Along with why you got bangs and what J.Lo’s skin care routine is, how to get rid of blackheads is one of the great mysteries of life. Fine—maybe it’s not a mystery so much as a challenge. You can try to dig them out, but you risk traumatizing your skin in a way that makes the blackhead you removed seem like NBD (think scarring or hyperpigmentation). Fortunately, there’s some middle ground in both removing and preventing blackheads. We called in the experts to get the scoop.
First, it helps to know what causes blackheads. (As Sun Tzu says, know your enemy.) “Blackheads form when the opening of a pore on your skin becomes clogged with sebum,” says Deanne Mraz Robinson, M.D., a dermatologist in Westport, Connecticut. “Dead skin cells and oils collect in the pore. And if the pore isn’t covered by skin, exposure to air causes it to turn black as it oxidizes.” Hence the term blackhead.
Learning how to get rid of blackheads can be a game changer, since they can stick around when left unchecked. “Some blackheads can persist for days, weeks, or even months if not extracted, while your body usually clears small whiteheads within a week to 10 days,” says dermatologist Laurel Geraghty, M.D. These tweaks to your skin-care routine can help.
1. Wash With a Gentle Cleanser
Resist the temptation to launch a scrubby assault on your blackheads. In fact, your best bet is to use a mild cleanser. “It will not overly strip your skin of moisture, which actually can trigger the overproduction of sebum and further exacerbate the problem,” says Robinson. She’s a fan of cleansers that contain glycolic acid, which clears out pores. Try an option like SkinCeuticals LHA Cleanser Gel, which, she says, “marries glycolic acid and salicylic acid with glycerin and sorbitol, which act as humectants and help your skin retain moisture.” Win-win.
2. Steam Your Face
Before you attempt an extraction at home, it’s crucial to loosen up and soften the debris trapped in your pores with some heat. A steamer is a great way to do this, but if you don’t have one, celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau has a system that will work in a pinch. Start by taking a shower or washing your face, and then apply a thin layer of the heaviest moisturizer you own to the area you’re extracting. “Moisturizer will create a temporary, occlusive seal to keep the heat trapped in your skin, which makes extractions more seamless,” says Rouleau.
Then, cover the area with plastic wrap, and apply a hot damp wash cloth, and layer another one on top. “Layering the washcloths will ensure that the heat is retained in your skin,” she says. “For safe extractions and the easiest removal, it’s important to have your skin as soft as possible.” After a few minutes, remove the cloths and the plastic, and add another layer of moisturizer to keep your skin moist before going into your extractions.
3. If You Must Squeeze, Never Use Your Nails
If you’re extracting with your fingers, “the key is to be gentle,” says Geraghty. “Every day I see patients who pick, scratch, and extract spots on their skin, and this puts them at risk of permanent scarring.”
Here’s a primer: Start with completely clean hands and remember not to place your fingers too close to the blackhead. “Widen them out a bit so that the blackhead will be extracted more easily from a deeper level within your skin,” says Rouleau. While squeezing, relocate your fingers to make it easier and to avoid creating marks. “For example, position fingers at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock, and then 5 o’clock and 10 o’clock, then 2 o’clock and 7 o’clock,” she says. Do not use your nails, lest you puncture your skin.
4. Better Yet, Use an Extractor Tool
An extractor tool is used in-office by most aestheticians, so if you’re trying to closely replicate your favorite facial it’s your best bet. To use it correctly, place the open tips on each side of the blackhead. Rouleau says to keep the tweezer body perpendicular to where you’re extracting, and keep the curved part on your skin. “Gently press on each side of the blackhead until it begins to release,” she says. “Apply slow and even pressure and once you are able, lightly pinch the tweezers and pull the blacked out from the skin to extract it. If the blackhead does not release easily, do not continue to attempt the extraction.”