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We've all had blackheads from time to time. They're a nuisance, sure, but there are also a dozen different ways to treat them and prevent them from coming back. So step away from the pore strip, and instead try these dermatologist-approved methods, tips, and tricks for getting rid of blackheads.
A good place to start: what is a blackhead, exactly? "Blackheads are dilated pores filled with oil and skin cells that stick together," says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai's Department of Dermatology in New York. The black color you see is the result of the skin cells and oil mixed with oxygen. And there's a reason you get them more frequently on your nose. "The nose is among the oiliest skin on the body and may require stronger treatments than other parts of the face." All three dermatologists were against extracting blackheads at-home, alone, in front of a foggy bathroom mirror (or just by yourself). "I do not recommend trying to extract a blackhead on your own. It often takes far more pressure and a very precise angle to extract these even in your dermatologist office," says Dr. Heidi Waldorf, an associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. "I also do not recommend getting excessive extraction by a facialist, particularly if they have not been diagnosed as blackheads by your dermatologist." That's because people often confuse large pores and hair follicles with blackheads, she says. "All pores are not blackheads." Using too much pressure or trying to pop a blackhead that isn't even real can cause "skin trauma leading to open, raw skin, infection, or even scarring," says Zeichner.
You can thank your parents for your blackheads, but it's not entirely their fault. Though genetics do play a role in oil production, there are plenty of environmental factors that can lead to clogged pores. Hair care products like pomades, dirt and oil from your hands or phone, and oil-based makeup can all lead to blackheads. While you can't blame a diet rich in pizza for them, "high glycemic index foods do promote systemic inflammation that in turn promotes inflammation in the skin that leads to breakouts," says Zeichner. So stick to the tried-and-true lean meats, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats whenever possible. Waldorf also notes that your time at the gym could play a role. "It is important to remove heavy makeup as soon as possible after wearing it. Sweating while wearing even noncomedogenic makeup and sunscreens can aggravate acne because it further moves everything to the follicular opening," she says. Moral of the story? Clean your phone, don't touch your face, and stick to a cleansing and treatment regime that works best for you.
"It is important to remove heavy makeup as soon as possible after wearing it."
Pore strips and gritty scrubs are often marketed as instant cures for blackheads, which can be frustrating when they don't work. "Retinoids, both prescription and over-the-counter, are the leading ingredient for [getting rid of blackheads]," says Dr. Ranella Hirsch, a dermatologist in Boston. "Often a good approach is to try a treatment with a low dose retinol that you can find at the drugstore. Give it 6-8 weeks minimum, and use a very light hand-less is more." You should also try a combination of alpha hydroxy acids (like glycolic acid) and salicylic acid, which can be found in cleansers, serums, moisturizers, and peels. Just don't use them at the same time as the retinol, advises Hirsch. Blackheads are no match for retinols because they reduce inflammation, prevent skin cells from blocking pores, and help loosen up existing gunk from your pores.
If at-home treatments aren't working, then it's time to visit your dermatologist. Only un their office can they truly diagnose your skin problem and offer prescription topicals, professional-grade peels, and laser treatments. "Peels containing salicylic or retinoic acid can be helpful to reduce blackheads. Microdermabrasion procedures that involve suction may also help release them. Ultimately, persistent blackheads can be extracted using a special comedone tool," says Waldorf. As for those pores that drive you crazy because they happen to look like blackheads? "Large-appearing pores may be improved utilizing resurfacing procedures like the Fraxel laser or even lighter procedures like the Clear + Brilliant device."
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