“Pimples are for hormone-fueled teenagers!” Well, we wish this were true, but men and women of all ages and stages experience plugged-up pores. In fact, acne affects about 50 million in the U.S. each year.1
Pimples come in different forms, and many of us have a non-inflammatory type: blackheads. The good news? It’s the least-severe form of acne. The bad news? Blackheads can be persistent and bothersome.
Check out our five tips to prevent these clogged pores and begin your journey to clearer skin.
1. Know the enemy
To battle blackheads, it’s important first to understand what they are and why they form. Dead skin cells mix with an oily substance called sebum and bacteria to block pores. These openings in the skin are hair follicles, which become plugged with a black, tan, brown, yellow, or gray matter when exposed to air, becoming slightly raised. (If the blocked pore remains closed, it’s called a whitehead, by the way.)
“This mix of oils and other materials is not dirt,” says Dr. Jeffrey Zwerner, senior medical director of dermatology at Teladoc, who explains that blackheads are also called open comedones.
Blackheads are most often found on areas with many hair follicles like the face, neck, back, chest, and arms. While some of these areas are easily hidden by clothing, putting your best face forward means having a game plan in place for prevention.
2. Wash wisely
The main thing to remember, says Dr. Zwerner, is that blackheads aren’t the product of a “dirty face.” “Over-washing is not going to help treat or prevent blackheads. In fact, if you over-wash your face, it will become really dry, causing your body to product more oil,” he says, recommending no more than one or two washes each day.
So what’s a person with pimples to use? Gently lather a salicylic acid face wash, Dr. Zwerner says, avoiding the tendency to scrub the skin. You can buy this product over the counter at any pharmacy, grocery store, beauty shop, or online. Salicylic acid-based cleansers and pads will help get rid of oil and open up the pores so you can say goodbye to those blackheads.
3. Choose proper products
So you’ve picked out a cleanser, but what else are you putting onto your face? Are you trying to hide imperfections with heavy makeup cream? That could cause new blackheads to form. What about moisturizers and sunscreens? They could be opening you up to an oil overload within the skin.
“Look for products that say ‘non-comedogenic,’ which means they don’t block your pores,” Dr. Zwerner suggests, noting that some skin care products also may be labeled “oil-free.” By using cosmetics, sunscreens, and moisturizers that are formulated to keep pores clear, you’ll be able to keep blackhead buildup at bay.
4. Limit oil exposure
Choosing non-comedogenic products is key for keeping oils away, but what about other slick sources that often slip the mind? Hair products, for example, can clog pores and cause massive breakouts around the hairline or neckline. Frequently worn hats or unwashed pillowcases can harbor oil, sweat, and germs, irritating the skin.
If you commonly wear tight clothing or live in a humid environment, the excess sweat and irritation can signal to the skin that it needs to produce more oil. Try looser clothing.
If you do notice blackheads or other types of acne appearing on the skin, avoid picking or popping the pimples. This bad habit can irritate the skin and make your pores look worse. Plus, oils and bacteria on the fingers can add to pimple problems.
5. Seek skin help
Unfortunately for some, blackheads won’t improve on their own. Dr. Zwerner explains that patients can require a prescription-strength retinoid to break the breakout cycle. These vitamin A compounds work by increasing cell turnover to reduce clogged pores.
Other topical creams are available, but can cause issues with skin dryness. Teladoc’s board-certified dermatologists are here to help create a treatment plan for your specific needs. If blackheads are bogging you down, reach out online or by app, and we’ll provide expert advice within two business days.
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