8 ways to beat blackheads

And prevent congestion and pimples

Beauty Crew Editor / June 08 2016

If you’ve found your way here, you are probably well acquainted with blackheads, the tiny dots that look as innocuous as a little dirt, but can be a lot more sinister when they cause congestion and breakouts. 

So how do blackheads actually form? Well, in a nutshell, a mixture of oil, impurities and dead skin cells essentially clog in your pores at the skin’s surface, and when that interacts with oxygen, it turns black. 

These blackheads can then lead to congestion and pimples, which is not fun for anyone, so here are eight ways you can treat, prevent and minimise them.


Get instant gratification with a pore strip

Sadly these handy strips can’t prevent blackheads, but they can pull out some of the dirt and oil that could currently be clogging the pores on and around your nose. Limit your use to about once a week, and try and make other changes to your skin care routine to prevent the build-up (i.e. don’t rely on this as your only blackhead treatment).
Try: Bioré Deep Cleansing Pore Strips

Bioré Deep Cleansing Pore Strips


Give your skin a deep cleanse

The best way to prevent clogged pores is to ensure that you’re giving your skin a gentle exfoliation and a really thorough clean well below the surface, and an electronic cleansing brush is going to help get you deep down. This kind of cleanse can also help active ingredients (more on that in a bit) work better.
Try: Clarisonic Mia 2 with the Deep Pore brush head

Clarisonic Mia and Pore Cleansing Brush Head


Use a purifying mask

Look to use a clay-based mask once or twice a week to help draw out impurities and balance oil production. Products with kaolin clay can also help offer a gentle exfoliation, which will help get rid of those dead skin cells before they cause any trouble.
Try: Kiehl’s Rare Earth Pore Cleansing Masque

Kiehl’s Rare Earth Pore Cleansing Masque


Exfoliate regularly

While you can’t scrub away existing blackheads, exfoliating your skin will help prevent clogging in the first place. And remember: you won’t get rid of blackheads the more you scrub, so limit your exfoliation to one or two nights week.
Try: NIVEA Daily Essentials Gentle Exfoliating Scrub

NIVEA Daily Essentials Gentle Exfoliating Scrub


Try salicylic acid

A well-known BHA (beta hydroxyl acid), salicylic acid can penetrate oil, and essentially works to break down the gunk that’s clogging your pores from inside. Regular use of salicylic products (whether in concentrated forms like a peel or in a combination product like a cleanser, exfoliator or moisturiser) can also help prevent blackheads from forming.
Try: Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
TOP TIP: Don’t get enthusiastic with using too much salicylic acid to start with. Begin with a low concentration, especially if you have sensitive skin, and give it time to see results – it won’t work instantly!


Give glycolic treatments a go

An AHA (alpha hydroxyl acid), glycolic acid chemically exfoliates the surface of your skin, eliminating dead skin cells and any build-up from dirt and oil that can lead to the congested pore. Like salicylic acid, you shouldn’t start with the highest concentration, but instead you can try a product with glycolic in a lower concentration that’s more pure.
Try: Mario Badescu Glycolic Acid Toner

Mario Badescu Glycolic Acid Toner


Look into retinol and retinoids

While you can get over-the-counter retinol products, it’s probably best to consult a dermatologist to see if it's the best route to treat your blackheads. The prescription-based formulations (usually retinoids, like Retin-A) are the most effective way to deal with a bad case of blackheads, but over-the-counter products are not to be overlooked, with the ingredient retinol working to improve cell turnover and minimise blackheads (as well as having anti-ageing benefits!).
Try: Skinstitut Retinol Serum

Skinstitut Retinol Serum


See a professional

Extraction, or ‘steam and squeeze’, facials can do a world of good to treat and prevent blackheads, congested skin, and complexions prone to acne and breakouts. While this kind of facial is not one you’d want to try if you’re looking for an hour of relaxation, it’s definitely one worth doing if blackheads are a constant issue for you.

Main image credit: @chrissyteigen

Carli was BEAUTYcrew’s Editor from launch in 2016 until May 2020. You can find her words right here on BEAUTYcrew, and previously on beautyheaven.