What causes blackheads and how to get rid of blackheads

Blackheads: What causes them and how to get rid of blackheads without damaging your skin

3rd June 2020 | Author: Katie Lynch

No matter what your age or skin type, blackheads are one thing we all have in common.

Whilst we won’t deny they can be satisfying to squeeze, you could be doing damage to your skin in the long-term. There are far better options available, and we’re here to show you where to start.

What causes blackheads?

Blackheads are caused by a build-up of oil, dead skin cells and makeup in your pores. They turn black as the oils in the pore become oxidised – so while it’s not technically dirt inside your skin, which is the general assumption, it certainly doesn’t mean your pores are clean.

There are many causes of blackheads.

Some people are genetically predisposed to have enlarged pores which increases the surface area for cells and oil to get trapped in, and increases the appearance of blackheads.

READ NEXT: Best foundation for oily skin

Excess oil production, due to hormonal reasons, a poor diet or using the wrong skincare, is also a key cause of blackheads.

Blackheads can also be caused by improper removal of makeup, so whilst those makeup wipes may be convenient, the leftover makeup residue on your skin can cause build-up that turns to blackheads.

This is why using toner is so important – it helps remove any remaining traces of cleanser and makeup, and helps tightens the pores. You can read more in our What does face toner do? guide. 

FURTHER READING: Best toner: Discover which toner best suits your skin type and budget

Blackheads vs whiteheads: What’s the difference?

What are blackheads vs whiteheads and acneGetty Images/iStockphoto

Colored skin acne anatomy composition with types of acne pimples before and after vector illustration

When a blackhead forms, the pore itself remains open. This is why you’ll often experience recurring blackheads. With whiteheads, on the other hand, the pore is blocked over completely.

How to get rid of blackheads

Firstly, the bad news – no treatment will ‘cure’ blackheads completely.

No matter what blackhead removal product you use, blackheads will usually re-appear every 20 to 40 days. This is because the underlying problem of excess oil production has not been addressed.

The good news is, there are plenty of products available for every budget that can both reduce the production of excess oil and address the existing appearance of blackheads. The answer to blackheads is exfoliation, of which there are two types:

  • Physical: Using a brush or face scrub that is physically abrasive to remove the top layer of dead skin, makeup and dirt helps get rid of blackheads. However, physical exfoliation cannot reach deep inside the pores, nor can it address the underlying problem of excess oil production. That’s where chemical exfoliation comes in…
  • Chemical: Chemical exfoliation removes the top layer of dead skin and is able to reach deep inside the pore to remove build-up for a deeper cleanse. These can include AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) such as glycolic acid or lactic acid, or BHAs (beta hydroxy acids) such as salicylic acid. You can read more in our guide to the acids in your skincare. 

Both can be used in your regular skincare routine to both clear existing blackheads on the surface of your skin, and clear the build-up deep within your pores to reduce how many blackheads re-form.

There is also a rising trend known as skin gritting which combines oils, clay masks and acids to clear your pores and get rid of blackheads. You can read more in our skin gritting guide. 

Blackhead removal: What products actually work?

The best blackhead removal product we’ve used recently has been the Skin Glow Electric Cleanser. It’s a blackhead vacuum that sucks even the deepest dead skin cells out of your pores. You can read more in our Skin Glow Electric Cleanser review. 

We recently reviewed the Skin Glow Electric Cleanser which promises to get rid of blackheads easily and effectively

FURTHER READING: Skin Glow Electric Cleanser review: Can it really remove blackheads?

Below we’ve also listed other blackhead removal products we’ve used and can recommend. We’ve also got a whole list of the best face exfoliators, if you’re after more suggestions. 

The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution

£6.80 | Buy now from The Ordinary

Why we love it: The Ordinary’s Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution, is an excellent chemical exfoliation option.

It contains a mild AHA, which deeply exfoliates your pores, improving the appearance of blackheads, smoothing skin texture, and leaving skin looking visibly more radiant.

It’s alcohol free, so it won’t be excessively drying or irritating for most skin. However, we do not recommend this product if you have sensitive skin or any underlying skin conditions, such as eczema or rosacea.

This product only really needs to be used in evening, after using cleanser. Apply to a cotton pad and gently wipe over the face and neck. Allow to dry, then follow with serum and moisturiser.

FURTHER READING: The best The Ordinary products for your skincare concerns

Buy now from The Ordinary

The Body Shop Seaweed Pore-Cleansing Exfoliator

£11 | Buy now from The Body Shop

Why we love it: The Body Shop’s Seaweed Pore-Cleansing Exfoliator is the perfect example of a gentle physical exfoliator that can sweep away the excess oil and dirt on the surface of the skin, giving immediately clearer looking skin.

This product contains jojoba beads and olive stone exfoliators which are gentle on the skin and won’t leave it looking inflamed or aggravated.

We recommend using this product once a week after cleansing. Apply to damp skin and massage gentle in circles around the face for a few minutes, focusing especially on areas which have more blackheads. Remove with a damp cloth and follow with a gentle, alcohol-free toner.

As a side note, instead of buying directly from The Body Shop, we always go through a local Body Shop representative.

This helps support people in and around our community and being part of a rep’s Facebook groups often means you can enter competitions and giveaways, or get discounts that aren’t always widely available.

Our Body Shop rep is called Zoe Copper and her group is Zoe’s Beauty Spot

Buy now from The Body Shop

Paula’s Choice BHA Liquid Exfoliant Salicylic Acid

£28 | Buy now from Paula’s Choice

Why we love it: This fast-absorbing chemical exfoliant removes dead skin cells in order to reduce the occurrence of blackheads. Salicylic acid is a popular BHA known for its blackhead and acne-fighting qualities.

It is able to clear dead skin cells, dirt and makeup from both the surface of the skin, and deep within your pores, leaving skin visibly smoother and clearer.

We recommend using the BHA Liquid Exfoliant Salicylic Acid once or twice daily after using your usual cleanser and toner. Apply to a cotton pad and swipe over your face and neck, then leave to dry before following with other treatments. Ensure that you use a broad-spectrum SPF during the day.

Buy now from Paula's Choice

Clinique Clean Skin Great Skin Face Brush Set

£42.50 | Buy now from Lookfantastic

Why we love it: The Clinique Clean Skin Great Skin Face Brush and other facial brushes on the market are the perfect option for a gentle, physical exfoliation that won’t cause irritation or redness.

As well as clearing the dirt and excess oil on the surface of the skin, the vibrations of electronic face brushes also promote circulation.

We recommend using the Clinique Clean Skin Great Skin Face Brush once every other day with a foaming facial cleanser.

Buy now from Lookfantastic

Blackhead removal: What should you avoid?

While there are plenty of options for blackhead removal on the market, there are also some that are best avoided.

  • Harsh physical exfoliants: any face scrub with sharp or large beads or particles can be overly harsh on the skin, causing irritation. They can also cause micro-tears within the skin which can exacerbate scarring, dryness, and acne.
  • Peel-off masks and pore strips: While many of us will know from experience the satisfaction of peeling off a pore strip and seeing beautiful, clear skin underneath, the results of these treatments are temporary and can make blackheads worse in the long run. They can be effective at removing build up from pores, but they cannot provide the deep cleansing of a gentle chemical exfoliant, and they can leave pores looking larger.
  • Over-exfoliation: Using scrubs or exfoliants on your skin more often won’t decrease the likelihood of developing blackheads, and it can force inflammation deeper into the skin, making the problem worse. Over-exfoliation can also cause dryness and irritation. We therefore recommend using facial scrubs only once a week.

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