Blackheads are actually small, black, lesions that appear on your skin, most frequently on your face and chin. They aren’t a widespread feature of acne, per se, but they may appear without other outward signs of having acne present. They typically contain an oxidized form of melanin – the key pigment produced by skin cells in your body. Melanin is responsible for giving your skin color.
Blackheads are actually rather common. While some people have blackheads that are simply caused by too much dead skin and oil, like during your teenage years, most blackheads are actually a result of your body’s tendency to create too much melanin. Melanin surrounds hair follicles, helping to block dirt and oil from reaching the surface. But, because your body is producing too much melanin (and an excess of it can cause blackheads), it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. That’s why blackheads tend to appear more often on your face than anywhere else.
And this, unfortunately, is where many dermatologists go wrong. First, they usually prescribe topical creams or gels to temporarily get rid of blackhead zits. (And they often recommend these products for months at a time, even though some dermatologists believe you should be able to tell if a pimple is healing even before you see the first blemish.) While topical treatments can reduce the appearance of blackheads, they do nothing to help keep acne breakouts at bay.
Blackhead extractors are another popular tool used by dermatologists. They work in a very similar way to scrubs: using fine toothpicks to extract blackhead zits, and then cleaning up your pores with special soap and water. Dermatologists’ use of blackhead extractors does not help you avoid making the situation worse by aggravating your zits even more, by squeezing or scratching them. Dermatologists do know that blackheads are sometimes necessary to get rid of certain acne problems. But, overusing extractors on a daily basis can irritate your skin and make the problem worse.
But perhaps the worst mistake many doctors make when it comes to handling blackheads is overusing what’s called a “salt water” exfoliant. Although it does seem like a good idea, this ingredient actually irritates your skin and makes your acne worse. Excessive use can clog pores and cause bacteria to develop and flourish. And just like with blackheads, excessive exfoliation can aggravate your oily skin and make breakouts worse. In fact, many dermatologists advise their patients to stay away from salicylic acid based exfoliants altogether.
The reason that blackheads are almost impossible to get out without making the situation worse is because white and closed comedones are the precursor to all of the following problems: bacterial infection, inflammation and scarring. These are all caused by the same bacteria. Blackheads occur when these bacteria plug your pores so they cannot produce an oil called sebum. Sebum is what most people think of when they think about a pimple. It’s the oil that protect the hair follicle, keeps the dirt off of your face, and makes hair shiny and smooth.
If you want to get rid of blackheads, you need to treat the causes of them in order to truly solve the problem. Blackheads are a result of white and closed comedones and acne bacteria. In order to unclog these pores and get rid of blackheads, you need to treat the causes. But treating the cause does not mean you should do the things that might make your acne worse. For instance, using too much exfoliating products can clog pores and cause acne. The best way to treat these acne bumps is to find a good dermatologist who specializes in blackhead treatments.
Your dermatologist will use a mild, chemical-free salicylic acid solution to open up your pores, clear out the dead skin cells, and reduce the oil production by the sebaceous glands. Then she or he will help you use a keratolytic shampoo to gently scrub away any excess sebum and to remove any clogged pore. After your treatments are done, you’ll need to use a special blackhead extractor that will extract the blackhead from deeper within the pore, allowing the salicylic acid to dissolve the surrounding materials. You then simply rinse away the extract with warm, clean water. This should take about ten minutes, depending on how clogged your pores are and how large the blackhead is.