Updated 4/16/20. Of all the skin questions that I get asked, “How do I get rid of my blackheads?” ranks near the top of the list. Blackheads are a fact of life. It doesn’t matter what your age is; if your skin has produced oil at any point during your life, you can get blackheads. There are so many products on the market that claim to get rid of blackheads, but sadly, they never do. (Trust me, if those pore strips truly worked, we would all be using them—including me.)
I’ve created a 3-step plan for effectively reducing blackheads. It’s definitely possible to minimize the appearance of blackheads and keep them at bay, but it’s going to take some work and ongoing dedication.
What Exactly Is a Blackhead?
For starters, blackheads are large, open pores containing oil that has oxidized from exposure with the air. This oxidation is what causes them to turn black. Contrary to what most people believe, blackheads aren’t dirt trapped in your pores—just oxidized oil. You can remove a blackhead by extracting it, but once the pore fills up with oil again (and it will), the air will cause the oil to oxidize again. Sounds like a vicious cycle, right? Keep reading to learn how to break it!
How to Minimize and Prevent Blackheads
Remove Them Manually
Whether you remove blackheads yourself (gently, of course) or have a professional facial, manually extracting them is the only way for them to be truly removed. There is no magic mask or pore strip that will easily lift them out.
Professional Facial With Extractions
If you get a professional facial with extractions, an esthetician will start by raising the temperature of the skin. This is usually done by applying warm steam to the skin and performing a facial massage to “melt” the hardened oil within the pores. This makes extractions easier so the esthetician doesn’t have to press your skin so hard, which could lead to damage. If the skin is properly prepared by an experienced esthetician, extractions shouldn’t leave the skin with significant red marks. A cooling mask post-extractions will help to calm the skin and reduce any visible redness.
DIY Blackhead Extractions
If you can’t schedule a facial, you can try removing blackheads yourself. It’s best to perform extractions after a shower since the skin temperature has been raised and hardened oil will be softened. If this is the route you choose to go, read my guide to manually removing blackheads at home.
Keeps Pores Clean With Acid-Based Products
Once blackheads have been manually removed, it’s important to keep pores clean to prevent further oil build-up. The best way to do this is to incorporate products with exfoliating acids into your routine. These can include both AHAs and BHAs. Skincare products with acids might include cleansers, serums, and at-home pore cleaning peels like Triple Berry Smoothing Peel.
Make sure the products are gentle and do not contain SD Alcohol 40 or Denatured Alcohol.
Note: Do not use any acid-based products for at least 24 hours after professional or DIY manual extractions.
Prevent Oil From Oxidizing
This part is crucial for reducing the appearance of blackheads. As I mentioned, a blackhead is oil that has oxidized and turned black, so if you can prevent the oil from oxidizing, the oil will not turn black (or at least not as quickly).
Antioxidants used in skincare products have many benefits. They encourage collagen production, lighten discoloration (brown spots), and slow down the production of skin-damaging free radicals. But one surprising benefit is their ability to prevent oil from oxidizing, hence the name “anti-oxidant.”
Here’s an example of how antioxidants prevent oxidation: You know when you cut an apple into slices, and after a while it turns brown (oxidizes)? What might you do to prevent it from turning brown? Simple. Just squeeze on some lemon juice, which is high in vitamin C, and the apple won’t turn brown as quickly.
Surprisingly, the same rules apply to the skin and blackheads. I can’t speak for all antioxidant products, but I can tell you for certain our Vitamin C & E Treatment uses three forms of stable, no-sting vitamin C which makes this product not only suitable for preventing blackheads, but for sensitive skin. Skeptical? I did my own little science experiment by applying Vitamin C&E Treatment to half of an apple, and you can definitely see the difference!
Avoid Vitamin C Products That Accelerate the Appearance of Blackheads
Did you know that certain topical vitamin C products can actually accelerate the appearance of blackheads? I can’t tell you how many clients I have seen through the years where I can look at their skin and immediately tell that they use an unstable vitamin C serum (and have blackheads because of it). When formulas use high concentrations of pure L-ascorbic Acid or ascorbic acid, it causes rapid oxidation resulting in a darkening of the oil pore’s surface. I obviously recommend that you avoid using vitamin C products if the color has started to turn brown as this is an indication of oxidation. Also, the darker the color of the product (such as dark orange or light brown), the less Vitamin C is available in the formula, so it’s not giving your skin the best antioxidant protection to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and blackheads.
I realize that the above steps require some time and effort and we all want a simple, fast solution. But with some patience and dedication, you’ll have less visible blackheads in no time.
Celebrity Esthetician & Skincare Expert
As an esthetician trained in cosmetic chemistry, Renée Rouleau has spent 30 years researching skin, educating her audience, and building an award-winning line of products. Trusted by celebrities, editors, bloggers, and skincare obsessives around the globe, her vast real-world knowledge and constant research are why Marie Claire calls her “the most passionate skin practitioner we know.”