Understanding blackheads—those tiny black specks that accumulate on oily areas of your skin—is the first step towards banishing them for good.
What Is a Blackhead?
The skin is covered in tiny pores that secrete sebum, an oil that lubricates the skin and forms a barrier against bacteria, harsh substances or materials, and pollution. Some people have large pores that are particularly visible on the nose, chin, and other oily areas.
In small doses, sebum keeps the skin clean and healthy. But when it becomes trapped in pores along with dead skin and other debris, blackheads are the result. The larger the pores, the more noticeable the blemish.
When a blackhead develops, it appears as a small black or brown spot. Some blackheads are flat, but occasionally they fill with so much material that they become rounded and raised. The plug, which is exposed to the air, turns a dingy black colour.
Blackheads are similar to whiteheads, another type of comedone. Unlike blackheads, though, whiteheads occur when the top layer of skin encloses the pore. A head filled with whitish pus may form.
Blackheads, Acne, and Other Skin Problems
Blackheads can become infected if they fill with bacteria or if the debris irritates and inflames the skin. An infected blackhead may look a lot like a pimple, producing pus, swelling, and becoming increasingly painful to the touch. People with very oily skin and a large number of blackheads are highly vulnerable to infections and may develop other skin conditions such as cystic acne.
Who Gets Blackheads?
Almost everyone develops blackheads at some point, but certain risk factors increase the vulnerability to blackheads and other skin problems. These include:
Puberty: Hormones usually increase the amount of sebum the skin produces, increasing the likelihood of all types of acne.
Oil-based skin products: Skincare products that contain oil moisturise the skin and create a smooth, dewy appearance. But with frequent use, these oily ingredients can become trapped in the pores, making you more vulnerable to blackheads. Instead, look for oil-free or non-comedogenic products. Philosophy, for example, offers a number of serums and moisturisers that won't cause blackheads.
Poor skincare habits: Sleeping in makeup or allowing sweat and dirt to remain on your skin increases your vulnerability to blackheads. On the other hand, excessive scrubbing can cause your skin to overreact by producing excess sebum. So too much attention to your skin can have the paradoxical effect of causing blackheads.
Genetics: People whose parents have oily skin are more likely to develop oily skin themselves, increasing their vulnerability to blackheads.
It's a myth that eating greasy foods will cause blackheads—unless, of course, you get the oil all over your face and don't wash it off!