For this weeks blog post I reached out to my friends and asked them what they would find useful to read from an aesthetics blog that I haven't already covered. Blackheads and how to get rid of them was suggested and actually this topic is routinely bought up by my clients in clinic! I am going to create a list of suggestions on how to control blackheads, products and ingredients that I'd recommend and skin treatments that work best for blackheads! As a disclaimer, the advice given throughout is for mild cases of blackheads, for those who suffer from acne or have particularly cystic pustular sensitive skin my best advice would be to contact a skin specialist or dermatologist for medical grade treatment. You can book a consultation with Noble Aesthetics to seek treatment/advice or a home care regime.
What are blackheads? Other than being unsightly and frustratingly difficult to get rid of, blackheads are a form of acne and appear as a result of clogged pores. When a pore becomes clogged with debris, dead cells and trapped oil, it not only enlarges, but it also creates a black tip, oxidation is responsible for making the clogged debris appear black. Oxidation is when the sebum on top of our skin is exposed to the air, think of it like a half cut apple browning when exposed to the air. The technical name for a blackhead is an 'open comedone', comedone is the scientific term for acne lesion, just in case you were interested! Blackheads are most commonly found in our T-zone areas (as illustrated below), this is where we hold the most sebaceous (oil) glands.
There is often a misconception that blackheads are associated with being too dirty or having unclean skin, this is not the case and it can be quite distressing for acne sufferers to experience this stigma. Some people are more prone than others and just experience an unlucky-by product of skin with an excess sebum production. However, there are also some other contributing causes to blackheads.
1. Hormones: Hormonal changes can cause the skin to produce more oil, excess oil contributes to a clogged pore. Hormonal changes can be a result of puberty of even medication side effects.
2. Poor Skincare habits: Now nearly all of us at some point in our lives have been guilty of sleeping in our make up, myself included! However this only contributes to additional impurities and debris clogging our pores, which once oxidized creates blackheads! Particularly when using oil-based cosmetics. Additionally, for those gym-goers out there (well done), be sure to clean your skin soon after getting a sweat on as allowing sweat to sit on skin once again just further contributes to pore clogging!
3. Skin allergies: When an allergic response is provoked within the skin, it can encourage an extra oil production to protect itself, for those with skin sensitivities it is advised to avoid products with added fragrance and parabens.
Blackhead treatments: The temptation is to squeeze a blackhead as an attempt to remove it, which at times will be successful. However, squeezing this clogged pore tends to allow more oil and bacteria to enter it which in turn can create more blackheads and/or an infection. So alongside considering some causes of blackheads, as listed above, here are some alternative treatment suggestions...
Salicylic acid should be a key ingredient to look for, this beta hydroxy acid is lipophillic which means it helps remove excess oil and exfoliate the cells from the skins surface resulting in a deep clean. For oily skin types I recommend using this in the form of a gentle scrub to get double exfoliating benefits. It can be used as a topical cream on its own as a skin cleanser or if you have been to a skin specialist/dermatologist they may recommend the use of both Glycolic acid and Salicylic acid to penetrate and treat different levels of your skin. Glycolic is a more intense exfoliating acid treating the topmost layers and encourages cell turnover and can increase skin hydration. For varying intensive treatments these ingredients can be used within topical products such as scrubs or cleansers or as a chemical peel performed by a skin care practitioner.
For stubborn blackheads Retinoid cream is recommended. Retinoid reduces the stickiness of the cells that clog the pores and also increase cellular skin regeneration. You can get over the counter retinoid products on sites such as 'The ordinary' or 'Skinceuticals', however some may require prescription Retinoid treatments such as Tretinoin (again, speak with a professional).
Moisturising is important as some of the above ingredients strip the oils from the skin which can result in skin drying. We want to ensure we maintain a balance within the skin so alongside this oil reducing treatments a good moisturiser is key. The best facial moisturisers are non-comedogenic moisturisers, these are formulated to not clog the pores.
Many of you would have seen/heard of, or even used the classic pore strips, am I right? I am sure you are expecting to these come up in my list of blackhead treatments, however, unfortunately they just do not make the cut. Undeniably, they are successful in temporarily extracting blackheads using a VERY strong adhesive. They will extract anything on the surface of the nose, but they do not treat the clogged pore or the build up that is causing the blackheads in the first place. So guess what then happens shortly after the extraction?...More blackheads appear. The strips can actually remove too much and dry this part of your skin, not only irritating it but also encouraging the skin to protect itself by producing more oil within the skin. Have to admit, they are undeniably satisfying though!
Facial masks such as clay and charcoal have some proven benefits. Clay masks retrieve dirt, oil and other elements from deep within pores and are great for those with oily skin types. Charcoal also draws out impurities such as dead skin cells, oils and dirt. Both masks are better used alongside an alternative exfoliating treatment and can be performed once or twice a week.
Key points for blackhead management:
Use key ingredients such as Salicylic acid, Glycolic acid and/or Retinoids.
Moisturise with non-comedogenic products.
Avoid home remedies such as manual extraction or pore strips.
In moderate/severe cases seek specialist input.
Improve your skin care, cleaning sweat, removing make-up, committing to regular use of suggested products.
Thank you for reading.