Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 9/12/2021
When blackheads, whiteheads and other forms of acne appear, your first step should be to turn to proven, science-based acne treatments such as cleansers and spot treatments.
These products and medications are generally effective, although they aren’t always suitable for every type of acne.
If you have lots of comedonal acne — for example, blackheads and whiteheads — one option for dealing with persistent breakouts is to have your acne removed by a professional.
Dermatologists offer several different procedures for treating acne, including acne extraction — a process that involves physically removing sebum, dead skin cells and other substances that can clog your pores and cause acne to develop.
Acne extraction offers numerous benefits, but it’s not always the most suitable option for getting rid of your acne.
Below, we’ve explained what acne extraction is, how it works and the key benefits it can offer if you’re prone to acne.
We’ve also shared other procedures offered by dermatologists that can treat acne and help you enjoy clear, pimple-free skin.
Acne extraction, or comedone extraction, is a form of acne treatment that involves removing the contents of clogged pores using sterile tools.
To explain how extraction works as an acne treatment, it’s important to briefly go over the basics of how and why acne develops in the first place.
Acne develops when the hair follicles in your skin, or pores, become clogged with debris. A few different substances can contribute to clogged pores, but the biggest two are sebum and dead, leftover skin cells.
Sebum is a type of oil that’s produced by your sebaceous glands. It’s important for moisturizing and protecting your skin.
When your sebaceous glands secrete a lot of sebum, it may build up on the surface of your skin and inside your pores.
Skin cells are constantly produced by your skin as part of its natural process for repairing itself, referred to as epidermal turnover.
On average, human skin “turns over” by replacing old, worn cells with new ones every 40 to 56 days.
While many old, dead skin cells are shed into the environment, some skin cells mix with sebum and contribute to clogged pores and acne breakouts.
The mildest form of acne is comedonal acne. Blackheads (open comedones) and whiteheads (closed comedones) are both forms of comedonal acne.
These acne lesions form when dead skin cells and sebum mix inside a pore and cause a blockage.
More severe forms of acne include papules, pustules and nodules, which form when bacteria multiply inside a clogged hair follicle and cause it to become inflamed and tender.
The most severe form of acne, cystic acne, develops when highly inflamed acne lesions form deep inside your skin.
Acne extraction is a dermatology technique that’s used to get rid of comedonal acne, such as blackheads and whiteheads.
During an acne extraction procedure, a dermatologist will use a sterile, specialized instrument called a comedone extractor to physically remove the contents of blocked pores.
Before removing the contents of your acne, the dermatologist may use an exfoliant to remove extra skin cells, then prep the targeted areas with alcohol to stop bacteria from making its way onto your skin during the extraction process.
To keep your skin protected after an extraction procedure, you may need to use medication to prevent inflammation and infection.
Acne extraction is typically performed to treat macrocomedones — large acne comedones that are 1mm or more in diameter.
Because it’s time-consuming and expensive, it’s almost always used as a second-line treatment when other options fail to completely clear breakouts.
Acne extraction offers several benefits, especially when it comes to dealing with stubborn acne that doesn’t improve on its own.
One of the biggest benefits of acne extraction is that it provides immediate results. Unlike acne creams, gels and cleansers, which can take weeks to begin working, acne extraction gets rid of comedonal acne in a single procedure.
Another benefit of acne extraction is that it can treat large or stubborn comedones that don’t go away with medication.
While acne medications are safe and effective, they can leave behind pimples, especially large comedones.
Acne extraction allows for these comedones to be removed safely and efficiently in a single procedure.
A third benefit of acne extraction is that it’s much safer than attempting to remove blackheads or whiteheads at home.
By using sterile equipment and proper technique, a dermatologist can reduce inflammation and remove blockages without damaging your skin.
This reduces your risk of developing acne scars, which are a common issue for people who pop acne at home.
Although acne extraction offers several unique benefits, it isn’t a perfect procedure for all types of acne.
For the most part, acne extraction is only suitable for comedonal acne, such as blackheads and whiteheads. This type of technique is rarely used to treat inflammatory or infected acne.
If you have infected acne, the dermatologist may recommend an alternative technique, such as acne incision and drainage.
A second downside of acne extraction is that it requires a visit to a dermatologist. This may take up a significant amount of your time, especially if you need to travel a long distance to visit your dermatologist’s office.
Like other in-office procedures, acne extraction can cost a significant amount of money over the long term.
Before visiting a dermatologist, you’ll want to check to see if your insurance provides coverage for acne treatments.
Finally, acne extraction isn’t always a one-off procedure. If you have persistent acne, your pores may begin to become clogged again over time, meaning you may need to repeat this procedure for sustained results.
You can get your acne extracted professionally by contacting an esthetician or dermatologist in your area to set up an appointment.
Visiting an esthetician is a cost-effective way to treat acne. Many estheticians will provide acne extraction as part of a facial.
Estheticians have training and expertise in skin procedures, but they can’t legally diagnose skin conditions or prescribe medication.
If you have severe acne, it’s best to visit a dermatologist for acne extraction. Dermatologists are doctors that specialize in skin, hair and nail issues, including acne.
Not only can a dermatologist perform acne extraction — they can also diagnose skin conditions, prescribe medication and, if necessary, perform other procedures to remove acne and improve your skin.
You can locate a dermatologist by searching for dermatologists in your area using Google, or by using the American Association of Dermatology’s Find a Dermatologist tool.
When you see a blackhead, whitehead or other acne lesion forming, it can be tempting to pop it at home, either with your fingers or with acne extraction tools like the ones used by estheticians and dermatologists.
The reality is that trying to extract acne at home generally isn’t a good idea. While it may help to get rid of some acne lesions, popping pimples at home has many downsides.
The first of these is that attempting to extract acne without proper technique can easily push the contents of an acne lesion deeper into your skin.
This can increase inflammation and make your acne worse.
If you touch your acne with your fingertips, or with improperly cleaned equipment, it’s also easy to introduce bacteria into the acne lesion.
This can lead to bacterial infections and transform a small pimple into a large, painful and inflamed one.
These two issues — extra bacterial growth and inflammation — can increase your risk of dealing with permanent acne scars after your breakouts clear.
In addition to acne extraction, dermatologists use several other procedures to remove acne and improve your skin:
Acne incision and drainage. This procedure involves creating an incision and draining an acne cyst or nodule of its contents. It’s typically used to treat large pimples, nodular acne and cysts.
Corticosteroid injections. If you have highly inflamed acne, a dermatologist may inject a corticosteroid into the acne lesion. This medication reduces swelling and can speed up the healing process.
Chemical peeling. This procedure involves removing damaged layers of your skin with a chemical solution. It’s used to treat acne, irregular skin pigmentation, wrinkles and fine lines, sun damage and certain types of scarring.
Laser acne treatments. This procedure involves the use of short, concentrated pulses of light to remove damaged skin. Laser treatments are used to treat acne, scarring from acne or chickenpox, fine lines and wrinkles, liver spots and other skin imperfections.
Microdermabrasion. This procedure involves
gently sanding the skin using a minimally abrasive instrument. It’s used to treat acne, reduce fine lines and wrinkles, lighten scars and refresh the skin’s appearance.
Your dermatologist will recommend the most effective treatment for you based on the severity of your acne, your skin type and other factors.
Getting your acne extracted by an esthetician or dermatologist is a good option if you have large blackheads or whiteheads that don’t respond to other treatments.
For mild to moderate acne, extraction usually isn’t necessary. Instead, you’ll get the best results by using science-based acne treatments to prevent breakouts and keep your skin clear.
Interested in visiting a dermatologist for your acne? Our guide to what dermatologists can do for acne goes into more detail about what you can expect, from how acne is diagnosed to the most popular medications prescribed by dermatologists to control breakouts.