- There are several ways to remove blackheads, dermatologist Dr. Julia Tzu told INSIDER.
- The bad news is that there is no permanent method for blackhead removal.
- Pore strips are actually your best at-home option.
If you have a face, it's likely that you've encountered a blackhead (or two, or three, or 20) in your life. They congest our noses, chins, and can even appear on our backs and legs. But what are these pesky blemishes and how do we get rid of them?
In its most basic term - blackheads are clogged hair follicles. According to Healthline, blackheads (also called closed comedones) occur when dead skin cells and oils collect and clog the opening of a hair follicle.
The collection of skin and oil is then exposed to the air, which causes it to look black. It's frustrating that something so simple is so difficult to tame, so INSIDER consulted with Dr. Julia Tzu, Founder and Medical Director of Wall Street Dermatology, to learn how to extract blackheads and keep our complexions clear.
So how do you extract blackheads?
According to Dr. Tzu, there isn't one way to remove these pesky blemishes. "There are many ways to remove blackheads," she told INSIDER. "You just have to be careful to avoid irritating or damaging the surrounding skin while removing them."
The only at-home method for blackhead removal Dr. Tzu recommends is pore strips.
"I've tried many different brands of pore strips throughout my life, and liked the Ponds pore strips the best, though they are no longer available," Dr. Tzu lamented.
She recommends Bioré Deep Cleansing Pore Strips and said that "if applied properly, [Bioré pore strips] does a decent job of removing 15-20% of blackheads," but cautions that "it's important not to overdo the pore strips though, as that can lead to skin irritation."
Dr. Tzu recommends in-office microdermabrasion for the most effective results.
"If you wanted a more sophisticated skin cleanup," Dr. Tzu told INSIDER, "you can visit your dermatologist for a vacuum-based microdermabrasion." According to Tzu, microdermabrasion is an "elegant, non-invasive, and efficient way to remove both blackheads and dirt in the pores," or in layperson's terms, it "sucks the dead skin cells and blackheads out."
This is especially great if you have dozens of blackheads dotting an area like your nose. Tzu documents this "lunchtime" procedure on her Instagram, where you can see the blackheads literally being vacuumed out of their pores.
The average cost of a microdermabrasion treatment, when done by a dermatologist or licensed plastic surgeon, is around $US137 a session. There is no downtime and besides the effect it has on your pores, it's also great for "light scarring, discoloration, sun damage, and stretch marks," according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
So, what's the catch?
Unfortunately, Dr. Tzu says that "none of the removal methods are permanent or 100% satisfactory." As long as dead skin cells and oils continue to accumulate in your pores, you will continue to have blackheads.
What about those viral blackhead extraction videos online?
While some find blackhead extraction videos online to be an oddly satisfying viewing experience, that doesn't mean you should start squeezing your own face.
"Most dermatologists do not squeeze every single blackhead out one by one," Dr. Tzu told INSIDER. She says this is for two reasons: 1) it would not be covered by insurance and 2) it would damage the skin.
"Videos demonstrating this are probably more for [their] viral properties instead of reflecting what is actually routinely performed in practice," Dr. Tzu clarified.
Besides extractions, Dr. Tzu recommends blackhead prevention.
"Chemical exfoliants such as topical retinoids can be used to help decrease the rate of blackhead formation, so [they] can be helpful, [but] it does not eliminate blackheads," Tzu told INSIDER.
You can get a prescription from your doctor for a topical cream like tretinoin, or you can buy over-the-counter beauty products that contain retinol. Both work, though a prescription for tretinoin is typically cheaper with insurance.
Salicylic acid is also helpful in warding off blackheads. A facial cleanser with a low percentage of salicylic acid is helpful in clearing out pores, though don't expect to wash your face once and step out of the shower with brand new pores.
However, stay away from scrubs or physical exfoliants that claim to remove blackheads.
Some physical exfoliants, like Clean & Clear Blackhead Eraser Facial Scrub tout "microbeads" to scrub away the blackheads, though Dr. Tzu says manual and physical exfoliators like these ones are not useful.
She also cautions against facials or aestheticians who claim to manually remove blackheads in their practice.
At the end of the day, Dr. Tzu calls blackheads an "extremely common, cosmetic nuisance."