Your comprehensive guide to getting rid of blackheads

Blackhead Removal: How to Get Rid of Blackheads - Natalia Dyer

The what, the why and the all-important how, answered!

Beauty Crew Contributing Editor / June 29 2023

If you don’t know what a blackhead is then we envy you, because it probably means you’ve never had to deal with them. Trust us, the minute you start seeing those black specks appear on your face, you better believe you’re jumping straight onto Google to find out ALL the answers!

Well, let us save you from the research rabbit hole that will undoubtedly ensue. Here is *everything* you need to know about blackheads, including what they are, why they occur and the most important thing - how to get rid of blackheads.

What are blackheads?

Blackheads are a mild type of acne that thankfully aren’t painful. Unlike normal blemishes, they’re not caused by your skin being unclean or bacteria-ridden. That’s right, the black you’re seeing isn’t actually dirt; it’s trapped oxidised melanin, which is a fancy way of saying a dark pigment that’s been made by cells in the skin. Blackheads are caused by your open pores becoming clogged with dead skin cells and excess oil - when they mix together they harden and form a ‘plug’. When this trapped debris comes in contact with the surrounding air, it oxidises and turns black.

Where can blackheads appear?

You’ll most commonly find big blackheads on cheeks and your nose (hence the genius invention of pore strips), but you may also find them in other areas where there are a lot of hair follicles - namely your back, neck, chest, arms and shoulders.

The reason your nose is a particular sweet spot for blackheads is because the skin here has more oil glands, so there’s more chance of excess oil getting clogged in the hair follicles (i.e. pores).

What causes blackheads

The top culprit is hormones, which can cause an increase in your oil production. Pore-clogging beauty products (both skin care and makeup) may also be to blame, as well as sweating and stress. Besides your hormones, which you can’t control, usually a quality skin care routine - with the right products in your line-up - will prevent blackheads from forming. But more on that later. 

How to remove blackheads

Ok, on to the important part: how to remove blackheads from nose, cheeks and everywhere else they’ve decided to appear. For this, we called on the expertise of Emma Hobson, Education Manager for the International Dermal Institute and Dermalogica. Besides a blackhead extraction, for which Hobson advises you go see a professional (no DIY extracting at home with a blackhead remover, please - there’s a risk of scarring if done wrong), she says, “You can treat blackheads with specialised treatment products that clear and decongest the skin”. Hobson notes that your choices are extensive, but she personally recommends the following:

#1 / Cleansers

Hobson’s two go-to cleansing products are “A pre-cleansing oil followed by an oil-absorbing and ‘drawing’ clay-based cleanser, or an antibacterial cleanser, for your second cleanse.” She recommends using them both in the morning and at night.

Products to try: Rationale ProCeramide Pre-Cleanse Oil, Philosophy Purity Made Simple Pore Extractor Exfoliating Clay Mask 

#2 / A salicylic acid-based exfoliant

“This is the only exfoliating ingredient that can work on the ‘inside’ of the pore to loosen the impaction so the blackhead is released,” says Hobson. And it needs to be a chemical exfoliant, not a physical one, as actually ‘scrubbing’ the skin won’t help since blackheads lie deep below the skin’s surface.

Product to try: Paula’s Choice CLEAR Extra Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution with 2% Salicylic Acid

Rationale ProCeramide Pre-Cleanse Oil

Philosophy Purity Made Simple Pore Extractor Exfoliating Clay Mask

Paula’s Choice CLEAR Extra Strength Anti-Redness Exfoliating Solution with 2% Salicylic Acid

#3 / A blackhead mask

A treatment mask that’s formulated to clear and control sebum and decongest the skin is a weekly must if you regularly get blackheads. “Look for ones that contain oil-absorbing clays (bentonite and kaolin), salicylic acid, niacinamide, biotin, zinc gluconate and cinnamomum zeylanicum bark,” says Hobson.

Product to try: Dermalogica Charcoal Rescue Masque 

#4 / A spot treatment

Hobson recommends using an overnight clearing gel that helps clear the skin and prevent blackheads and future breakouts. “Again, look for these key ingredients salicylic acid, niacinamide, zinc gluconate, azelaic acid.”

Product to try: Murad Rapid Relief Spot Treatment

For more recommendations, read our reviews of the best blackhead removal products.

Dermalogica Charcoal Rescue Masque

Murad Rapid Relief Spot Treatment

DIY blackhead treatments

There are a lot of natural remedies floating around the Internet, like using baking soda, honey or lemon - as well as the insane notion that you can use craft glue (just don’t!) - but our advice is to stick with professionally formulated skin care products for the best, and safest results. Blackhead-prone skin can be sensitive so you don’t want to apply anything that’s potentially too abrasive or drying.

How to avoid blackheads in the first place

“Cleansing is such an important step and one that is often skipped over too quickly. Double cleansing in the a.m. and p.m. is essential, as is regular weekly exfoliation - I’d suggest two to three times per week,” says Hobson. “Using treatment products to avoid skin congestion will certainly keep blackheads at bay, as will avoiding all products for the skin and hair - including and especially makeup - that contains comedogenic ingredients. Only use products that state they are ‘non-comedogenic’.”

Ever wondered if your diet is to blame for your breakouts? These are the foods you should eat, and the ones you shouldn’t, for clear skin.

Do you suffer from blackheads? What do you use to clear them?

Main image credit: Getty

Chelsea is BEAUTYcrew’s Contributing Editor. She has a sweet spot for anything that claims to make skin glow and won’t leave the house without a slick of mascara. Chelsea has 10 years of experience as a beauty editor and her words can be found on BEAUTYcrew, Women’s Health, Daily Addict, The Joye and Primped.