Medically reviewed by Angela Sheddan, DNP, FNP-BC
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 7/2/2021
Most doctors will probably agree that, as types of acne go, blackheads are not the worst you can be afflicted with.
Between the cystic and fungal infections that can signal severe problems, most doctors would tell you that you’d rather have blackheads than anything else.
Why do we hate them so much then?
For starters, they’re visible—and they give true meaning to the concept of clogged pores.
They’re partly why facials are so popular. It’s relaxing to have someone pamper you and massage your face, but getting rid of blackheads via professional extractions can make you feel like you’re well on your way to healthier skin. At least, you might feel better about your pore size.
(Hello Instant Gratification.)
Treating blackheads, luckily, isn’t very complicated either—it just may require some extra steps in your skincare routine, or possibly some assistance from a healthcare professional.
First: the basics on blackheads and how to treat them.
To put it simply, acne is what happens when your pores function poorly and get clogged with different types of gunk.
That gunk can be dead skin cells, excess oil, thriving bacteria colonies or things like pus.
Acne occurs when dead skin cells get stuck in a pore rather than leaving as directed. When dry, dead cells accumulate, your pore produces extra sebum (oil) to boot them out.
Sadly oil is a breeding ground for acne bacteria—creating the potential for a perfect storm.
Skin blemishes and acne can vary in severity as well as how bad they look. Luckily (or unluckily depending on your feelings) blackheads represent the most visible of the milder forms of acne.
In other words, a pesky blackhead is a combination of gunk clogging your pore, and totally visible to the naked eye.
It can get much much worse: Whiteheads can become inflamed and create papules, or can become inflamed and create pus, leading to pustules.
That “black” coloring that you see in your clogged pores isn’t some sort of rot, though—it’s actually so dark because the melanin in the dead cells reacts with exposure to air, which causes it to go much darker.
Closed pimples (whiteheads) simply haven’t had the oxygen exposure to change colors.
Okay, so you know what they are and why they look the way they do… So what is the best treatment for blackheads? How do you get rid of them?
Good question—and there are a variety of answers. Here is a list of different treatments you may want to consider.
Sometimes attacking bacterial and fungal problems at their source is the best option.
Antibiotics are an effective treatment for more severe acne outbreaks.
Witchhazel, blotting papers and a good clay mask can all be effective in removing excess oil and therefore reducing the amount of blackheads you’re going to have.
While those over the counter options may work for many people, benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid are stronger options that can really kick excess oil to the curb.
Be careful to not strip your skin, though. Oil can serve as a protective barrier, and help keep dirt off your skin.
Removing too much oil from your skin can also lead to excessive dryness which in turn can cause irritation and breakouts.
Hydration is a key element of good skin care, and it’s also incredibly important for preventing blackheads.
Dead, dry skin cells can stick together and cause comedones (blackheads) to fill your pores. A moisturizer can help keep skin cells from being too dry when they slough off.
A non-comedogenic (non-clogging) moisturizer can actually help keep your pores clear.
Exfoliating is a great way to remove dry skin to help keep your skin clear.
Chemical exfoliants like retinoids can help slough skin gently and gradually.
Retinoids are vitamin A compounds that do the double duty of both getting rid of dead cells and boosting your skin’s new growth.
Prescription retinoids like tretinoin might be a great option if more mild over-the-counter versions haven’t helped.
There are a lot of things you may be doing wrong right now that don’t even involve your skin.
Allowing your body to suffer a high glycemic diet, poor hydration or general stress can lead to acne—not to mention diabetes, hypertension and plenty of other conditions you wouldn’t want and can avoid. (Note: These lifestyle behaviors can also cause wrinkles.)
Studies suggest some correlations between diet and oil production, but it’s commonly known that a healthful diet and good hydration can help lead to clear skin.
Whether you try one or a dozen different washes, creams or serums in your search for the best acne treatment for blackheads, one thing is certain: the fastest way to a solution is to talk to a healthcare professional.
Whether you have severe acne or persistent yet mild issues, a healthcare professional can help you pinpoint what’s causing your blackheads, along with the best ways to treat them.
For more on how to manage blackheads, check out this guide on how to get rid of blackheads.