The Complete Guide to Blackheads

Updated - 1/31/2019

Blackheads affect most people; teenagers and adults. They prevent our skin from looking as healthy, and beautiful, as it can be.

  1. What is a blackhead
  2. Sebaceous gland
  3. Dead skin on the face
  4. Bacteria on the face
  5. Does makeup cause acne

What is a Blackhead?

Each time you have a strand of hair anywhere on your body, you have an opening so the hair can poke through. The hair connects to a round ball on the second layer of your skin called a hair bulb. Whenever you have an opening of any kind, it can get clogged. Similar to your sink getting clogged with “stuff” a hair follicle (a term for the entire hair area and the things below the skin) can get clogged with stuff.

The most common items that clog your pores are oil and dead skin. Bacteria, makeup, and dirt can also contribute. Blackheads are pores that are open and clogged. Whiteheads are pores that are closed and clogged. The contents blocking the pore are exposed to the air, and as a result, the contents oxidize and cause the black color.

Sebaceous Glands

The oil-producing sebaceous gland (in our hair follicles) is good for us. It keeps our skin soft by coating our hair and skin. If we didn’t have this gland, our skin would feel like sandpaper. When children become teenagers, the hormones tend to make the sebaceous gland grow larger and produce more sebum.

During this time of a person’s life, the sebum can be thicker and flow more slowly. The problem becomes when the consistency changes it disrupts the skin’s ability to get rid of dead skin. This disruption causes dead skin to be on the surface, and therefore acne can develop as a result.

As we age, the sebaceous gland gets smaller and as a result can lead to less acne related problems, but also dryer skin. However, blackheads can occur at any age.

Dead Skin on the Face

You want to keep some dead skin on your face. We shed about 600,000 particles of skin every hour. The reason for this is live skin cells have a difficult time absorbing moisture. Dead skin cells have space to absorb and retain moisture.

However, too much dead skin is not good because it can cause your pores to clog and be one of the major causes of blackheads. So it’s a balance between keeping moisture (a good thing) and getting rid of some dead skin cells (a good thing).

Bacteria on the Face

Some of our skin is exposed to the environment all day long, and as a result, it comes into contact with a lot of different environmental factors that can cause bacteria to grow. Of the billion plus bacteria that are on our skin, most of them are either harmless or good. However, some bacteria are bad for our skin, and this bacteria can show up in many different forms, blackheads, pimples, or other types of infections.

Does Makeup Cause Acne

Quite often people ask the question does make-up cause acne. The answer is yes makeup can cause acne. Make-up can cause your skin pores to clog, and that can then turn into pimples. It’s a matter of trial and error.

A few examples of ingredients that can cause skin reactions are fragrances, the silica in primers or possibly the dye or colorant in makeup. However, there isn’t any definitive answer for all, because, what causes acne in one person will not cause it in another.

Skincare for acne is always a balance between keeping your face clean and moisturized while minimizing or eliminating acne and blackheads. Understanding your constantly changing skin surface and how those changes affect blackhead growth is important. There is a balance between the sebaceous gland, the dead skin on your face (don’t get rid of all of it!), the good and bad bacteria on your face and how makeup may affect the health of your facial skin.

Everyone’s skin is different, so you have to experiment with what works for your skin. Experiment with different products. Always check your ingredients and patch test on your elbow to check for adverse skin reactions before applying anything new to your face. Find the combination that helps minimize or eliminate blackheads for you.

Blackhead removal

Blackhead removal is searched 62,000 times every month on Google. A lot of people are looking to get rid of their blackheads; it’s a common problem worldwide.

Below are some suggestions on how to get rid of blackheads. These suggestions should be discussed with your dermatologist based on your unique skin type.

How to get rid of blackheads

(no prescription needed)

Baking soda - can be used to exfoliate when combined with a few other ingredients. It gets rid of a lot of dead skin cells and can leave your skin smooth and soft. The other benefit to using baking soda is that it helps to neutralize your skin’s pH. If your pH is balanced on your skin, it is more likely that your skin will produce less oil, which can help with future blackheads.

Oatmeal - has been recommended by doctors as a healthy food source. It can also be used to exfoliate your skin when combined with a few other ingredients. This method of getting rid of blackheads has been used for centuries, which is why so many skincare products today contain oatmeal. There is no reason you need to purchase an over the counter oatmeal product; you can create your mask.

Salicylic acid -is the primary ingredient in most aspirins. The key to salicylic acid is to find one that has a good balance between the acid and the other ingredients that are combined with it. Too little salicylic won’t open the pores to clean them out, too much can damage the skin. So if you use this method, try different strengths to find the one that is right for you.

Retinoid - is often thought of for minimizing wrinkles, and it does a good job with that. However, retinoids can also be used for blackhead removal. What it does is it encourages the skin’s surface cells to turn over quickly and at the same time encouraging new cell growth. Sometimes there can be a peeling effect, but that should eventually go away.

Enzymatic Exfoliator-do a good job wiping away dead skin. Dead skin and oil are the two major contributors to blackheads, so if a product is effective at getting rid of dead skin, you are less likely to have blackheads.

Clarisonic-does a good job of giving you a deeper clean than simply a face cloth. There are mixed reviews if it gets rid of all the blackheads. Most people do see an improvement by using the Clarisonic. The type of cleaner you use with the Clarisonic can be a contributor to your potential success at minimizing or eliminating blackheads.

How to get rid of blackheads

(Prescription needed or done in dermatologist office)

Microneedling treatment - is a process using a dermaroller, which is a roller with very small needles on it. It is known for promoting healthy skin growth and new collagen. Dermatologists may recommend this if other processes haven’t work for removing blackheads.

Retin-A – has a lot of Vitamin A in it, which is the Vitamin that helps with the blackhead removal. Retin-A tends to speed up the cell skin process, which can cause your skin to exfoliate more rapidly and that can help with dead skin removal. Retin-A can also help with making existing plugs (blackheads) less sticky and as a result more likely they will be pushed out of the skin.

Microdermabrasion - is a process that uses very small crystals to exfoliate your skin and then suction to remove the dead skin that was exfoliated. It does not use any chemicals and is not invasive, which is why people may be interested in it to remove blackheads vs. using treatments like microneedling and chemical peals.

Chemical peels - is used to treat various skin conditions, including blackheads (as well as discoloration, fine lines, and other unwanted skin conditions). Your type of skin and your objective of the peel will determine the type of chemical peel the dermatologist will recommend.

Laser and Light therapies-are usually used in conjunction with other acne medications. It seems almost too easy to have a light shine on your face and have your acne be gone. Most people see positive results from laser and light therapies, but it usually doesn’t eliminate acne 100%

There are a lot of different methods for minimizing and potentially getting rid of blackheads. You need to discuss options with your dermatologist. Make sure you do your research before the dermatologist meeting. Ask about the different procedures you have read about. They can better assess what is best for your skin type. The one key is that many blackhead removal ideas can strip away moisture from your skin, so remember to moisturize and if you have oily skin, use a water-based moisturizer.

Environmental factors for blackheads

There are some things that affect our skin that just happen as part of our daily life. I will call these environmental factors. We can affect some of these by where we live, how much time we spend in the sun, how much we allow stress to get to us, etc. These are day to day events that affect our skin that don’t include a skin routine.


Cold-It’s no surprise that cold weather causes our skin to be dry. Also, the heat indoors can cause dry skin as well. However, this doesn’t mean that blackheads won’t form in cold weather. Fighting blackheads with drying ingredients can only make your blackheads worse. You need to make sure you are moisturizing during the cold weather months.

Hot weather-We all know that hot weather can dry out our skin. Our bodies cool themselves off by sweating. The problem is some of that sweat residue stays on our skin and causes unwanted bacteria to grow. That doesn’t mean you need to use tougher cleansers which can cause skin damage but rather perhaps go from cleaning once a day to twice a day.

Dry weather-The quantity of dead skin cells goes up in dries climates. The dryness zaps the moisture out of skin and as a result we have more dead skin. The skin may also try to combat the dryness with more oil so moisturizing can minimize the odds of this happening.

Humid weather-The humid weather can cause our bodies to do the same thing as hot weather, sweat an unnatural amount, which can clog the pores and increase the odds of a breakout. The body wants to take care of itself when moisturizing so the moisture in the air can make your body think it needs to produce more oil to keep itself moist.

Air Polution

There was a Chinese study done ( that reported that when people live in urban area their sebum (the oil your skin produces to keep it soft) was twice as high compared to people in less polluted areas.

For those people who live in urban areas with higher pollution, there is a link between the UV light interacting with the pollution that can cause acne. It doesn’t mean that you should move out of the city, it just means you may have to a little more careful with UV light and be better about sunscreen protection on the areas of your body that are exposed to the sun during your daily routine.

Air impurities can also enter your bloodstream. Our body is amazing at how it gets rid of things that aren’t good for it. You skin is a filtration system for your body so one way that our bodies get rid of impurities is to push it up to the skin and the skin gets rid of it but it does this by forcing the impurity to the surface which can then show up as acne.

Water Polution

Most of us have heard that water coming out of our taps can be either hard or soft. About 80% of the American water is the hard type of water ( Hard water is typically harder on our skin because it contains a larger amount of minerals and metals. The magnesium and calcium that is sometimes good for the inside of our body, can cause issues for the top layer of our skin. It can cause skin damage which results in more dead skin and more dead skin can result in more blackheads. People can use water softeners, or filter their water or boil water and leave a container in the refrigerator to use for washing your face. Your face skin tends to be thinner so giving it some better water may make sense. Though there are probably a lot of other factors that affect acne that you can control, for those people with really bad acne they may want to try one of these solutions.


Sun is one of the major contributors to skin cancer. For those of us who are baby boomers we were taught that drying out our skin can help with acne. That usually is not the case. The darker skin that results from a tan can lessen the look of blackheads (because the skin is darker near it). Skin dryness is usually a result of too much sun and those UV rays damage the skin and weaken the natural barrier we were all give and it causes our skin to lose moisture. That loss of moisture can potentially cause more dead skin (a leading contributor to blackheads) and excess oil production (another leading contributor to blackheads).

In summary, environmental factors can affect the health of our skin and we can’t always control those factors. However, there are plenty of things we can do in our daily habits to help minimize acne (healthy skincare routine, eating habits, etc).


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