“Pimples are for hormone-fueled teenagers!” 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 people 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 how they form.
- Dead skin cells mix with bacteria and an oily substance called sebum 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.
- The pore or hair follicle then becomes slightly raised. (If the blocked pore remains closed, it’s called a whitehead.)
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. Jeffrey Zwerner, Senior Medical Advisor for Dermatology at Teladoc, 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 excessively dry, causing your body to product more oil,” he says, recommending no more than one or two washes each day.
Dr. Zwerner recommends gently lathering with a salicylic acid-based face wash, while 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 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 on your face? Are you trying to hide imperfections with concealers and thick foundations? What about moisturizers and sunscreens? If you’re not careful about the specific types of products you use, they could cause new blackheads to form and excess oil to build up.
Since blackheads are also called comedones, “look for products that say ‘non-comedogenic,’ which means they don’t block your pores,” Dr. Zwerner suggests. Some of these 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 for your face 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 breakouts around the hairline or neck. Again, look for non-comedogenic hair products. When showering, wash your hair first to remove as much product as possible before you wash your face and body.
- Frequently worn hats or unwashed pillowcases can harbor oil, sweat and germs, irritating the skin. Wash these materials regularly.
- 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 and breathable fabrics, like cotton and linen.
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 an over-the-counter or prescription-strength retinoid to break the breakout cycle. These vitamin A compounds work by increasing cell turnover to reduce clogged pores.
If you’re suffering from blackheads, Teladoc’s board-certified dermatologists can create a treatment plan for your specific needs. Here’s how easy it is:
- Upload images: Describe and upload pictures of your issue to your account, online or on the app.
- Dermatologist review: A U.S. board-certified dermatologist will review your case and message you with questions if needed.
- Treatment: Within two days, a treatment plan will be sent to your Message Center. Prescriptions are sent to your pharmacy when necessary.
If you have any other skin concerns—from eczema to a rash—it’s time to get professional help. Reach out to Teladoc online or by app 24/7. Our dermatologists diagnose and treat more than eight common skin conditions.
Updated August 9, 2021