How To Treat Blackheads

by Gio
how to prevent and treat blackheads

How the heck do you treat blackheads?!

Those ugly, little black spots seem to have a knack for popping up at the worst times, like when you have a date with that special someone or an important job interview. And always appear in the most prominent places, too. How annoying is that?

Oh, well. We’ll just have to get rid of them, I guess. Here’s how to treat blackheads, according to science:

What Are Blackheads?

Annoying blemishes. They appear when skin produces too much sebum (thanks, hormones!). The excess can’t flow out of the pores. It gets trapped inside the pores, together with dead skin cells. When it comes in contact with air, this yucky mixture oxidises (i.e. turns black).

How Do You Treat Blackheads?

To treat blackheads, you need to keep oil production under control and exfoliate skin, so dead cells won’t clog your pores anymore.

Don’t worry, it’s easier than you think:

1. Cleanse

Wash your face twice a day with a gentle cleanser suitable for your skin type to remove dirt, excess oil, makeup and everything else that could clog pores if left on your skin. Just stay away from bar soaps. They contain ingredients, like sodium bicarbonate, that can dry out skin. And that too often leads to excessive oil production.

Best Picks:

  • Corsx low PH Good Morning Gel Cleanser ($11.00): pH 5.5. Available at Sokoglam and YesStyle.
  • Paula’s Choice Moisture Boost Cleanser One Step Face Cleanser ($18.00): pH 5.5. Available at Paula’s Choice.
  • Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Oil-Reducing Cleanser ($18.00): pH 5.5. Available at Nordstrom and Paula’s Choice. 

Shop Cleansers

Related: How To Choose The Right Cleanser For Your Skin Type

2. Exfoliate

Listen, girl. Brands will tell you that every single exfoliant they make can clog your pores and treat blackheads. It’s a lie.

The ONLY exfoliant can treat blackheads is salicylic acid.

Scrubs, the Clarisonic, glycolic acid & co only remove dead cells on the surface of your skin. So yeah, they can get rid of the black tip of the blackhead. But if you don’t remove the icky mixture that’s still lodged deep into your pores, it’s only a matter of time before those blackheads come back.

Salicylic acid is different. It’s oil-soluble so it can penetrate the skin’s lipid barrier, get inside the pores and remove ALL the gunk that’s accumulating it there. It gets rid of the entire blackheads so it won’t reappear again anytime soon.

The catch? You have to keep at it. If your skin’s oily and prone to blackheads, you need to exfoliate on a regular basis or those pores will get clogged again before you can say “blackhead”.

Best Picks:

  • Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboois Glycolic Night Serum: salicylic acid + glycolic acid. Available at Sephora.
  • Paula’s Choice Resist BHA 9 For Stubborn Imperfections: salicylic acid + soothing agents. Available at Skinstore.
  • Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% Bha Liquid ($29.00): salicylic acid + green tea. Available at Nordstrom and Feel Unique.
  • The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution ($5.30): salicylic acid. Available at Asos, Cult Beauty and Sephora.

Shop Exfoliants

Related: Why Salicylic Acid Is The Only Exfoliant That Can Treat Blackheads

3. Avoid greasy moisturizers

Rich moisturizers may be godsends for dry skin, but they’re so not useful when you’re trying to get rid of blackheads. All those thickeners in the formulas could actually clog your pores, giving you blackheads and even pimples! Much better to stick to lightweight, gel-like formulas.

Best Picks:

Shop Oil-Free Moisturisers

Related: Oily Skin? Why You Need To Switch To An Oil-Free Moisturizer

4. Avoid irritating ingredients

Did you know that skin tends to produce more oil when it’s irritated? The worst culprits are:

  • Alcohol denat
  • Citrusy extracts
  • Fragrance
  • Menthol
  • Peppermint

If you’re serious about preventing blackheads, avoid them!

Related: 7 Natural Ingredients That Can Irritate Skin

5. Don’t use pore strips

Same reason as scrubs: the can remove only the tip of the blackhead, not the whole thing. Plus, they’re irritating as hell. Stay away!

Related: Why Pore Strips Can’t Treat Blackheads

6. Don’t squeeze!

Squeezing blackheads feels so good, doesn’t it?

Problem is, it terribly backfires: squeezing blackheads tears open the walls of the pores, so the bacteria inside can jump onto the skin and wreak even more damage. In other cause, you’re causing more blemishes.

If you really must squeeze, use a comedone extractor:

  1. Clean the area well to sanitize it.
  2. Warm it up with a warm washcloth to soften skin.
  3. Pat dry.
  4. Place the comedone extractor over the blackhead and gently press it down.
  5. If you still can’t extract it easily, give up.You’ll just damage skin if you insist to keep going.
  6. Clean the area with an antiseptic.

7. Absorb excess oil

If you have oily skin that never stops producing too much oil, just soak the excess up and away with clay masks and oil-blotting papers.

Best Picks:

Shop Oil-Absorbing Products

Related: A Quick Trick To Keep Oil Production Under Control


Need help creating the best skincare routine for you oily skin? Sign up to the newsletter below to receive the “Oily Skincare Routine Cheatsheet” (it includes product recommendations, too!).


How do you treat blackheads? Share your fave products and tips below.

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19 comments

Trisha June 5, 2012 - 3:54 pm

Aww, but I like pore strips. 😉

beautifulwithbrains June 5, 2012 - 5:49 pm

Trisha, it feels good to see those strips full of gunk, doesn’t it? But sadly, that’s very deceiving as they only remove what’s on the surface and most of the blackhead remains inside the pore… If you wanna use them, make sure you use a product with Salicylic Acid as well so that you’ll be able to remove all of it. 🙂

Janessa June 6, 2012 - 2:19 am

Very informative, thanks! I used to have black heads back in middleschool and I remember because my friend pointed them out one day haha. I don’t have them anymore I think. I just checked my magnification vanity mirror and I don’t have black dots. I have some tiny freckle-colored dots that I believe is sebum buildup (ew). I don’t know but they’re not white but could be whiteheads? They’re not under my skin but in my pores only on my nose.
Sometimes, skin problems sound so nasty.

beautifulwithbrains June 6, 2012 - 7:27 pm

Janessa, I’m glad you don’t have blackheads anymore. I’m not sure what your other spots could be. It’s difficult to tell without being able to see them. I don’t think they’re whiteheads cos they remain white as they don’t get exposed to air. Are they red and inflamed? If so, it could mean there’s an infection in your pores. If they’re flesh-coloured, then it may be they’re getting clogged up. In that case, I’d try an exfoliant with Salicylic Acid. Hope this helps.

Janessa June 6, 2012 - 10:48 pm

Flesh colored I think is the answer. Thank you so so much, Giorgia! You are the greatest :D!

beautifulwithbrains June 7, 2012 - 6:01 am

Janessa, I’m glad they’re flesh-coloured and not something more serious. And you’re welcome. 🙂

Chrissy June 7, 2012 - 9:52 am

Oof… I have to admit that I am SO guilty of squeezing and using scrubs. Haha! I can’t help it… it’s just…there! Haha.

Luckily I have white heads more than blackheads, but that still doesn’t make it okay! 🙁 Thanks for this post, it’s reminded me that I need to stop fiddling with my skin. >.<

beautifulwithbrains June 7, 2012 - 9:04 pm

Chrissy, you’re welcome. Yes, squeezing is never good, you should stop! 🙂

Vonnie (@socialitedreams) June 8, 2012 - 1:56 am

what a great informative post! thanks 😀

beautifulwithbrains June 8, 2012 - 5:59 am

Vonnie, you’re welcome. I’m glad you enjoyed it. 🙂

Annabella Freeman June 17, 2012 - 8:18 pm

I love nose and chin strips but I’m lucky that I don’t get too many blackheads. When I do get them they are on my chin and I use an extractor – it’s ugly but it works!

beautifulwithbrains June 17, 2012 - 8:28 pm

Annabella, I think strips are deceiving. It feels good to see all the gunk they’re removed from skin, but most of the blackhead is sadly till inside. Extractors work much better!

Maria January 19, 2017 - 10:17 pm

This post gives me hope! I have very angry skin that demands more moisture, yet produces loads of oil, so blackheads are a constant. And, of course, I pick incessantly (mostly because seeing the state of my skin stresses me out, which makes me pick even more). But I am going to try something with salicylic acid and do my best to keep my hands away from my face. What would you recommend for sensitive skin? I’m from the UK, so I’m not sure we even have Paula’s Choice over here!

All the best!

Gio February 12, 2017 - 9:20 pm

Maria, yes, you do have Paula’s Choice but I think you can only buy online at paulaschoice.co.uk? You can choose any of their BHA exfoliant but if your skin is very sensitive, I’d opt for CALM Redness Relief 1% BHA Lotion Exfoliant.

Maria January 28, 2017 - 10:55 am

I’ve started using the Salicylic Acid treatment by Paula’s Choice, and my acne has gotten somewhat worse. I’m getting red spots all over my forehead, and an angry rash of tiny little spots with transparent heads that are sore to the touch. It’s clearing up blackheads, but it’s also making my acne worse. I’m not using rich moisturisers – I use a light hyaluronic acid serum and a light moisturiser by Ren, but the breakouts persist. I only use the acid once a day, and don’t use any scrubs. My cleanser is Cetaphyl, which I started using at the same time, but I’ve noticed that it contains Alcohols – which may or may not be the culprit. Either way, I’m at a loss as to what to do with my skin. My face is bumpy and covered in spots from trying to treat spots.

Gio February 12, 2017 - 5:48 pm

Maria, I’m so sorry to hear about your problem. It’s rare that people react badly to salicylic acid but it can happen. First of all, you have to make sure that’s the culprit. Try eliminating it from your skincare routine and see if the problem gets better. If it does getter, you need to look at other options to treat your acne, such as tea tree oil. Hope this helps.

Essie July 15, 2019 - 6:09 pm

I know this is VERY old, but I wanted to share this here for anybody who may have the same problem in the future. Cetaphil has always broken me out. I believe it’s the cetearyl alcohol in my case because any products with that break me out, but according to cosdna.com there are at least 3 potentially acne causing ingredients in their gentle skin cleanser. (Highly recommend using this site to look up your products ingredients if you have acne prone skin. Everybody reacts different to products but it at least helps having a general guideline.) Once I stopped using it my skin cleared up. Hope this helps!

Guissell October 20, 2019 - 5:29 am

Thanks for this post. It was super informative. Unfortunately, I live outside of the U.S; for that reason, it is very hard to find the products you mentioned above. What do you think about Bioderma’s line Sebium Mat control ?

Gio November 8, 2019 - 11:34 am

Guissell, I like it a lot. You can find my review here: https://www.beautifulwithbrains.com/bioderma-sebium-mat-control-moisturiser-review/

Comments are closed.