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How To Get Rid Of Blackheads Once And For All, According To A Doctor

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The majority of us have dealt with blackheads at one point or other and as a long-time sufferer myself, trust me when I say, I know they can be frustrating. 99.9% of the time I live my live without barely giving them a second thought, I mean who really cares about a couple of tiny clogged pores on my nose, right? But every now and then, I'll be in the midst of my evening skincare routine (usually about the time I've finished up a second cleanse and I'm about to smother my skin in as much hyaluronic acid serum as it can take) and I end up lingering a little too long over my t-zone. That's when it happens, I start to consider doing the unthinkable — and squeezing the tiny spots. As someone who has worked in the beauty industry for almost a decade, I know better, I've been told by countless skincare experts about the perils of picking and popping blemishes and blackheads, but I can't deny, the temptation remains...

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So, in an attempt to save my skin (literally), I spoke to dermatologist Dr. Anjali Mahto from London's Cadogan Clinic, to find out once and for all how to blitz the blackheads.

What I've learnt? Sadly it's not a simple fix. “There are loads of ways you can get rid of blackheads, however the underlying problem is the excess oil that is being produced" says Dr Mahto. "So whatever treatments you do, blackheads will always naturally reform every 20 to 40 days." Annoying, huh? But it doesn't mean there's no cause for hope, instead, tackling the issue needs to be an ongoing process rather than a one-off treatment.

So, what's the deal with blackheads?

You can’t tackle the issue until you understand the cause, right? So let's go back to basics first...

Why do we get blackheads?

“We all have pores and when those pores become blocked with debris, oil, or dead skin cells, that’s when you get a blackhead. The reason they look black is because all the oils in them become oxidised. It’s not the dirt that is black, it is just oxidised oil.” Dr. Anjali Mahto explains.

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How are blackheads different to white heads?

“When it comes to blackheads, the pore remains open, whereas when you get a white head the pore has become blocked over - and then you get a little pustule.” Niiice, huh?

And what's the best way to treat blackheads?

"There are loads of ways you can get rid of blackheads, however the underlying problem is the excess oil that is being produced" says Dr Mahto. "So whatever treatments you do, blackheads will always naturally reform every 20 to 40 days." Annoying, we know."This means doing a one-off treatment won’t permanently get rid of them, the blackheads will come back. Tackling them needs to be an ongoing process.”

1. Try a physical exfoliator

The first step is the simplest, try an exfoliator."Exfoliation removes that upper layer of dead skin cells. So you’re effectively you're preventing everything from old skin cells to dirt, and makeup, from getting blocked inside that top layer of pores." Says Dr Mahto.

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"So in terms of exfoliation there are two ways you can do it, mechanical exfoliation and chemical exfoliation. Mechanical is physically using something abrasive on the skin, so either a face cleansing brush which rubs the surface of the skin, or something like a face scrub with granules in it to buff away that top layer."

"Be careful not to over-exfoliate though, as that can push the inflammation deeper and worsen the spots, whilst also causing dryness and irritations. If you are exfoliating acne or oily-prone skin, once a week is fine."

2. Or a chemical exfoliant

"You can use chemicals to dissolve the upper layer of dead skin cells. So things like glycolic acid, salicylic acid or chemical peels" explains Dr Mahto. "AHAs (alpha-hydroxy-acids) are really good for treating blackheads, so they are basically your glycolic acids and your lactic acids. Then you have your BHAs (beta hydroxy acids), like salicylic acid, they cause a chemical disintegration of the top layer of the skin cells, so they dissolve everything, and that unblocks the pores."

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3. Use a clay mask

"If you have acne or blemish-prone skin, using a clay mask once a week can be really beneficial. They're super effective when it comes to drawing impurities out of the skin and reducing oil production" says Dr Mahto.

"Exfoliate before applying the mask, as this will allow it to really penetrate the skin. I recommend the SkinCeuticals Clarifying Clay Mask or the Origins Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask."

4. Switch up your skincare

If you're trying to decongest your skin "look out for non-comedogenic products (aka, products that won't clog your pores)." Says Dr Mahto. "I don’t like to use oils or oil cleansers on acne-prone skin, coconut oil for example, is highly comedogenic so I’d avoid it if you’re prone to breakouts and blackheads."

Avoid: "Pay attention to textures, you don’t need thick heavy creams, and I would avoid ingredients like petroleum, shea butter and glycerin, essentially any ingredient designed to be really moisturising to the skin as they'll also clog the pores."

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Try: "Instead, look out for lightweight gel formulas and ingredients such as salicylic, benzoyl peroxide, witch hazel and niacinamide. I'd recommend using a product like La Roche Posay’s Effaclar Duo+."

5. Try a retinoid

Chances are, you've probably heard a fair bit about retinol/retinoids, they aren't exactly new to the skincare world, but despite being around for a few years they're still considered one of the best methods when it comes to tackling skin issues.

"Retinoids are great if you have blackhead-type acne, or a predisposition to blackheads" says Dr Mahto. "Retinoids are vitamin A-based formulas and they cause an accelerated exfoliation. You have to be patient though, as they take about 12 weeks to kick in."

"It's important to use them with care though, retinoids can be quite strong, and should only be used at nighttime because sunlight will inactivate them." Explains Dr Mahto. "If you’ve never used them before, gradually build up the strength - start off slowly, using it once or twice a week, if you’re not too red or itchy build it up to every night. Then once you’re ok with that percentage, you can move up to a stronger dose."

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6. Book in for an extraction facial

If you've tried all that and you’re still getting blackheads, it's worth booking in to have an expert extraction facial.

"An aesthetician will steam your skin and the steam will loosen the oil in your pores. They will then use a blackhead extractor tool, or they will physically squeeze them out" says Dr Mahto.

"This is one of those things that should not be done at home. It needs to be done by someone who is trained to properly extract them, otherwise you could push the inflammation deeper and cause spots and scarring."

7. Go for a chemical peel

The next thing to try? A medical-grade chemical peel.

"A professional chemical peel will involve a medical-grade glycolic acid or lactic acid, that will be used on the skin to dissolve the dead cells and unclog pores." Says Dr Mahto. "Again though, it's important to remember that blackheads do reform, so these treatments need to be done every 4-6 weeks.

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For more information about booking a chemical peel, contact the Cadogen Clinic, London.

8. See a dermatologist

"If all else fails it might be worth speaking to your GP or a dermatologist about tablet treatments for acne." Says Dr Mahto.

"In many cases blackheads are one of the initial signs of acne, so people will have blackheads before they develop any other spots. This means that tablet treatments used for targeting acne - like the pill, antibiotics, or prescription creams - will help with blackheads."

9. Change up your makeup

Yes, when it comes to covering blackheads it can be tempting to reach for that high-coverage concealer, but don't... A lot of makeup formulas can clog pores and aggravate acne-prone skin.

"I'd recommend opting a lighter base, like Clinique's Anti-Blemish Solutions Makeup, it’s very light and minimises the appearance of pores." Says Dr Mahto. "I also like Vichy's Dermablend 3D, as it has salicylic acid in it, which as I mentioned earlier, helps to target blackheads."

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Revisiting the blackhead don'ts

  • Pick and squeeze - This can push the inflammation deeper causing spots and scarring. It also risks spreading bacteria and causing more skin blemishes.
  • Mistake blackheads for dirt - It's a common misconception that only makes us feel worse about them. The darkness is actually just oil that's oxidised from being on the skins surface.
  • Over-Exfoliate - This can also push the inflammation deeper, as well as cause irritation and dryness.
  • Use comedogenic (pore clogging) products on acne-prone skin- Avoid oils, oil cleansers, heavy creams and super-moisturising ingredients like petroleum, shea butter and glycerin.
  • DIY extraction facial- It needs to be done by someone properly trained or it can make the situation worse.
  • Mask with makeup- Heavy formulas can clog pores and aggravate acne-prone skin.
  • Stop once treated - They will always come back if left, so it's all about continued maintenance.
  • Obsess - Easier said than done, but chances are you're the only person aware of your blackheads, be kind to yourself.
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com/uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.

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