid squeezing blackheads because this can make the problem worse

When To See A Doctor

It can be tempting to squeeze your skin to remove blackheads, but this can cause damage. In fact, attempting to express pores at home can push the blackhead farther into your skin, creating the potential for infection.

If you feel the urge to squeeze your blackheads, contact your dermatologist. They can guide you to the right treatment option.

Another reason to visit a dermatologist is when over-the-counter products fail to cure your blackheads. In some cases, you might not even be able to identify your blemish as a blackhead, so professional guidance would be beneficial.

Putting The Ban On Blackheads

Man examining his blackheads in the mirror

Blackheads are a common form of acne. But luckily, there are a lot of different treatment options. From at-home remedies to prescription medications, healthy skin is possible with these tips and tricks from Bodewell and the right tools at your disposal.

You’re on your way to better skin days!


Boston University Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine
Cambridge University Press
National Library of Medicine

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