From early teenage years and onward, many people struggle with the blemishes and inflammations we call acne. Most annoying of all are those unsightly little dark bumps on your nose – blackheads!
But just what are blackheads? How can you get rid of them, or prevent them in the first place? To learn everything you need to know about blackheads, read on!
What Are Blackheads?
Blackheads are a mild kind of acne that can appear on any part of your body, though it is most commonly discovered on the face. Blackheads take the form of tiny dark bumps on your skin, and occur when pores become clogged with sebum and other kinds of debris. Blackheads are not a sign that your skin is too dirty, or that you are doing something “wrong” – they happen to almost everyone and can be treated at home!
Your skin is full of pores, known by doctors as “pilosebaceous units.” Each of these pores has a hair follicle and an oil gland, also called a sebaceous gland, inside. The sebaceous gland creates a substance called sebum, which is an oily liquid that your body uses to keep your skin soft and well hydrated. However, if the body produces too much sebum, the top of the pore may become plugged. As the sebum builds up in this plugged pore, it collects dead skin cells and bacteria, forming a comedone. When the comedone is open to the air, rather than covered up by the skin, it forms a blackhead. A covered-up comedone is what we know of as a pimple. Because the blackhead is open to the air, it causes less inflammation and usually less pain than pimples do.
Though sebum is white, the blackhead comedone can appear in a variety of colors, such as yellow, brown, gray, and – as you would expect from the name “blackhead” – black. Though some believe that the colors appear because dirt is present in the pore, the colorization is actually because of oxidation. Sebum contains melanin pigment – the substance that determines the color of your skin. When melanin makes contact with the air, such as in this open comedone, it oxidizes, turning a dark color. Less-oxidized melanin pigment can appear closer to yellow than black in color.
Blackheads tend to vary in size, location, and number. How many comedones are present on your skin can indicate the level of severity in your acne. Though scales vary, most dermatologists agree that mild acne is a case of less than twenty visible comedones at once; moderate acne involves between twenty and one hundred comedones at once; and people with severe acne have more than one hundred comedones at once.
Should You Squeeze Blackheads?
It can be incredibly tempting to squeeze and pop the blackheads on your skin with your fingers. However, most dermatologists do not recommend that you squeeze your blackheads, because squeezing can cause a variety of additional skin issues. Because blackheads are difficult to remove, for all your squeezing and prodding, you might not actually be able to get it out – and instead end up irritating the skin. Bacteria on your fingers can then get inside the blackhead, creating cysts or nodules that only make the blackhead worse. When you squeeze a blackhead, you also run the risk of stretching out your pores, leaving them permanently enlarged. You may also accidentally force the infected material deeper into your skin, creating more blackheads and causing scarring. Though the blackhead is temporary, the scars and marks left from squeezing it might not be!
Blackheads vs. Sebaceous Filaments
One dark spot on your skin can look very similar to another, and so it is very easy to mistake a sebaceous filament for a blackhead. It’s important to note the differences between the two, because how you treat a blackhead is different from how you treat a sebaceous filament!
Sebaceous filaments, also sometimes simply referred to as “clogged pores” by dermatologists, may look like blackheads and may also appear on the nose, but they are not a kind of acne. Sebaceous filaments appear when the oil that lines the hair follicle in a pore causes the pore to appear larger. Nothing has actually “plugged up” this pore like a blackhead is plugged by oil and bacteria; if you were to use a pore strip on a sebaceous filament, it would not pull out any gunk like it would for a blackhead.
The size of your pores is primarily determined by your genetics, so sebaceous filaments just plain are the way they are. They will neither shrink with time nor pop if squeezed, but you also do not have to worry about them becoming infected, as long as you do not scratch at them. However, if you do want to get rid of your clogged pores, you can lessen their appearance by controlling the buildup of oil in your skin. Over-the-counter salicylic acid and glycolic acid products, found in gel, pad, or scrub form, can help you reduce your oil buildup. The pore will fill up again as your body creates necessary oils, but its appearance can be managed!
Methods for Removing Blackheads
Blackheads occur when your body produces an excess of body oils, collecting bacteria and dead skin cells – and they only get worse during hormonal changes, such as during menstruation and the teenage years, which cause an increase in sebum production. Cures for blackheads tackle these factors, keeping away oils, bacteria, and dead skin cells.
Home Remedies for Blackheads
Several methods for removing and keeping away blackheads can be easily and cost-effectively applied at home!
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is a kind of vinegar made by fermenting the juice from pressed apples. This vinegar is known for its ability to fight a wide variety of bacteria and viruses, including the bacteria commonly found in blackheads. Apple cider vinegar is also known to suppress inflammation, consequently preventing the appearance of acne scars! Mix one part apple cider vinegar with three parts water – too much vinegar can cause burns on your skin, so the water is a necessary diluting factor. Once or twice per day, apply this mixture to your clean skin with a cotton ball. Let it sit for between five and twenty seconds, and then rinse your face with water and pat your skin dry.
Several vitamins and nutrients that can be easily bought over-the-counter at a pharmacy are also natural treatments for acne. Zinc is one such nutrient, which has vital functions in hormone production, cell growth, and immune system processes. Studies have shown that people with acne tend to have lower zinc levels in their blood than people with clearer skin do. Taking a daily zinc supplement can decrease the appearance of blackheads! Be sure to take no more than 40 mg. of zinc per day; too much zinc may cause stomach pain.
Honey and Cinnamon Mask
Honey and cinnamon both contain antioxidants, which are known to reduce blackheads because of their antibacterial qualities. Mix two tablespoons of honey and one teaspoon of cinnamon together to form a paste for a mask. Clean your skin, and then apply the mask to your face. Leave the honey and cinnamon mask on your skin for ten to fifteen minutes before rinsing it off and patting your face dry.
Exfoliate with a Sugar Scrub
Because blackheads involve dead skin cells getting caught in excess sebum, removing extra dead skin cells can both remove blackheads and keep them from appearing as often in the future. Exfoliation is a method of removing the layer of dead skin cells on top of your skin. One way to exfoliate is by applying a sugar scrub. Mix equal parts of sugar and coconut oil to create the scrub. Then rub your skin with the mixture, and, afterwards, rinse your skin well with water. Exfoliate once per day for the best results!
Other Useful Treatments
If the home remedies aren’t working for you, there are other ways to tackle blackheads, with the help of a dermatologist.
Though it isn’t a good idea to try to remove a blackhead with your fingers, dermatologists have a special tool called a round loop extractor, which they can use to remove blackheads. The dermatologist can safely push out the contents of the comedone without damaging the surrounding skin cells.
Another option is to use laser therapy, which includes a light that reaches deep into the surface of the skin and kill blackhead-causing bacteria. Laser therapy requires multiple sessions and can be expensive, but it may be a good idea for severe cases of acne.
For a deeper level of exfoliation, you can use chemical peels – either a mild, over-the-counter kind, or a stronger kind provided by dermatologists. These peels involve powerful chemical solutions that strip the top layers of skin from your body, revealing the smoother skin cells underneath and removing blackheads in the process.
Now you not only know what blackheads are and why they occur, but you also have a variety of options for taking charge of your skincare!