What Causes Blackheads?

Blackheads. We’ve all got them. 

These little black dots found on your nose, cheeks and chin that look like bits of dirt in your pores are tricky to treat and hard to conceal. 

But what are blackheads and what causes them? 

From how to identify blackheads and how do blackheads form, to do blackheads cause acne and what are blackheads filled with, keep reading to find the answers to every question you’ve ever had about your blackheads.

How to treat blackheads_woman pressing cotton pad to her face_1080x900How to treat blackheads_woman pressing cotton pad to her face_1080x900

What are blackheads?

What’s a blackhead, you ask? A blackhead is what forms when a clogged pore filled with gunk is exposed to air. The stuff inside oxidises and turns black, hence the name blackheads.

What are blackheads filled with, exactly? Well, it’s not dirt. Blackheads are made up of sebum (oil), product residue, and dead skin cells. Unlike whiteheads and other types of pimples, you can’t squeeze blackheads because they sit on the skin’s surface. As for how to identify blackheads, they'll always look like a tiny black spot.

If you’ve ever wondered, are blackheads painful, the answer is: not really. Blackheads around the nose, chin and cheeks don’t feel like anything, but infected blackheads and blackheads in an awkward place like your ear or nostril can feel sore and inflamed. 

What Causes Blackheads? 

How do blackheads form? Great question.

What causes blackheads starts with your pores. Picture each pore on your face as a tunnel leading to a hair follicle and a gland that produces sebum, or oil. Our glands produce sebum to keep our skin soft and hydrated, but when they produce too much, the pore starts filling up. 

Add in built up dead skin cells, sweat, bacteria and excess skincare product, and the result is a clogged pore. If the pore doesn’t form a head, the contents of the blocked pore turns black.

People with oily skin and enlarged pores are more prone to blackheads, your genes, hormones and touching your face can also cause blackheads on the cheeks, chin, lips, in the ears, on the back - anywhere on your body, really.

How to treat blackheads_woman applying serum to her cheek_1080x900How to treat blackheads_woman applying serum to her cheek_1080x900

Do blackheads cause acne?

Short answer: no. This is because blackheads are a type of pimple, and often, people who have a form of acne will also have blackheads. 

Should you pop your blackheads?

Now, for the big question: is popping blackheads bad for your skin? Yes.

Blackheads should always be extracted professionally by a qualified skin therapist or dermal clinician. This is because squeezing blackheads can cause microtraumas to skin, resulting in an infected blackhead or worse, a permanent scar - either an acne scar-like divet in the skin or a pigmented spot where the blackhead once was (postinflammatory hyperpigmentation). To help treat long-term acne scarring, check out our guide to the best acne treatments.

The benefits of not popping pimples, including blackheads, is the skin barrier will remain intact and you’ll avoid scarring that will become harder to fade than the original pimple.

How to treat blackheads

From cleansers to the best serum for acne prone skin, a routine that targets blackheads can reduce their appearance and clear any debris away.

The best products for blackheads are those that contain either alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) or both. AHAs like glycolic acid can dissolve dead skin cells from the surface layer of the skin, while a BHA like salicylic acid will exfoliate the inside of the pore to remove built up sebum. 

From the best makeup remover for acne prone skin to face masks that soothe an inflamed complexion, we’ve scoured the reviews and found the most adored products for you to explore.

Kind enough to use on sensitive skin, these products feel comfortable on oily or acne-prone complexions that tend to get angry. Ideal for anyone who experiences frequent breakouts and blackhead issues, the products in this pack suit any gender or age range.

The La Roche-Posay Anti Blackheads Kit contains everything you need to help you get rid of blackheads. The La Roche-Posay Effaclar Foaming Gel, La Roche-Posay Serozinc Toning Mist and La Roche-Posay Effaclar K (+) Anti-Blackhead Moisturiser hydrate your skin without using pore-blocking ingredients, and help sweep debris away from the skin.

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% is a high-strength serum designed to regulate oil control and hydrate the skin with niacinamide and zinc. Together, these ingredients are perfect for oily and acne-prone skin.

What did we do before The Ordinary came into our world? The straightforward, affordable brand (a) looks good on the bathroom shelf and (b) offers smart formulas to take care of your skin with expert-recommended ingredients.

This formula targets congestion, breakouts, blackhead,s sun spots, pigmentation, uneven skin tone - the whole lot. This scrub also works all over your body to help lift blackheads, body acne and even ingrown hairs.

If you have blackheads and blemishes all over your skin, you might question whether using an exfoliator is a good idea at all. The Skinstitut Glycolic Scrub 14% is a high-intensity, controlled exfoliant for a deep cleanse enriched with exfoliating glycolic acid and jojoba seeds, and anti-bacterial tea tree oil.

Protect yourself from the sun with this non-greasy sunscreen.
Protect yourself from the sun with this non-greasy sunscreen.

Having a hard time with blemishes, textured skin, and blackheads is no excuse to skip the SPF. It’s true, some formulas are super-greasy and might break you out further. But this isn’t one of those formulas.

One of the best sunscreens to try if you’re dealing with blackheads, this artificial fragrance-free formula is super-lightweight, won’t further clog your pores and protects from UVA and UVB rays. Apply a liberal amount of La Roche-Posay Anthelios XL Ultra-Light Fluid Tinted Facial Sunscreen SPF50+ to your complexion 30 minutes prior to sun exposure, and then top up every couple of hours.

This is another great face exfoliator. It’s Aussie-made, vegan and cruelty-free, and uses a blend of biodegradable microbeads and glycolic acid to help give the skin a smoother appearance.

Named as one of our 12 best exfoliating face scrubs of 2020, asap daily exfoliating facial scrub breaks down pore-clogging dead skin cells, is gentle enough for daily use and is suitable for all skin types.

If you’re struggling with blackheads and ageing skin, SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Defense Serum will help. A treatment serum that’s as effective on ageing skin as it is on blackheads, this potent, oil-free treatment has been designed specifically to help control acne and reduce the signs of ageing.

SkinCeuticals Blemish + Age Defense Serum contains a unique blend of ingredients. The 2% Dioic Acid helps reduce sebum production, so fewer blemishes form on the skin’s surface. The 0.3% Capryloyl Salicylic Acid works to decongest pores. The 1.5% Salicylic Acid refines pores and helps reduce the appearance of acne overall. The 3.5% Glycolic Acid and 0.5% Citric Acid accelerate the exfoliation process, so your skin looks and feels softer after every use. Use a couple of times a day, applying 4 to 5 drops to dry skin for the best results.

A cult classic that blew up on Instagram for good reason, this clay mask does more than just draw the ‘bad stuff’ out of your skin. Working to rid your complexion of impurities, pigmentation clusters, pollutants, toxins, and more, this much-loved mask helps reveal a natural, healthy glow.

Cruelty-free and made in Australia, Sand&Sky Australian Pink Clay Porefining Face Mask is designed to brighten your complexion, remove any pore-clogging toxins and leave your skin feeling softer, too.

A cruelty-free formula, this brightening toner lifts away dead skin cells, hydrates, and also helps calm sensitive skin with 5% glycolic acid, ginseng and horse chestnut seed extract, a powerful antioxidant that has anti-ageing and antioxidant properties.

Pixi Glow Tonic 250ml is a versatile toner that nearly everyone can enjoy. It’s been formulated to help reduce the appearance of blemishes, tighten pores, and give the skin a more youthful glow.

If you’re still worried about your blackheads, the most important thing to know is they’re 100 per cent normal and can be treated with the right skincare. And a bit of luck.

Brand and product inclusions are at the sole discretion of Adore Beauty. We do not seek or accept payment from brands or individuals listed in our guides.

Need a recap? Here's the best products for blackheads

Yep, blackheads are a nuisance! They pop up for seemingly no reason and can be hard to get rid of. To help keep your skin in check, introduce any of these products into your routine to start sweeping those blackheads right away.

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