How to Get Rid of Blackheads

Young woman cleaning her skin with clear-up strip (beauty concept)
Getting Beautiful Skin Image Gallery  Blackheads form when your pores fill with excess oil and skin cells. See more getting beautiful skin pictures.
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Heartbreak, awkwardness, hormones, blackheads … you probably hoped to leave these adolescent problems behind. Although you'll likely outgrow many of these trials and tribulations of your teen years, skin problems might continue. In fact, 20 percent of all cases of acne -- including blackheads, which are considered to be acne -- occur in adults [sources: WebMD: Basics, American Academy of Dermatology: Acne]. But the news isn't all bad. With the right treatment, you can put your problems with blackheads behind you.

Acne occurs when a skin pore becomes plugged and forms a pimple. Acne is often caused by a hormone increase, which triggers the body to produce more oil (or sebum) in the skin. The excess of sebum clogs up your skin pores and bacteria begins to grow, causing the pore to become inflamed, resulting in a pimple [source: WebMD: Basics].


But before becoming inflamed, the plugged pore can become either a whitehead or a blackhead. Whiteheads are pores clogged with oil and dead skin cells, and they take the form of flesh-colored bumps. When the excess oil and skin cells are exposed to air, the breakout turns dark and is called a blackhead. The dark appearance of the plugged follicle is visible at the head [source: Medical News Today].

A variety of factors contribute to the formation of blackheads and acne in general. For example, changes in hormone levels (like the kind you experienced in high school) and bacteria do contribute to these skin problems. There's also a genetic component. If you suffer from acne, you might be able to blame some of that on Mom and Dad, since acne tends to run in families [source: WebMD: Basics].

There is no single cause of blackheads, but you can learn how to get rid of them. Just as importantly, by learning more about the factors that contribute to blackheads, you can discover tips to help prevent them in the first place.

If you suffer from blackheads or acne in general, read on learn why you might like chocolate a little more and your cell phone a little less.


Preventing Blackheads

If you've experienced acne, you know it's not pretty. Acne can make skin, even the cleanest skin, appear dirty. Fortunately, there are things you can do to deal with blackheads.

First, keep oil off your face. Dermatologists recommend that you should wash your face once or twice a day with gentle soap. This is especially important for women who wear makeup daily. Try to use beauty products without oil, and completely remove makeup at the end of the day.


At the same time, be aware that scrubbing hard does not equal clean skin. In fact, harsh scrubbing can actually lead to more breakouts. Gentle exfoliation -- removal of dead skin cells -- during cleansing is all you need so that they don't build up and clog your pores. You should also avoid toner, astringents and masks, which can irritate sensitive skin and possibly lead to more breakouts [source: American Academy of Dermatology: Results].

You should also be careful to keep oil from your hair away from your face. If you suffer from acne, wash your hair daily or, at the very least, pull your hair back from your face to minimize oil and dirt being transferred to your skin. This is especially important on those warm summer days or while you're at the gym. Hair care products such as gels, pomades and mousses generally contain a lot of oil, so you should avoid or limit them as well [source: WebMD: Prevention].

In addition to hygiene, there are other things you can do to prevent pesky blackheads from forming. Though you may not be aware of it, many items you use daily can cause or exacerbate breakouts. Think about all the things that touch your face or rub against your skin, such as cell phones, backpacks, helmets and even tight fitting clothes. Even leaning your hand against your face can spread oil and bacteria, so try to avoid touching your face with your fingers or hands throughout the day.

If blackheads crop up even when you practice these tips, there is still hope. Read on to learn about some treatments to help wipe blackheads away.


Getting Rid of Blackheads

If you've got a few or even a lot of those pesky blackheads on your skin, don't despair. There are some things you can do to get rid of them, from at-home remedies and deep-cleaning procedures to prescription medications.

Start with over-the-counter treatments. There are many products available that can help rid your skin of blackheads. A gentle exfoliator with a cleanser can be help to unclog pores and eliminate blackheads. Pore strips, which are medicated strips that are applied to the skin then removed, might also help clear up some of the substances that lead to blackheads [source: KidzWorld].


Look for products that list benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, sulfur or resorcinol in their ingredients. Benzoyl peroxide can dry up the amount of oil in your skin, and salicylic acid, resorcinol and sulfur break down blackheads. Salicylic acid also slows the natural sloughing off process of dead skin cells, which can clog the pores and lead to blackheads in the first place [source: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases].

Since blackheads are considered to be mild acne, over-the-counter products should be your first line of defense. If you don't see the results you want, then you can pursue a more intensive kind of treatment, including prescription medications, which have higher doses of the active ingredients than their over-the-counter versions do. These can include oral antibiotics and topical antibiotics, which reduce bacteria in the skin.

To learn more about reducing and preventing blackheads, visit the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • American Academy of Dermatology. "12 Ways to Get Better Results from Acne Treatment." (Accessed 9/8/09)
  • American Academy of Dermatology. "What is Acne?" (Accessed 9/8/09)
  • "Acne." (Accessed 9/8/09)
  • Gray, Meredith. "How Do I Get Rid of Nose Blackheads?" Seventeen. (Accessed 9/8/09)
  • KidzWorld. "Battling Blackheads and Acne." (Accessed 9/8/09)
  • Medical News Today. "What are Blackheads? How to Get Rid of Blackheads." May 22, 2007. (Accessed 9/8/09)
  • Medline Plus. "Acne." (Accessed 9/8/09)
  • National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. "Acne." January 2006. (Accessed 9/8/09)
  • Ray, Claiborne C. "Chocolate and Acne." The New York Times. December 23, 1997. (Accessed 9/8/09).
  • WebMD. "Acne Vulgaris-Prevention." (Accessed 9/8/09)
  • WebMD. "Understanding Acne -- The Basics." (Accessed 9/8/09)