How to get rid of blackheads for good

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A dermatologist gives us the inside scoop on how to prevent blackheads.

By Jenny L. Cook

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Battling with blackheads? Those small blemishes that appear on your T-zone and defy even the most robust skincare routine can be frustrating. No matter how hard you squeeze, steam, strip or scrub your face, the unwanted pinpricks remain.

But what exactly are blackheads and more importantly, how do you get rid of them? We speak to Dr Anjali Mahto, Consultant Dermatologist and spokesperson for the British Skin Foundation, about ridding your skin of those pesky spots for good:

What are blackheads?

Blackheads appear as tiny black marks on the nose, forehead and other areas of the face and – although they look different to your average pimple – they are actually classed as a form of acne.

‘Acne is characterised by comedones, papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts,’ says Dr Mahto. ‘Open comedones, also known as blackheads, are small follicles with dilated openings to the skin. The black colour results from oxidation of the debris within the follicle.’

Should you squeeze blackheads?

It can be tempting and even satisfying to squeeze blackheads but – despite the amount of ‘gunk’ this can release from the follicles – Dr Mahto recommends you resist the urge.

‘You should absolutely not squeeze blackheads. squeezing a spot can push the inflammation deeper and this can cause scarring of the skin,’ she says. ‘There are procedural treatments where blackheads can be extracted but these need to be carried out by someone trained appropriately. A tool called an extractor can be used but care needs to be taken as if done correctly, it can result in pushing inflammation deeper into the skin or even scarring.’

How to prevent blackheads

Blackheads are notoriously hard to get rid of entirely, but there are some things you can do to keep them at bay.

‘These include regular facials with steam extraction, light chemical peels (for example mandelic acid), using pore strips, exfoliation once a week, use of face washes that contain salicylic acid and topical treatments containing benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid or retinoids,’ says Dr Mahto.

Dr Mahto recommends the following skincare routine to minimise blackheads:

✔️ Cleanse your face twice a day with a face wash designed for acne-prone skin. Products that contain salicylic acid and zinc may be beneficial.

✔️ Exfoliate your skin weekly – this will remove the upper layer of skin cells, resulting in a brighter complexion and help reduce blackheads.

✔️ Try over-the-counter acne treatments such as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid to apply directly onto spots.

✔️ Avoid heavy cosmetics and products that will block pores and choose items that are oil-free and non-comedogenic.

✔️ See your GP or a dermatologist if your acne fails to respond to these measures, if you notice scarring, or it is starting to affect your self-esteem.

Blackhead myths and facts you need to know

There are a number of old wives’ tales floating around about blackheads. Dr Mahto distinguishes the fact from fiction:

MYTH: You ‘grow out’ of blackheads. Blackheads can occur at any age. They are more common in teenage years but can persist or recur well into adulthood.

FACT: Makeup makes it worse. Certain make-ups can block pores resulting in acne. Always choose make up that is marked as non-comedogenic.

Blackheads are more common in teenage years but can persist well into adulthood.

MYTH: Blackheads can be ‘scrubbed away’. It is quite hard to scrub blackheads out of the skin, especially if they are deep-seated. Scrubbing excessively at the skin will cause damage to the skin’s surface and disrupt the skin’s barrier function.

FACT: You can minimise your pores. Although pores cannot be shrunk (they do not have muscles surrounding them allowing them to be open or closed), their appearance can be reduced or minimised.

MYTH: Blackheads are caused by dirt. Blackheads look black because of oxidised material within the pore, not because of dirt.

Net Doctor

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