I’ve been in a war against blackheads since I first discovered Bioré pore strips back in high school. Seeing that black gunk is just so satisfying! According to facialist Cecilia Wong from Cecilia Wong Skincare in New York City, those tiny dots are a sign you need to treat your skin ASAP. “A blackhead is a clump of oil and dirt mixed together in a pore,” she tells SELF. “If you don’t take care of your pores, eventually the dirt and oil will accumulate. If someone has a lot of blackheads (or open comedones), you can feel it—the skin is rough, scratchy, and bumpy.”
More bad news: Dirty pores can also mean reduced skin elasticity in the future. “A pore is like a rubber band—the more you stretch it out, the less elasticity it has,” Wong says. “Once your pores are stretched out to a certain degree, they won’t close back up.”
Combination or very oily skin types are most prone to blackheads on the nose, as the sebaceous glands produce an abundance of oils in the pores on the skin of the nose, Marnie B. Nussbaum, M.D., New York City–based medical, cosmetic and laser dermatologist, tells SELF.
Lately, with the rise of pimple-popping videos on the Internet, there have been a lot of blackhead removal hacks floating around. We’ve tried a few of them here on SELF, such as the grits exfoliation technique from Reddit and the DIY gelatin mask. But at the end of the day, we’ve found the best methods for blackhead removal and prevention are a lot simpler.
Here are 15 helpful tips to help get rid of blackheads on your nose, chin, and forehead.
1. Wash your face at least twice a day.
This seems like basic advice, but cleansing can go a long way to help prevent dirt and oil from accumulating in your pores. Rinse skin in the morning to get rid of any bacteria that might have transferred to your skin from your pillowcase. You’ll need to cleanse again at night to get rid of the makeup and dirt that coats skin throughout the day.
2. Wash immediately after exercising as well.
Excess sweat can cause blackheads, so it’s important to remove all dirt, sweat, and oil after a workout to avoid clogging your pores even more and forming additional blackheads, Dr. Nussbaum says.
3. Clean out dirty pores with a strip.
Pore strips are like a Band-Aid, using adhesive to rip away dead skin cells and dirt. Wong stands by the effectiveness of pore strips to get rid of blackheads quickly. But keep in mind, these are for newer breakouts. “Pore strips only really work for blackheads that haven’t been in pores for a long period of time,” she says.
4. Wear oil-free sunscreen.
Just because you have oily or combination skin doesn’t mean you should skimp on sunscreen. SPF products are crucial to protect your skin from harmful UV rays. Experts recommend sticking to oil-free formulations that won’t weigh down the skin or clog your pores.
5. Exfoliate two or three times a week to dissolve dead skin.
Dead skin is one of the many things that can clog your pores. Wong recommends a vigilant exfoliation routine using a washcloth (beginner level), a mild enzyme cleanser (intermediate), or a glycolic peel (advanced, as it is chemical exfoliation). Plan to exfoliate twice a week, but some derms even say you can go up to three times a week if you have oily skin that is prone to blackheads. Just make sure to moisturize after every exfoliating session. “You have to moisturize because exfoliants tends to be very drying to skin,” Wong explains. “If your skin is really dry, your oil production overcompensates, creating more oil and more blackheads.”
6. Chemical exfoliation (such as acid pads or a peel) are a good way to avoid irritating the skin by overexfoliating.
Gentle exfoliating acids, like glycolic or alpha hydroxy acids, are an effective way to break down the dead skin and oil clogging the pore, Lily Talakoub, M.D., dermatologist at McLean Dermatology and Skincare Center in Virginia, tells SELF. Other acids like lactic acid and salicylic acid can have exfoliating properties that help prevent excess oil and dirt from getting trapped in the follicles, Dr. Nussbaum says.
7. Pick the right exfoliating acid for your skin type.
When it comes to incorporating the right percentage of exfoliating acid in your beauty regimen, Dr. Talakoub recommends 10 percent for dry skin, 20 percent for oily skin, and 30 percent for tougher areas on the back that can get blackheads. Too light a percentage and you might not get the results you seek; too heavy a percentage and you’ll irritate your skin.
8. For a gentle mechanical exfoliation, try a microdermabrasion tool.
Don’t have time to make it to the doctor’s office? Give yourself a mini at-home facial instead with this derm-approved treatment. Microdermabrasion is like taking a handheld vacuum to your face to slough away dead skin cells from the surface layer. It helps stimulate collagen production and increase the absorption of skin-care products.
9. Use a clay mask or overnight treatment.
A clay mask, such as one made of Amazonian white clay, will pull out all the dirt from your skin. You can apply for 15 minutes and rinse, or you can use it as a spot treatment overnight. “When you’re sleeping, your pores are open, and at night, there are dirt and germs in the air,” says Wong. If your skin produces lots of oil, you can put the clay mask on your nose or T-zone to specifically target blackheads in that area. Charcoal masks are another alternative to clay. Choose a formula that has clay and plenty of moisturizing ingredients.
9. Get extractions from a professional.
While it’s possible to pop whiteheads at home, it’s best to see a professional every four to six weeks to get rid of blackheads. The small hardened dots are typically too tiny to get with just your fingers. Estheticians like Wong use a small tool during a facial to squeeze out the dirt from the pores without breaking the skin (or enlarging the pore).
11. Briefly ice the area immediately after a ‘squeeze session.’
We’ve all had those moments when the urge to pop a blackhead is just too great to resist. When that happens, Dr. Nussbaum recommends icing the area for a few minutes to help decrease redness and inflammation. Just make sure not to leave the ice on for too long as it can cause an ice burn. Instead of popping a blackhead, you can also spot-treat with a salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide–based product.
12. Avoid self-tanners.
“Self-tanning products can make blackheads look darker and the pore more noticeable because the sugar component of the tanners are more attracted to keratinized skin, and blackheads are little clumps of dead skin and oil in a pore,” Dr. Talakoub explains.
13. Avoid ingredients that can irritate the skin and further clog pores.
Dimethicone (also known as polydimethylsiloxane or PDMS) is a type of silicone commonly found in lotions, primers, and foundations that’s used to fill in uneven texture and fine lines. While the ingredient has been approved by the FDA for skin-care use, Dr. Talakoub says overuse has actually shown to clog pores and exacerbate the appearance of acne and blackheads. Many oils, such as coconut oil or shea butter, can also be comedogenic (clogging pores), Dr. Nussbaum says. If your skin is acne-prone, avoid heavy oil-based products which will sit on top of the skin causing new pimples to form. Instead, pick a lightweight, hydrating cleansing oil as part of your double cleansing routine and make sure you’re exfoliating regularly so your skin can absorb the oil better.
14. Mineral-based makeup also minimizes pore size.
Unlike traditional makeup products, mineral makeup lines are free of dyes, and fragrances that can wreak havoc on fussy skin. Experts recommend mineral-based makeup for people with combination and acne-prone skin since most formulas don’t contain oil and are super lightweight,
15. If you’ve exhausted all other options, a prescription retinol can help.
Retinoids are the best topical treatment we have to combat blackheads and the appearance of pores, as they increase cellular turnover resulting in newer skin and tighter pores. Prescription retinoid products, such as Retin-Acan help with blackheads, Dr. Talakoub tells SELF. Typically, a retinol product will take four to five weeks to start working properly, though experts say the real results can be seen after about three to six months of use. Be mindful that retinoids come in different strengths and you’ll want to ease into them (they can be very drying and cause redness) by applying it at night. Also, do not use retinoids if you are pregnant or planning to get pregnant.