Last Updated June 13th, 2021
What are blackheads?
Clogged hair follicles on the skin are called blackheads. The skin has numerous hair follicles accompanied by the sebaceous gland. The main function of the sebaceous gland is to produce oil and keep the skin soft. Dead cells from the skin get accumulated into the sebaceous gland and mix with the oil secreted from the gland. This becomes a lump and moves upward to the surface and is called comedones.
There are two types of comedones namely blackheads and whiteheads. Hormonal changes are considered to be the main cause of blackheads. Since hormonal changes control the secretion of oil, it determines the severity of blackheads. Hormonal changes are a natural phenomenon during puberty. It is very common to get pimples and blackheads during this phase. They may form at various parts of the body but generally form at the T-zone of the face that includes the forehead, nose, and chin.
Types of comedones
Comedones are broadly divided into two categories namely blackheads and whiteheads.
Blackheads: Open comedones are called blackheads. When the plug of dead skin cells and oil is exposed to the air, they form blackheads. They are generally painless and are hardly noticeable.
Whiteheads: Closed comedones are called whiteheads. When the plug is not exposed to the air, they form whiteheads. Whiteheads go deep into the pores and have only a small opening on the skin surface. These are generally painful and may become inflamed when popped.
Causes of blackheads
Some particular factors can increase the chances of developing comedones such as:
- Excess oil production from the sebaceous gland.
- Increased activity of Propionibacterium acne bacteria on the skin.
- Frequent irritation of the hair follicles caused by dead skin cells that do not shed regularly.
- Hormonal changes caused during puberty, menstruation, and while taking birth control pills may cause increased oil production from the sebaceous gland.
- Side effects of certain drugs such as corticosteroids and lithium.
It is also believed that diet plays an important role in causing comedones. Certain types of foods that have the ability to increase blood sugar levels such as carbohydrates and dairy products may be a triggering factor for comedone formation. Some people believe that what you eat or drink can affect acne. Researchers are not fully convinced with this concept, as it may or may not be a triggering factor.
Best treatments for blackheads
The first mode of treatment would include maintaining good skincare. Washing your face at least twice a day if you have oily skin is very important. Try to avoid any harmful soap or face wash. Following an adequate cleansing method is important in maintaining long-term management of acne and blackheads. Skin cleansers containing salicylic acid should be used cautiously according to the skin type. People having oily skin can choose a higher percentage which is around 2% of salicylic acid whereas people having normal and dry skin should use a lower percentage that is around 0.5%.
Few commonly used chemicals are:
- Salicylic acid: It is FDA approved anti-acne ingredient that is derived from willow tree bark. Since salicylic acid can penetrate through the oil glands easily, it is highly effective in disintegrating keratin plugs blocking the skin pores. Apart from this property, salicylic acid provides other additional benefits such as destroying the Propionibacterium acnes bacteria, reduce inflammation, redness, and swelling, and unclogging the pores.
- Benzoyl Peroxide: This topical ingredient has many properties similar to salicylic acid and also has an antibacterial effect. It is believed to be the single most effective anti-acne ingredient. It also has the ability to penetrate oil glands and disintegrate keratin plugs. Regular use of benzoyl peroxide can treat acne as well as prevent further occurrence.
- Retinoids: The topical form of retinoids is widely used to treat both types of comedones namely the blackheads and whiteheads. They are derived from vitamin A. There are different types of retinoids and include tretinoin, Adapalene, Epiduo or Tazorac. There are some drawbacks of retinoids and such as causing irritation to the skin, exposure to the sunlight can reduce the effects of retinoids, it may even cause your skin to be sensitive to sunlight, which can limit sunlight exposure leading to other issues, and finally they do not work on active pimples and hardly cause any effect.
Manual Extraction of blackheads
On a precautionary note, it is highly recommended to avoid this process and keep this option only as a last resort. There are high chances of scar formation or breaking of capillaries, which may lead to other complications. If you have tried all the options and you are willing to take the risk, you are advised to follow certain precautions such as extracting the blackhead after a warm shower. The heat and steam allow the pores to open up and it becomes easier to extract the blackhead and causes considerably lesser trauma. Some of the commonly used methods are discussed below.
- Metal Extractors: It is highly recommended to avoid this when you are trying to do it by yourself. It is believed that using this device may cause scars, broken capillaries, as well as cause infection. It is recommended to use this device only by a professional such as dermatologist but is highly dangerous when used by a commoner.
- Blackheads Strips: This is considered to be the safest option to remove blackheads. The blackheads removal strip can safely remove blackheads without causing any damage. You can easily find this in various drug stores.
- Hands: This is the common way most people try to remove a blackhead that is by using their hands. You are advised to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water and dry it with a tissue. Apply sterilized gloves to your hands and using two fingers, apply gentle pressure around the area surrounding the blackhead. Push your fingers towards the blackhead in a rolling motion. Follow the same process not more than three times and stop it if you are not able to expel the blackhead. Never try to force it out, as it may cause damage to the skin.
Natural treatment for blackheads
As we have seen the various pharmaceutical and manual methods of removing blackheads, it should be understood that there is always a risk associated with it. They may also cause some irreversible damage such as scarring and capillary damage. Instead, we can try some natural ways to remove blackheads. Some of the natural remedies are discussed below.
The citric acid present in lemon juice is known to naturally remove dead skin cells. It contains vitamin C that can help stimulate collagen production, which is essential to improve skin health. Squeeze one lemon to extract the juice from it, dip a cotton swab and dab the soaked cotton swab on the blackhead and wait for it to dry. Finally, rinse the area thoroughly with water.
Studies have indicated that honey contains antibacterial properties and have the ability to treat blackheads. Heat a tablespoon full of pure honey until it is warm. Dab the honey on the blackheads and allow it to soak for 10 minutes. Finally, rinse the area with clean water.
The medicinal effects of turmeric are widely accepted and used in various industries. A special type of turmeric called Kasturi turmeric or wild turmeric is used for skin treatments. You can make a turmeric paste by adding some wild turmeric powder and coconut oil and mix it well to get a pasty consistency. Apply this paste to your blackhead and soak it for 15 minutes. Later, you can wash the area with warm water.
Apple cider vinegar and mint
Apple cider vinegar contains powerful antibacterial properties. This can be used along with mint to prepare a facial toner. This toner can provide a soothing effect when applied to the skin. Add 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and 3 tablespoons of chopped mint leaves to 8 ounces of water. Pour this mixture into a small bottle. Allow this mixture to stay in a cool place for one week. After a week, remove the mint leaves using a strainer. Finally, add a cup of water to this mixture and your facial toner is ready. You can apply this toner to your face using cotton balls.
It is a widely used beverage all over the world due to its medicinal effects. They are rich in vitamins and antioxidants. Mix 2 teaspoons of green tea to 8 ounces of warm water. Once the mixture is cool, you can apply it to your blackheads and allow it to soak for 10 minutes, and finally rinse with water.
How to prevent blackheads?
A bitter fact we need to accept is that blackheads cannot be avoided if you are facing hormonal problems or if you have heredity problems. There are some risk factors which can be avoided and these are discussed below.
- Wash your face at least twice a day: Washing your face in the morning and at night before going to bed can remove the excess oil build-up. Do not try to wash excessively or use any scrubber to wash your face. This can irritate the skin and exacerbate any acne symptoms. Try to avoid any harmful soap or face wash that can contain chemicals. It is believed that certain antibacterial soap contains triclosan, which can cause impaired muscle function as well as allergies in children.
- Purchase non-comedogenic products: Non-comedogenic products are specially designed that do not clog the pores in your skin. This can help greatly by not exacerbating the symptoms of acne and blackheads.
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