Blackheads are a menace if you do not have a proper skincare routine. They can cause your social and psychological anxiety, forcing you to wear layers of makeup or even go to the dermatologist's office. If you have had them, your best solution is to prevent them from forming again. So, how do blackheads form, and how can you prevent or treat them?
What are Blackheads?
Blackheads are mild acne that manifests as small dark lesions appearing on the surface of your skin. They mostly form on your face and neck, but they also easily form on your back, arms, chest, shoulders, and thighs.
Blackheads, also called open comedones, are often confused with clogged pores, also known as sebaceous filaments. So what's the difference, you wonder? Well, while blackheads are a form of acne, clogged pores aren't. Sebaceous filaments are oil glands that enable sebum to flow through the pores. In addition, blackheads are hard and easy to squeeze out (which is not recommended), while clogged pores will not yield any results by squeezing.
How do Blackheads Form
Blackheads form when your skin's hair follicles are clogged with oil and dead skin cells. Naturally, exposure to elements oxidizes this mixture to give it a blackish color. The biggest misconception about blackheads is many people think the dark color is caused by dirt, but it forms from the dead skin cells and sebum interacting with oxygen.
On the other hand, the difference between blackheads and whiteheads is not only in their appearance but also in how they form. Unlike blackheads, whiteheads form when the hair follicle fills with sebum and dead skin cells but remains closed. The mixture does not interact with oxygen, hence why they don't take a black color. Whiteheads are also called closed comedones.
What Causes Blackheads?
As seen, blackheads form when the hair follicle is filled with dead skin cells and the skin's protective, oily layer called sebum. As the pores remain open, the mixture interacts with oxygen to adopt a black color. But, some factors can increase the formation of these blackheads. These are;
- Hormonal changes. You may start noticing more blackheads when your body undergoes hormonal changes, especially when oily skin is prevalent in the teenage years. In addition to teenage and puberty, you may also produce more sebum during menstruation, pregnancy, and while using birth control methods.
- Blackheads will also increase when your skin produces more skin cells than normal, thus making it hard to shed the older cells effectively.
- Shaving. When shaving, your razor may open up your hair follicles which can then trap dead skin and sebum. In addition, overusing chemical peels could also open your hair follicles.
- Blackheads can form when you take medications that encourage a more rapid skin cell turnover.
- You may get blackheads when you use various cosmetic products that open your hair follicles.
- High humidity will open your follicles and can encourage blackheads formation.
These are some other popular risk factors that can increase blackheads formation;
- High dairy consumption.
- Consuming a diet high in sugars and fats.
- Follicle injury when you pick and squeeze the blackheads.
- Using oily moisturizers for oily skin types will worsen acne.
What Are the Symptoms of Blackheads?
In appearance, you will notice the tiny black bumps on your skin. If on your face, these bumps will be more prevalent on your nose and chin areas. But here are two things you need to remember when diagnosing blackheads;
- They are non-inflammatory. Being non-inflammatory, blackheads, even as a type of acne vulgaris, will not get infected. As such, they are not painful and won't cause swelling or redness around the affected areas.
- Even though the bumps have a raised texture, they are way smaller and flatter than normal acne pimples. Their appearance differentiates them from other types of acne and sebaceous filaments, which can also be flatter than blackheads.
How to Treat Blackheads
As a mild form of acne, blackheads will rarely need complicated treatment methods, and you can usually eradicate them with simple acne treatments available to you. So let us see the main blackhead treatments you can start at home today.
1. Cleanse and exfoliate
Cleansing your skin will remove excess oil and dirt, while exfoliating will also remove materials clogging your pores. It is an important step when you want to remove blackheads, reduce skin oil production, and also prevent blackheads from forming in the future.
When looking for a cleanser or exfoliator to get rid of acne, you might find most containing benzoyl peroxide. These are usually very effective for many forms of inflammatory acne. Now, since blackheads are non-inflammatory, you can forego cleansers and exfoliators with benzoyl peroxide for those with salicylic acid and glycolic acid.
Salicylic acid s especially good for breaking down matter in clogged pores, including dead skin and excess oil. Glycolic acid is also a suitable Beta Hydroxy Acid, also called BHA, that will soften the top layer of old skin, so it easily comes off with gentle exfoliation.
2. Use a clay mask
The first thing you want when treating blackheads is to keep your pores clean. Thus, using a clay mask is a good way of drawing out the matter clogging the pores.
A clay mask containing sulfur will break down the sebum and dead skin, so it easily comes off when you exfoliate gently. A clay mask is ideal for people with oily skin, which is also prone to all forms of acne.
3. Use a chemical peel
Chemical peels are ideal for people looking to minimize various skin imperfections, including fine lines and wrinkles, dark spots, age spots, and comedones. If you want to try a peel, look for one that features non-comedogenic products and popular Alpha Hydroxy Acids, AHAs, like salicylic acid.
The Don'ts of Treating Blackheads
When looking to eradicate blackheads, you will need to avoid the following methods as they could make your skin conditions worse.
- Don't sleep in your makeup. Blackheads are also open comedones which means even though the pores are clogged, they remain open. Thus, it is easy for the beauty products you use to clog the pores further. Make sure you use a gentle cleanser every day to remove your makeup and soften the clogging matter.
- Don't use a pore strip. Pore strips are used to remove matter clogging pores, but they can also remove elements you need for healthy skin. If you use a pore strip for blackheads, you can easily remove extra oil and follicles that will open your pores further to expose you to an infection.
- Don't extract the blackheads at home. Picking, squeezing, scratching, and using other extraction tools can do more harm than good to your skin. You could end up with skin redness, irritation, and inflammation, leading to a more serious acne outbreak. When you want your blackheads extracted, it is best to visit a dermatologist who can advise on the best method to use.
How to Prevent Blackheads from Forming
If you have embarked on an effective treatment method, you will also need to ensure the blackheads don't form in the future. Luckily, prevention is straightforward if you;
- Wash your face regularly, especially when you wear makeup. In addition, use a gentle cleanser that will remove dirt and excess oil while not irritating your skin.
- Exfoliate several times a week to loosen and remove sebum and dead skin that clogs your pores.
- Moisturize your face daily. Frequent moisturization is good for maintaining healthy skin. When your moisturizer has SPF, it will also help prevent external elements from entering and clogging your pores.