Blackheads are one of many types of acne lesions that can pose an unwelcome blight on your complexion. The American Academy of Dermatology notes that a blackhead is an acne lesion known in medical terminology as a comedo, the plural of which is comedones. According to Acne.org, blackheads aren't dirt, but rather sebum that contains melanin, the skin's pigment.
How Blackheads Form
Acne is the result of three factors, notes the Mayo Clinic: excess sebum (oil) production, bacteria and dead skin cells. The sebaceous glands are connected to the hair follicles in the skin. Oil produced by the sebaceous glands makes its way through the hair shaft and onto the skin's surface. When excess oil production and dead skin cells form in the hair follicles, this may result in a soft plug in the skin. Blackheads form when pores are open to the skin's surface. Closed comedos, on the other hand, are referred to as whiteheads and are characterized by a raised skin-colored or red bumps on the skin.
Preventing acne of any kind begins with good hygiene. The Mayo Clinic advises washing the face at least twice a day with a mild cleanser using only the fingertips rather than a coarse washcloth or facial puff, which can exacerbate oil production in the skin. The Mayo Clinic notes that many over-the-counter acne products can treat milder cases of acne, including blackheads, when used gently and appropriately.
Products to Look For
Drugstore acne products can contain a variety of active ingredients that remove the excess oil and dead skin cells that cause blackheads. The Mayo Clinic advises looking for topical treatments that contain benzoyl peroxide, which is purportedly most effective in treating acne. Other active ingredients to look for include salicylic acid and products with a combination of sulfur and resorcinol or alcohol and acetone. The Mayo Clinic warns that even mild over-the-counter products can have unpleasant effects on the skin, such as burning and stinging, peeling, irritation and increased sun sensitivity.
Over-the-counter cleansing strips may be applied to the skin and peeled off to remove blackheads. However, the AAD advises against forcibly squeezing blackheads or pimples of any kind. To do so can force bacteria back into the skin and cause inflammation and potential scarring. If blackhead extraction is necessary, this physical procedure should be performed in a doctor's office using sterile instruments.
The Mayo Clinic advises giving your home treatment program between four and six weeks to work. If you don't see a successful resolution of blackheads, and other acne types, after a couple of months, a dermatologist's visit may be appropriate. A dermatologist can recommend more effective treatments and prescribe stronger topical or oral medications, if required.
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