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.
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.
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.