I’m very lucky in that I’ve been a skincare aficionado since I was a pre-teen, so I’ve had comparatively few skincare concerns to address (knock-on-wood!). That being said, I was like every teenager and prone to blackheads every now and then. In fact, I wish that I could go back in time and give some much-needed advice to my younger self – namely, there is a right and a wrong way to get rid of blackheads. So, dear readers, here are my tips for how to effectively get rid of blackheads:
1.) Don’t use pore strips. As a teen with limited income, drugstore pore strips were my (supposed) best friend. Pore strips are believed to open the pores so that any internal congestion can be removed, especially when you follow up by using a salicylic acid or retinoid-containing exfoliating serum to really clean out the pores. But, everyone has at least one skincare horror story from their youth (bad at-home dye jobs, eyebrow waxing fiascos, etc.) and I’m no exception; pore strips made skincare exponentially difficult in my teen years.
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Most pore strips have a hairspray-like substance that sticks to your blackheads’ internal elements – and stretches your pores as soon as you rip off the pore strip. Over time, this can lead to enlarged pores that are perfect for dead skin cells and other debris to collect within, thus creating more blackheads. So trust me on this one; skip pore strips for a potent exfoliating serum or an AHA/BHA-containing spot treatment instead, or else you’ll be stuck in a vicious cycle of using pore strips to eliminate blackheads, and pore strips subsequently creating more blackheads.
[Read more: 4 Common Beauty Products to Stop Using Right Now]
2.) Don’t pick at/scrub/aggravate your blackheads. Unsightly? Check. Annoying? Check. Hard to get rid of? Nope. Pretty much everyone and their mother will get a blackhead at some point in their lives, and yes, they are a huge pain the butt. That being said, picking at, aggressively scrubbing, or otherwise aggravating your blackhead is just going to make the situation worse.
Blackheads aren’t like your typical comedones; blackheads are simply small pimples whose internal elements have made contact with the air and oxidized, thus turning them black. They are not, as many believed, black due to their being dirty. Picking at your blackheads can lead to scarring and sometimes push their contents deeper within the skin. And don’t forget that by placing your oily, bacteria-laden fingers on your skin, you are increasing the chance that these substances will be transported to your skin and clog pores (American Academy of Dermatology, WebMD). Trust me, I too have known the joys of picking a stubborn blackhead – but it always comes back to bite me in the behind, if I may be so crude, whether as a cluster of acne taking its place or just leaving behind an unpleasant scare. Instead of poking and prodding your blackheads, it’s better to use topical treatments like spin brushes and spot treatments that can offer a deeper clean without jeopardizing your skin.
3.) Remember to exfoliate the skin.
Regardless of your skin type, you should remember to exfoliate once a week, although perhaps more frequently if you have oily, acne-prone skin. Not only will regular exfoliation work to promote healthy turnover and eliminate complexion-dulling dead skin cells from the stratum cornuem, but the right mix of keratolytic ingredients may be able to slowly disintegrate your blackheads (and other acne lesions!) quickly and painlessly. My favorite keratolytic ingredients include salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and retinol, although there is no right or wrong keratolytic ingredient when it comes to fighting blackheads. Just remember the stronger your ingredient, the less frequently that you need to use it. Over-exfoliating your skin can actually dry the skin, thus causing the skin to overproduce oil, and then create more blackheads and pimples – it’s a vicious circle which it is easy to fall prey to.
4.) Use a salicylic acid or retinoids to exfoliate the skin.
Benzoyl peroxide used to be king of acne treatments, but many users have recently found it to be too agitating, and recent research has also suggested that there may be better alternatives available. One of the best keratolytic ingredients in modern-day dermatology, salicylic acid works by breaking down intercellular bonds that keep cells “glued” together, especially those bonds between dead and hardened skin cells (Archives of Dermatological Research, British Journal of Dermatology). Salicylic acid has been clinically shown to improve and reduce the appearance of acne, fade scars, and exfoliate the skin. Better yet, evidence suggests that it may even be better than using benzoyl peroxide when it comes to fighting acne lesions, and is generally well-tolerated by users (Clinical Therapeutics, Journal of Dermatological Treatment). I prefer using exfoliating scrubs containing a low concentration of salicylic acid, but I recommend that those looking to spot-treat blackheads use an acne medication containing a higher dose of salicylic acid.
5.) Use a spin brush to clean pores.
I’ve been a fan of spin brushes ever since Clarisonic debuted its spin brush a few years ago. One of my latest obsessions has been the Spin for Perfect Skin from Vanity Planet, a spin brush that comes with four brush heads and is small enough to fit into my gym bag for post-workout cleansing. This four-in-one spin brush comes with a Cleansing Brush for the face, a Body Brush, Pumice Stone, and Exfoliating Brush. The Cleansing Brush is made of durable yet soft-to-the-touch bristles that whisk away dead skin and dirt in the blink of any eye, all without the pain of having to use an abrasive scrub or a rough washcloth. A companion piece, the Body Brush is a larger brush designed to reach broad areas like the legs, arms, and torso.
The Pumice Stone attachment is great for callused feet, knees, and elbows, whereas the Exfoliating Brush is a great way to get a deeper-cleansing once to twice a week. Obviously, I love the Spin for Perfect Skin’s Cleansing Brush (and the device in general) for its sheer utility; it comes with four brush heads, is easily portable, and is only $30. Even better, the Spin for Perfect Skin revolves at a rate of 8,000 RPMs, meaning that I simply have to hold the brush against my skin, and it will do all of the work for me. Finally, the Spin for Perfect Skin is gentle enough that it can be used on virtually all skin types, even those of your with sensitive or oily skin. Affordable, portable, and ultra-effective, the Spin for Perfect Skin has made me fall in love with spin brushes all over again.
Blackheads certainly are a nuisance, but they are actually pretty easy to treat once you get the hang of it. Remember not to pick, poke, prod, or otherwise aggravate your blackheads, as this can causing scarring and push the blackhead’s contents deeper within the skin. Skin pore-enlarging pore strips and instead opt for an exfoliating scrub that contains glycolic acid, salicylic, or retinol to cleanse the pores. For particularly stubborn or recurring blackheads, you may benefit from using a salicylic acid spot treatment, whereas a spin brush like the Spin for Perfect Skin from Vanity Planet is great for reaching deeper-set dirt that doesn’t respond to exclusively chemical treatments. What tips have you used to get rid of blackheads? Let me know in the Comments section!