How to Get Rid of Blackheads – A Dermatologist Explains

Acne Treatment Skin Care Kit Regular StrengthNot all skin care products for acne will get rid of blackheads. They may be targeted at the other skin problems caused by acne, including pimples or excessive production of oil. To get rid of blackheads you need to use acne treatment skin care products that loosen and soften the dead skin cells to get the blackheads out of your pores.

Ingredients in acne products that loosen dead skin cells are called keratolytics. (Geek moment: skin cells are called keratinocytes and the suffix “lytic” means to decompose or disintegrate, hence kerato+lytic.) These keratolytic ingredients loosen the dead skin cells both on the surface of your skin and down in your pores to help you get rid of blackheads. The non-prescription keratolytics used to treat acne are:

  • salicylic acid
  • benzoyl peroxide
  • glycolic acid

The best acne products to help you get rid of your blackheads contain one or a combination of these ingredients.

What causes blackheads?

Blackheads, called comedones, are plugs of dead skin cells, oil, skin germs, and debris that got stuck in your pores. This stuff is normally present in your pores and is supposed to pass to the surface of your skin where you can wash it off.  The problem is that they got sticky and formed a clump that then got lodged in the pore. This clump gets bigger and harder as it sits there, which makes it more stubborn when you finally start using the right products to treat your blackheads.

Some skin care products actually increase this clumping and are called comedogenic. You definitely want to avoid those. It’s usually the oil in the product that is the problem. Mineral oil and petrolatum (also called Vaseline) in products are particularly comedogenic. Read the ingredients on all the products that you use on your blackhead-prone skin. I find that patients often don’t realize that things like their makeup and sunscreen can contain these oils. I recommend oil free, non-comedogenic products for all my patients who are prone to blackheads.

Interestingly, as common as blackheads are, we still don’t know exactly why they happen on your skin in the first place.  The good news is that even if we don’t know why they happen, we have great products to treat and prevent blackheads.

How to pick the best product to treat your blackheads?

Everybody’s skin is different which is why there are so many different acne skin care products. Plus, all the keratolytic ingredients I mentioned above can be irritating if you have sensitive skin. You may even be allergic to benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. It means that to pick the best blackhead treatment products to fit your skin, you need to know something about your skin type and just how much of the keratolytic ingredients it will take to clear up your skin.

You need to know if your skin is:

  • oily and tolerant, meaning that you can’t remember the last time it got dried-out or irritated from a product.
  • normal to dry, meaning it’s not hard to “over-treat” it, causing dryness and chapping.
  • allergic to salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.

You also need to decide:

  • if you want a one-step treatment with just a medicated cleanser that will leave behind some amount of active ingredient.
  • if you also need to apply a product after washing for an even higher “dose” of the active ingredient.

For blackheads, I usually recommend both of these product types for my patients, which is why my acne kits have them both.

Dermatologist’s recommendation for the best products to prevent and treat blackheads based on your skin type.

Select your skin type and needs, then click on the blue links to build yourself a customized skin care regimen that treats your blackheads fast.

Tolerant and oily skin with blackheads

If you have tolerant, oily skin you’re actually lucky when it comes to choosing blackhead treating skin care. You can probably tolerate products with a really high concentration of all three keratolytic ingredients. Because “more is better” when it comes to keratolytics, your blackheads will go away as fast as possible. My Ultimate Acne Solutions Skin Care Kit, Extra Strength has just that, plus a foaming cleanser and oil-removing pads to cut through your excess skin oil.

Normal to dry skin with blackheads

If you have normal skin that’s not allergic to benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, the best treatment combo is in the Ultimate Acne Solutions Skin Care Kit, which also has all three keratolytic ingredients and great degreasing power to control excess oil production. I’ve used a slightly lower concentration of benzoyl peroxide and glycolic acid in this kit because normal to dry skin isn’t tough and oily, meaning you don’t necessarily need the highest amount of these ingredients to do the job. The concentrations in this kit are usually the “sweet spot” for normal skin – treating your blackheads fast without over-drying your skin.

Skin that’s allergic to salicylic acid

If using products with salicylic acid makes your skin dry and chapped, then you can still get great results by using products with either benzoyl peroxide, glycolic acid, or both. Great options include:

Glytone Mild Gel Wash Cleanser with glycolic acid in a foaming, oil-removing cleanser

Glytone Exfoliating Lotion (in step-up concentrations of two powerful strengths)

Foaming Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Cleanser with 10% benzoyl peroxide in a foaming, oil-removing cleanser

Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Cream with 5 or 10% benzoyl peroxide

You can mix and match these two ingredients, such as washing with the Foaming Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Cleanser, which will leave some benzoyl peroxide on your skin, and then applying the Glytone Exfoliating Lotion to add glycolic acid. Or if you want to use glycolic acid alone you can use my Glycolic Acid Skin Care Kit with Glytone Mild Gel Wash and Exfoliating Lotion. You could even use the Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Cream once a day alternating with the Exfoliation Lotion to add benzoyl peroxide to your regimen with the Glycolic Acid Kit. They all work great together!

Skin that’s allergic to benzoyl peroxide

If you’ve had trouble with benzoyl peroxide in the past, then I usually recommend just sticking with glycolic acid. The best way to treat your blackheads using glycolic acid is with my Glycolic Acid Treatment Kit. It’s perfect for oily skin and won’t over-dry normal skin. I use it for teens through adult patients. You can also add the Salicylic Acid and Glycolic Acid Acne Treatment Pads to get some salicylic acid on your skin too. Use them after washing with the cleanser and before applying the Exfoliating Lotion.

What additional treatments for blackheads can you use to increase the results from your daily skin care treatment products?

When it comes to treating blackheads the steady use of your at-home skin care is the most important thing you can do. But, you can also boost your treatment with a few really great “hands-on’ tricks too, including:

Deep pore cleansing facials with extractions are a great way to jump start treatment and maintain results.

A series of light chemical peels done by a doctor or aesthetician will help to dissolve your blackheads, using even stronger amounts of keratolytics than what you can get in your daily acne treatment skin care products.

Add a Clarisonic Sonic Skin Cleansing System to your skin care to really ramp up the effectiveness of all your acne products. Ultra-clean skin receives its medicated treatment more fully. Plus, the sonic waves from the Clarisonic will “jiggle” your cleanser down deeper into your pores to help clear-up your acne faster.

Biore strips can pull blackheads out of the pores on your nose. Be careful though, I’ve seen patients pull off a little skin with these strips too.

Clay masks help draw oil out of your pores and refine your pore size. The results are temporary, but hey, temporarily smooth pores are better than nothing. You can’t use them everyday though because they can be too drying.

A final note, prescription retinoids are really powerful keratolytics for treating blackheads. They include products like Retin A (tretinoin), Differin, and Tazorac, which require a trip to the doctor. They’re tricky to combine with the other non-prescription products, so you’ll need medical supervision to add them to your skin care regimen.

For more information on my acne treatment, see my Acne Treatment Tips - dermatologist’s advice that fits both your acne and skin type.

If you found this helpful, subscribe to my blog -- it's free. I write two articles per week on skin care and skin health and you can have them delivered to your email inbox. Get your skin care information straight from the dermatologist. Join my intelligent skin care revolution. Just enter your email address:

  

3 Responses to “How to Get Rid of Blackheads – A Dermatologist Explains”

  1. Ken September 3, 2011 at 8:06 am #

    Thanks, was wondering about this earlier today. You answered the questions!

  2. KellyY September 12, 2011 at 9:46 am #

    Hi, this is good write up on blackheads, but I was wondering as it wasnt written in under what causes blackheads section, does diet play a part too?

  3. Cynthia Bailey MD September 12, 2011 at 11:51 am #

    We now have scientific substantiation to the diet and acne vulgaris connection. Blackheads due to acne vulgaris (the most common form of acne) should be influenced by the same dietary factors that influence the disease as a whole. Read my post on the subject for more info http://www.drbaileyskincare.com/blog/4-diet-changes-that-can-improve-your-acne-dermatologists-advice-2/
    Cheers!
    Cynthia Bailey MD, Dermatologist