These pesky clusters of dead skin cells and oil can be irritating and painful to remove.
Dr. Julia Carroll of Compass Dermatology in Toronto, says blackheads are formed when dead skin cells and sebum collect in openings of pores.
“When this combination of material is exposed to the air, it oxidizes, turning a black colour. Dermatologists call them open comedones. It’s important to know the cause of the dark colour, as many people think it’s dirt but it’s not,” she tells Global News.
Blackheads mostly appear on the face, in the T-zone area, but they can also form on your neck, chest, shoulder, back and sometimes, inside the ear.
She adds there are multiple causes of blackheads, and for most people, it depends on a number of factors. Hormonal changes can cause an increase in sebum production, she continues, or sometimes make-up or skincare products can cause a “plug” in the pore. For some people, the susceptibility to get blackheads can be inherited from their parents.
“Also, certain medications such as steroid pills or lithium can cause blackheads.”
Prevention and removal
And while some things you can’t control, Carroll says using oil-free products and exfoliating regularly can help with prevention. “I prefer a chemical exfoliation process, such as glycolic acid, salicylic acid or retinol. Benzoyl peroxide can also help blackheads,” she says.
Try to avoid harsh physical exfoliation or squeezing as this irritates the skin — this can also cause a pimple, or worse, a scar.
“You can also visit a board-certified dermatologist for prescription products, creams or pills in extreme cases. I recommend Clarisonic brushes to my blackhead-prone patients and I find this really helps. Some women find improvements when they are on the birth control pill,” she continues.
And whatever you do, don’t remove them yourself.
“I really try to discourage my patients from removing them by hand or with tools. I find many people get obsessed with their blackheads and overdo it. This can cause acne in the short-term but later on, I see significant scarring from manipulating the pores over the years.”
Masks and strips
Strips can work, but the results are very temporary, she adds. “Also, use caution if you have sensitive skin, as the strips can pull off normal skin as well. I think the strips work better than the masks and would not recommend using a ‘blackhead mask’ over the entire face. It could cause skin damage.”
According to Cosmopolitan, some experts warn against the use of charcoal masks as a whole. Some products, which have even become viral online, are even made with glue, the site adds.
One expert told the magazine some of these charcoal masks can damage the skin, ripping off the surface layers as well as hair.
“The majority of the oils pulled from the skin will be sebaceous filaments and actually needed by the skin, so will be replaced within 30 days anyway to ensure healthy skin balance,” facialist and aesthetician Andy Millward told the site.
After proper removal, some people may end up with “holes” or scars on their face as well.
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“These can be tricky and they get significantly worse in the 40s, when skin loses its elasticity, causing the pores to sag open,” she says. “One of the best treatments for tightening pores is laser.”
If you don’t remove blackheads, Carroll says they can resolve on their own as our skin naturally exfoliates, but sometimes, it can turn into pimples.