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All About Blackheads

What are blackheads? Find out how to clear and prevent blackheads without damaging the skin.

what are blackheads?
credit image: Nivea

Today, we shall learn about blackheads, treatment options, and why they differ from other types of acne. Options here include homemade cures and medication available in the market.

What are blackheads?

Pimples and blackheads are types of acne, but they develop differently and are treated differently as well.

Pimples are inflamed blemish, red and swollen. They usually hurt. Some pimples stay simple, others get bigger. Pimples may grow on the face, shoulders, neck, upper torso, and on the butt.

Blackheads are non-inflamed blemishes. They are generally flat, not swollen or red. They do not hurt. You will just notice that you have blackheads when you inspect your skin on the mirror. Blackheads usually develop in the same places pimples grow, but they tend to grow on the nose, chin, around the lips and ears.

A pimple has a red or white “head.” The pimple with a redhead or a red bump on your skin is known as acne papule. They usually develop white or yellow pus-filled top. When this happens, it is called acne pustule. Not all papules can become pustules. Pustules are commonly called “whiteheads.”

A blackhead has a dark brown or black head. Blackheads appear like a dark dot on your skin. You may see a “freckle” that appear that was not there before. Examine it closely. It may be a blackhead. Blackheads may be very small, but they can also grow big.

What leads to blackheads?

Blackheads develop when a plug or clog forms in the opening of hair follicles in the skin. Every follicle has one hair and a sebaceous gland that is responsible for producing oil, called sebum. This helps your skin soft.

Dead skin cells and oils gather in the opening to the skin follicle. It produces a bump known as comedo. If your skin over the bumps stays closed, this bump is known as a white head. If the skin over the bump opens, exposure to air makes it appear black and blackhead develops.

There are several factors that can contribute to your chances of forming breakouts and acne, like

  • Producing too much oil
  • Presence of Propionibacterium acne on your skin
  • Hormonal changes can lead to an increase in producing too much oil during the teen years, during menstruation period, or while taking birth control pills
  • Irritation of follicles when dead skin cells do not shed regularly
  • Taking some drugs such as corticosteroids, androgens, or lithium

What you drink and eat may also affect acne. Dairy products and foods that contribute to increasing of blood sugar levels like carbohydrates, may help trigger acne. Some researchers claim that there is no strong connection between acne and food.

How do we treat blackheads?

Each type of acne is caused by slightly varying conditions. This means that they react best to various treatments. All acne is usually caused in skin inflammation, however, each type involves different factors.

Pimples and cysts are caused when bacteria are trapped below the surface of your skin. It produces a minor skin infection. To prevent pimples and cysts, one should target killing the acne-causing bacteria. Some research shows that antibiotics may not be the best in reducing the bacteria because some are resistant to antibiotics. These days, benzoyl peroxide is known to be effective in killing the acne-causing bacteria. With a 2.5% concentration of benzoyl peroxide in a product, it can help prevent pimples and cysts.

Since blackheads are developed by sebum and dead skin cells that are trapped in open pores, the way to remove them is the best way. Getting rid of the acne-causing bacteria may not hurt blackheads but it will not help also. The best method is to apply an exfoliating or drying solution to help unclog the skin pores.

Salicylic acid and sulfur are over-the-counter ingredients that can help in getting rid of blackheads. Retinoid may work, but may not be the right option for people with dry skin type.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid helps remove blackheads. It helps break up existing blackheads and prevent future blackhead breakouts. First, salicylic acid slows down the production of new skin cells. Secondly, it breaks up the sebum and dead skin cells that clog pores that are causing blackheads. However, there should be some things that you should look for when using salicylic acid.

If the skin is irritated or becomes red, or if your experience stinging sensation, it may be drying out the skin too much. To avoid this condition, begin with the lowest strength of salicylic acid. There are acne products with strength as low as 0.25% and as high as 2%. Regardless of how bad your blackheads are, avoid starting with 2% concentration.

Another way to avoid drying out your skin while using salicylic acid is to start using it every other day. Then, gradually increasing to once every day and incorporate it into your morning and evening skin care routine.

A myth says that when an acne product burns or stings, it means that is working. This is false. When it burns or stings, it means that it is hurting your skin and may cause irritation. The irritation causes inflammation that leads to acne. Avoid using spinning scrubbing brushes that are famous these days. This method may further irritate your skin.


Use sulfur with the lowest concentration to determine if it works on your skin. Sulfur is generally a good option except for those with dry skin type. The downside is the smell of sulfur. There are acne products that use fragrances to cover for the smell of sulfur, but they do not work. Fragrances irritate your skin and can cause inflammation.

Sulfur is effective in treating acne. And if you want to remove those blackheads, sulfur is a good choice. It dries our excess sebum and prevents future blackheads breakouts. It also helps loosen sebum that is presently clogging pores.

Sulfur can be found in several topical products, like face washes and serums. Before getting a product with sulfur, check the concentration levels. OTC products usually start with 3% to 10% sulfur concentration. Sulfur may be gentle but begin with the 3% concentration and gradually incorporate it in your regular skin care routine if you see that it is working.

Are retinoids effective?

Some dermatologists may prescribe a retinoid product such as Retin-A, Tazonac, and the OTC Differin. Dermatologists recommend retinoids because they are usually effective in treating acne. However, they can be harsher compared to other acne medications available.

Retinoids may help minimize blackheads, although it is not the top choice. They are more effective in treating cystic acne. Retinoids are concentrated forms of different vitamin A derivatives. Vitamin A is a vital nutrient for the bodies. It is in concentrated form and can promote new skin cell growth. Retinoids are the opposites of salicylic acid (slows down skin cell growth. Can these two ingredients help with blackheads?

Yes, they can help with blackheads from opposite perspectives.

When there is fast skin cells turnover, and we know they clog the pores, salicylic acid may help slow down the shedding of dead skin cells, thus, prevent clogs. While retinoids help speed up skin cells turnover to drive the clogs out. If the skin cells are being replaced without slowing down, it is difficult for the skin cells to get clogged since there are always new dead skin cells, pressing the old ones away. The downside is that it can cause dry skin.

Increased turnover of dead skin cells can result in burning, peeling, and itching. This can irritate your skin which is why retinoids may not be a good choice for immediate getting rid of blackheads. If you want to prevent acne, you need to avoid skin irritation. Preventing acne is easy rather than treating it.

Homemade alternatives in getting rid of blackheads


honey for blackheads
credit image: three shots/pixabay

Honey works well with all types of skin and skin tones. It may be very effective in minimizing acne. Honey has anti-inflammatory properties, however, it does not have properties that can help breakdown or remove blackheads. It can help prevent inflammation that can lead to blackheads.

Honey is safe to apply to your skin directly, even without any other ingredients. However, make sure that you are using pure genuine honey. When buying a honey product, check the ingredient list first. The only ingredient should only be honey. If there are added ingredients such as water or fructose, it will be less effective in treating acne.

Apply honey to your skin and allow it on your skin for about 20 minutes to 1 hour. Then wash it off with cool water and pat dry.

If you are not comfortable with applying honey to your skin, you may take a spoonful every day, or add some honey to your coffee or beverage in the morning. This can help reduce inflammation and acne.

Lemon Juice

squeeze lemon juice for blackheads
credit image: Epicurious

Lemon juice may be too harsh to use regularly, but it is a good alternative to break up some stubborn blackheads (just use it sparingly). If you are planning to use lemon juice, apply it specific areas on oily and with blackheads. Using or applying lemon juice to sensitive and dry skin may cause inflammation and irritation, and therefore more acne.

Avoid getting those pre-packaged lemon juice because they can irritate your skin. This is because they contain preservatives and other ingredients. You do not need a large amount of lemon juice. A quarter of lemon maybe enough.

Squeeze a fresh lemon juice in a small container and use a cotton ball to absorb the juice. Dab it gently on the specific affected area. Be careful and avoid dry parts of your skin. Allow it to set in your skin for about 1 hour. If you feel your skin starts to feel itchy and burning, wash it off right away with warm water. This will open up the pores and remove sebum and dead skin cells that are clogging the pores. Pat dry with a clean towel.

Lemon juice is effective for individuals with fair skin, but not with dark skin. Lemon juice is rich in vitamin C that when it is applied to dark skin, it can cause discoloration, such as light patches and white spots.

Green Tea

steep green tea
credit image: Coupons

Green tea is famous for reducing skin inflammation and redness. If you have a painful red breakout, just brew a cup of green tea and allow it to steep until the water cools down. Pour the tea into an ice cube tray and let it freeze. When it solidifies, pull one tea cube out and apply it to the breakout. Allow it on your skin for about 5 minutes or until the blemish has minimized slightly.

Can baking soda and toothpaste help with blackheads?

credit image: Urbandoll

Unfortunately, baking soda and toothpaste do not help remove acne but it may make it worse. They are too harsh for the skin and can irritate your skin and cause more acne. Toothpaste, as well all know, contains several ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate and fluoride. These toothpaste ingredients can irritate your skin. They may minimize redness, but it does make your acne worse. There are other better alternatives in calming skin redness.

Final notes,

Keeping your skin protected from irritants is a great way to prevent acne and even blackheads. Remember that dehydration makes blackheads difficult to pull out. The best way is to drink plenty of water and moisturize before you get extractions.

What do you think?

Written by Maria

My passion is helping other people overcome the pain and embarrassment of acne. I have dealt with acne since my teenage years and know first-hand how hard it is to suffer from this condition.

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