Updated 6/12/17. Of all the skin questions that I get asked, “How do I get rid of my blackheads?” has to rank near the top of the list. Blackheads are a fact of life; almost anyone whose skin has produced oily at any time of their life will have them (no matter what your age is now) and most all wished they didn’t. There are so many products on the market that claim to get rid of them 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 (and keeping them away), 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 the air causing it to turn black. Contrary to what most people believe, it’s not “dirt”, it is simply oxidized oil. You can remove the blackhead by extracting it, but once the oil fills back up in the pore, the air will cause the oil to oxidize again and now the blackhead is back again.
STEP 1: Remove the blackheads. Whether you remove them yourself (gently, of course) or have a professional facial, they must be manually extracted. There is no magic mask or pore strip that will easily lift them out.
-In a professional facial, an esthetician will raise the temperature of the skin by applying warm steam to the skin and performing a facial massage to “melt” the hardened oil within the pores to make for easier extractions. 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.
-For do-it-yourself extractions, it’s best to remove blackheads after a shower since the skin temperature has been raised. Read more for how to manually remove blackheads at home.
STEP 2: Use acid-based products to keep pores clean. Once the pores are clean, it’s important to incorporate products into your routine that use acids, such as AHA’s and BHA’s to absorb directly into the pores and keep them cleaned out, as well as preventing the oil from filling back up so quickly. Skin care products with acids might include cleansers (see AHA/BHA Blemish Control Cleanser, Beta Hydroxy (BHA) serums (see BHA Clarifying Serum) and at-home pore cleaning peels (try Triple Berry Smoothing Peel). Be 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.
STEP 3: Prevent oil from oxidizing. This part is crucial for lessening 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 as quickly).
Antioxidants used in skin care products have many benefits such as encouraging collagen production, lightening discoloration (brown spots) and slowing down the production of skin-damaging free radicals, but one surprising benefit is their ability to prevent oil from oxidizing, hence the name antioxidants meaning ‘anti oxidation.’ 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? What would you do to prevent it from turning brown (oxidizing)? Simple. Just squeeze lemon juice, (which is high in vitamin C), onto the apple and the apple will not 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 too. 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! See it here!
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 your skin needs to lessen the appearance of wrinkles—or reduce blackheads. Read: Does Your Vitamin C Serum Turn Brown Over Time?
I realize that the above steps require some time and effort and we all want a simple, fast solution. With some patience and dedication, you’ll have less visible blackheads in no time.
So there you have it. My professional 3-step plan for removing blackheads and keeping them from being so noticeable and re-appearing so quickly.
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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.”