From why they form to how to treat them, here’s everything you need to know about blackheads…
Blackheads are something that we all deal with and something we’ve probably all googled how to get rid of. But finding the best treatment for blackheads and other types of acne can be tricky. From trending charcoal face masks to bizarre ‘internet-approved’ skincare hacks, it seems like we’ll try anything to keep blackheads at bay.
But the best way to treat blackheads? First you need to figure out what they are. We’ve spoken to dermatologist and founder of Murad Skincare Dr Howard Murad to discover how to tackle blackheads once and for all…
What are blackheads?
Blackheads appear when an open pore gets blocked with oil, sebum and dead skin cells – much like any other blemish. Unlike whiteheads that create a pustule on top of the pore, trapping oil and sebum inside, blackheads are pores that remain open. This means the oil, dirt and bacteria is exposed to oxygen. This exposure turns the contents of the blocked pore a black, grey or dark brown colour, resulting in (you guessed it) a blackhead.
Who suffers from blackheads?
Blackheads affect everyone from time to time – no matter how robust your skincare routine is. However, pore size is determined by genetics, so you might actually be pre-disposed to blackheads forming.
If you have larger pores, sebum and oil can infiltrate and get trapped easier than someone with smaller pores, meaning blackheads might be a more recurrent issue for you.
But if blackheads are bugging you, you’re not alone. Google searches for blackhead removal have increased 5000% since January 2020 showing the demand for at-home treatments and methods of treating blackheads has boomed since lockdown.
How to get rid of blackheads
While you can extract blackheads at home yourself, it’s not advised. Trying to remove a blackhead yourself can lead to more issues – pushing the contents of the pore deeper into the skin resulting in infection, recurrence and scarring.
“The best way to clear blackheads is to unclog them through a deep cleanse and a purifying mask,” says Dr Howard Murad. “A great ingredient to look for in a mask is sulphur which treats and prevents existing blackheads, plus kaolin and bentonite clays which absorb excess oils and draw out pore-clogging debris”.
Exfoliating at least once a week will also help to remove dead skin cells and improve skin’s clarity. Exfoliators like glycolic and salicylic acids help keep pores clear and remove imperfections, while smoothing the surface.
“If you prefer a gentler skin polish, look for polished natural jojoba which gently glides across skin without causing irritation,” recommends Murad. “Cinnamon and witch hazel are great ingredients to help tighten pores and control shine, while retinol is another great way to stimulate cell turnover and help boost collagen production while combatting the problem of blocked pores.”
Regular exfoliation is key, but if you’re prone to blackheads it’s also important to look for products that are non-comedogenic – meaning they won’t clog pores in the first place. Always remove any make up before going to bed and give your skin a thorough double cleanse as any residue, trapped oil and debris will contribute to blocked pores.
“New advancements in skincare can also help control the communication of bad bacteria that contributes to blocked pores and blackheads”, reveals Murad. “Therefore using a hydrating product that helps to balance the microbiome and stops the proliferation of bad bacteria will certainly help to strengthen the moisture barrier and prevent future breakouts too”. Look for products with prebiotics that help to encourage a healthy balance of good bacteria.
The best treatment for blackheads
Murad Prebiotic 4-in -1 MultiCleanser
This nourishing cleanser helps to break down sebum, dirt and make-up – deeply cleansing inside the pore. It’s also packed with prebiotics that work to balance the skin’s microbiome. The result? A healthy, hard-working skin barrier. Win.
Vichy Normaderm S.O.S Sulphur PasteClinically proven to reduce the appearance of blemishes overnight, this targeted treatment blends together 10% sulphur, niacinamide and glycolic acid for a triple-whammy of blemish busting power. Sebum is reduced and pores appear smaller, in just hours.
The INKEY List Kaolin Clay MaskPerfect for unclogging pores, kaolin clay helps to absorb excess oils and remove impurities from the surface of the skin. Thanks to its gentle formula, this mask is perfect for all skin types as a deep cleansing treatment once to twice per week.
Bioderma Sébium Foaming Gel
Formulated with lactic acid to help gently slough away dull and dead skin cells, this robust cleanser encourages the renewal of collagen while dissolving the dirt, grime and sebum inside of the pore.
Bioderma’s Sébium Foaming Gel, £10.80
Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid ExfoliantA potent blend of BHA salicylic acid, this exfoliating tonic helps to remove dead skin cells both on the skin’s surface and deeper within the pore. Anti-inflammatory properties also help to reduce blemishes and blackheads for a more clarified complexion.
Skingredients Skin Protein
This powerful anti-ageing serum has an active formula of Vitamin A, C and E alongside antioxidants and peptides to help re-educate the skin. Vitamin A helps to brighten and smooth – stimulating cell turnover to help boost collagen production and declog pores.
Murad Clarifying Oil Free Water GelWhen blackheads are a bug bear, look for moisturisers that will hydrate the skin without re-clogging pores. Murad’s Oil Free Water Gel contains hyaluronic acid to deeply hydrates, salicylic acid to gently exfoliates and Korean red pine extract to help balance microbiome and irritation.
Main image: Getty