What Are Blackheads?

What Are Blackheads?

Blackheads are pesky, clogged pores that often show up on your face and are typically most noticeable on your nose. While they might not be as inflamed as other types of acne, blackheads are just as annoying. It’s tempting to squeeze and pop your blackheads, but doing so tends to make things worse. We turned to our skincare expert Erica Palmer, head of Bioré Skincare R&D, to learn more about blackheads and how to get rid of them for good.

 What Are Blackheads?

A blackhead, medically known as an open comedone, is a hair follicle or pore that’s clogged with a mixture of dead skin cells and sebum–an oily substance naturally secreted by your skin.

“Blackheads are non-inflammatory acne lesions. When follicles become clogged with dead skin cells or oil, a blackhead is the result,” says Palmer.

Blackheads can occur when sebum produced by your pores is exposed to oxygen. Sebum darkens during the oxidation process and creates a dark spot on your skin, hence the name ‘blackhead.’

Although blackheads are often most noticeable on your nose and face, they can appear all over your body. They can be slightly raised, which along with their darker color, makes them easy to spot.

Blackheads can occur when sebum produced by your pores is exposed to oxygen. Sebum darkens during the oxidation process and creates a dark spot on your skin, hence the name ‘blackhead.

Blackheads vs. Other Acne Types

Acne and blackheads are a specific mild-acne type. Blackheads show up on your face, primarily where there is a higher concentration of oil glands. These areas include the forehead, nose, and chin. They can also appear on your neck, back, and chest areas. Unfortunately, blackheads can show up just about anywhere! So, what are some acne types to look out for?

Types of Acne Pimples: healthy, whitehead, blackhead, papule, pustule

Whiteheads: A blackhead is a blocked pore that stays open, while a pore that closes up (a closed comedone) is a whitehead. Blackheads are also less irritated than whiteheads, which can be infected due to the proliferation of acne bacteria.

Sebaceous Filaments: According to Palmer, “Both sebaceous filaments and blackheads are actually types of pore clogs, but they are distinct in that sebaceous filaments are normally the color of your skin or have a grayish tint and are usually found in a bunch, while blackheads appear here and there.”

Clogged Pores: Oily skin is more prone to experience clogged pores, which causes bacteria to thrive, leading to whiteheads, blackheads, and papules all known as types of acne. Help treat both blackheads and clogged pores by focusing on getting rid of oily skin

What Causes Blackheads?

Blackheads are caused when sebum-secreting pores in the skin are blocked. Palmer explains, “Skin follicles typically contain one hair and a sebaceous gland that produces oil.” It might sound counterintuitive, but this oil helps keep your skin soft and hydrated, so it’s definitely a good oil to have!

But where does it all go wrong? From dirty phones to an intense spin class, your lifestyle and genetics can easily affect your skin. If your skin is acting up, take a look at this list to see if any of these factors are at the root of your skin problems:

  • Dirt, oil, and debris build up. “The primary culprit is actually pore clog accumulation which can be dead skin cells, sebum, and even makeup,” Palmer explains.
  • Excessive sweating from exercise, heat, or stress can cause pores to go into overdrive. Specifically, for those who sweat and work out, residue and skin grime can become backed up in pores if the skin isn’t cleaned well after working out. There is evidence that supports sweating while working out is good for the skin, as it can help to purge pores and boost sluggish skin metabolism, but excessive sweat is not good. If you’re strapped for time after a workout, give your face a quick once-over with charcoal micellar water to clean off excess sweat and grime fast!
  • Haircare products can also interact with facial skin and lead to clogged pores. Prevent hair products from messing with your skin by keeping hair off your face during the day and by cleaning your hairline while washing your face at night.
  • Oily skin types tend to be more prone to blackheads. If you know you have an oily skin type, avoid touching your face with your hands. Don’t forget to wipe off your phone, which accumulates dirt, oil, and bacteria, as it is often in contact with your face. Finally, a diet focused on good fats and oils, while minimizing bad oils, can also help.
  • Contrary to popular belief, hormonal fluctuations DON'T trigger blackheads. Instead, hormonal-induced acne breakouts are classified as inflammatory lesions, whereas a blackhead is a non-inflammatory lesion. 
    "The primary culprit is actually pore clog accumulation which can be dead skin cells, sebum, and even makeup,” Palmer explains.
    Now that you know what causes blackheads, it’s time to say goodbye to those pesky clogged pores!

    Blackhead Treatments: How to Get Rid of Blackheads

    Getting rid of pesky blackheads is never fun, but it’s important to know the right way to do it. Here are a few tips that our Bioré skincare experts want you to know about blackhead remedies:

    Pore Strips

    Pore strips instantly lift dirt and oil from your pores and are a better option than trying to remove blackheads by squeezing them with your fingers. When used weekly, pore strips can result in fewer clogged pores and improve the appearance of pores with continued use.

    Over-The-Counter Treatments and Cleansers

    These types of treatments are available without a prescription. OTC treatments come in numerous forms such as creams, gels, pads, and serums. Top treatments created to kill acne-causing bacteria and often contain ingredients such as Salicylic Acid, benzoyl peroxide, and resorcinol.

    Prescription Medications

    Doctors may suggest prescription medication when OTC products don’t work. Medications that contain vitamin A, AHAs, BHAs, and retinoids work to prevent pore plugs from forming in hair follicles and promote a more rapid turnover of skin cells.

    Professional Blackhead Removal

    Dermatologists and estheticians can perform pore extractions to remove blackheads. They can also provide helpful tips and treatments to prevent clogged pores in the future.

    Laser and Light Therapy

    This treatment consists of tiny beams of light that decrease oil production and kill bacteria. Laser and light treatments reach below the skin’s surface to treat blackheads and acne without damaging the top layers of the skin. This treatment works best for inflammatory acne conditions and is typically unnecessary for blackhead treatments, so consult with your dermatologist to see if it would be a good option for you.

    Chemical Peels

    In this treatment, a chemical solution is applied to the skin. Over time, the top layers of the skin will peel off to reveal smoother, rejuvenated skin. While this treatment can be used for blackheads, it’s typically more effective for skin texture improvement.


    This is a minimally abrasive treatment performed by dermatologists or skincare professionals with either microparticles or a diamond-tipped wand that buffs and polishes the superficial layer of dry dead skin cells, exposing softer, fresher skin. In addition, Bioré’s Charcoal Pore Minimizer contains Alumina, a known micro-crystal exfoliant that delivers immediate skin smoothing, texture refining, and pore unclogging benefits after one application.

    “Pore strips instantly lift dirt and oil from your pores and are a better option than trying to remove blackheads by squeezing them with your fingers.”

    How to Prevent Blackheads

    Preventing blackheads is as simple as maintaining a clear skin regimen. Follow these essential tips to prevent future blackhead breakouts:

    Book a facial: Medical facials (performed by a dermatologist) or spa facials (performed by an aesthetician) are effective for a wide range of skin ailments. This treatment is beneficial for blackheads because they often involve a combination of steam, high-quality products, and professional extractions. Facials can help unclog your pores, preventing blackheads before they occur.

    Assess your products: Products with Salicylic Acid or Glycolic Acid help get rid of blackheads. Palmer tells us that Salicylic Acid in particular, “helps to break up and clean pore clogs, helping to promote skin cell turnover or shedding. It is an effective acne active ingredient which treats and prevents acne breakouts.” Many cleansers and toners, like a witch hazel cleanser, contain Salicylic Acid so that you can easily add it to your daily skincare routine.

    Add retinol to your bedtime routine: Using serums with retinol at bedtime also helps with blackheads. Retinol helps to exfoliate your skin and bolster collagen, resulting in clearer and firmer skin. Just remember to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen in the morning.

    Try a gentle facial peel to reset your skin: “Light peels will also provide some pore unclogging benefits, but the primary function of this treatment is to resurface skin texture for those with roughened skin [that is] often due to acne mark remnants,” recommends Palmer.

    Use a sonic cleansing brush for deep cleaning: Sonic brushes penetrate deep into your skin to clean pores and prevent future blackheads.

    Exfoliate (but be gentle!): Pick an exfoliator with gentle grains like baking soda or rice powder. Try using a baking soda cleansing scrub, which is perfect for deep cleaning pores, plus it dissolves into water so that there’s no chance of over-exfoliating. A washcloth with a uniform texture, like a baby washcloth, can also be used daily for additional exfoliation.

    Detoxify with a weekly mask: Use a charcoal face mask or a clay mask with tea tree oil to help with blackhead-causing oil. Tea tree oil disinfects your skin while the clay mask helps draw out dirt and grime. 

    9 Expert Tips for Preventing Blackheads

    1.  Avoid self-extracting your blackheads. Bacteria and oil on your fingers can leave your skin inflamed and open to infection, leading to acne scarring and worsening your acne in the long run. Palmer explains, “That deep down gunk easily lifts out with a pore strip, so there’s no squeezing involved.”
    2. Wash your face twice a day. First when you wake up and again before you go to bed. This regimen helps remove oil build up from the day and night. Washing more than two times a day can irritate your skin and strip your face of its natural oils, causing an overproduction of oils, which leads to blackheads and clogged pores.
    3. Avoid over-washing your face. When you over-wash, your body replenishes the stripped oils by overproducing sebum, which often makes blackheads worse. Palmer warns, “Over- cleansing will strip your skin of moisture and irritate your skin. Keep it to twice-a-day.” Read our top tips on how to use cleanser to learn more on how to effectively wash your face.
    4. Gently exfoliate your skin weekly to keep pores clean. Palmer explains, “This will remove the upper layer of skin cells, resulting in a brighter complexion and help prevent blackheads.”
    5. Avoid wearing a lot of makeup. If you do, only use non-comedogenic makeup. But, be gentle on your skin! Palmer cautions, “Excessively scrubbing your face will not get rid of blackheads since blackheads are normally deep-rooted.
    6. Use a warming clay mask. Face masks help melt and loosen impacted pore clogs, remove the buildup of dead skin cells from your face.
    7. If you have oily skin, add Witch Hazel toner to your skincare routine to minimize pores and dry up excess oil. You should apply this toner after cleansing and before moisturizing.
    8. Use oil-free lotions and sunscreen. Any products that contain oil can cause blackheads, so opt for non-comedogenic makeup, lotions, and sunscreen.
    9. Use pore strips for getting rid of blackheads. Pore strips work like a magnet by connecting to pore plugs and lifting out blackheads. Start with a face wash, then apply a pore strip. Afterward, you’ll want to follow up with toner.

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