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A Blackhead Explainer and How to Get Rid of Them

It seems like some of the ickiest skin issues we share are ones that are all too common. We probably all deal with them at some point and like a stray kitty you fed one time, they just keep coming back! I’m talking about blackheads, not cats (although if blackheads were as cute as cats this would be a totally different story).

Getting rid of blackheads seems like a never-ending chore. Most skin issues go away once you figure out what works for you, but blackheads are often an exception to that rule. If you want to get rid of them and lessen their appearance overall, you should know a couple things about how they behave.

What actually are blackheads?
No, your skin does not push out gross black-colored goops from your pores. The dark color of blackheads is actually from oxidization. Overproduction of sebum in your pores mixed in with dead skin cells form a plug in your pore, known as a comedone. Blackheads are open comedones (so they’re not closed, like a whitehead) and exposure to oxygen leads to oxidation of sebum, turning them dark-colored. On the positive side this does make them easier to remove, since they’re already exposed and “open.”
You should be wary that your skin naturally has sebaceous filaments, which can sometimes look like blackheads, but aren’t. Sebaceous filaments are normal hair-like fibers that live in your pores and serve as a kind of wick to lead oil to the surface. They can appear to be yellow, gray or dark brown-tinged, but are generally visible when the pore is full of sebum or you have naturally large pores. They don’t quite have the same plug-like appearance of a blackhead and sit more recessed into your skin. If you’ve ever tried in vain to squeeze one only to have nothing come out, you’ll know that what you thought was a blackhead is actually a sebaceous filament.

Why do blackheads happen?
Two main reasons–overproduction of sebum coupled with too much dead skin cells hanging around. Pore-clogging makeup or whatever else goes on your face can also contribute. Sometimes your skin will produce more oil than normal, whether it’s hormonally triggered or by a super humid climate that makes you sweat a lot. Anything that can clog your pores, can definitely contribute to blackheads.

So how do you deal with existing blackheads?
Pore strips, peel-off masks, clay masks and gentle extraction can rid your skin of some blackheads. You want to use the most gentle and sanitary method because these clogged pores are uninfected at this stage, but a wrong move can introduce bacteria into the pore and cause infection, leading to a much worse acne breakout. Clay masks are great for sucking excess sebum out of pores, while pore strips and peel-off masks can manually pluck those suckers out of your pores. Steaming up first is helpful to soften your pores! It may feel torturous, but don’t squeeze them! That’s the quickest and easiest way to infect your pores.

Even better—how to prevent them and keep them gone!
Maintenance is the key with battling blackheads, since your pores are constantly producing sebum and your skin is constantly shedding. Lots of people get frustrated that they’re following all the “rules” of clearing blackheads but don’t see immediate results or don’t understand why they keep coming back—you’ve got to stick with it.

Cleanliness is paramount, especially if you have combination/oily skin. If your skin is already producing lots of oil, you want to keep it from getting clogged with a good cleansing routine. Exfoliation is also a huge factor. Chemical exfoliants with AHAs and BHAs help loosen dead skin cells and break-down them down, so your pores are kept uncluttered and less likely to get clogged. For some serious pore-cleaning, retinoids, microdermabrasion and chemical peels can be utilized when recommended by your dermatologist or facialist. Finding a skin care routine that incorporates a chemical exfoliant will help a ton, but also keep your habits in mind—are you touching your face a lot? Is your mobile phone all oily and gross? When was the last time you cleaned your makeup brushes? Anything that touches your face can introduce pore-clogging grime, so just be mindful.

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