Blackheads are oil clogs in your hair follicles. The sebaceous gland at the bottom of the follicle secretes sebum, your skin's natural oil, which travels along the strand of hair and out through the pore. The flow of sebum can be restricted by dirt, bacteria and a surface layer of dead skin cells. The oil clog hardens inside the pore and the tip of it oxidizes when exposed to air. This is what gives a blackhead its characteristic dark color.
Blackheads look like tiny dark pinpricks inside a slightly expanded pore. They tend to appear in clusters on parts of the body rich in oil glands, such as the chin, chest, hairline or back. According to the Mayo Clinic, a blackhead is known medically as an open comedone, while a pimple, or whitehead, is called a closed comedone. Perhaps the most common area where blackheads appear is on the nose and in the creases beside the nose.
Blackheads can take their toll on your appearance, which can lead to decreased self-esteem. You may not want to go out in public as often and can miss out on important events. According to the Canadian Dermatology Association, blackheads are the first stage of acne. When a blackhead is infected with bacteria often present on the surface of the skin, it fills with pus and turns into a whitehead. Extracting blackheads can decrease the likelihood of acne and increase self-confidence.
Blackheads are easier to remove if they have been softened first, and home remedies for softening them are abundant. One of the most common is boiling water, draping a towel over your head, leaning over the water and steaming your face. The steam opens up your pores, loosening blackheads as it softens. According to GrannyMed.com, using the juice of tomatoes, lemons and limes as a toner is good for bringing blackheads to the surface, as is a mixture of Epsom salt, iodine and boiling water. Manual intervention comes in the form of a blackhead removal tool, which ranges from a simple metal cone to help squeeze the blackhead out to a battery-operated device that removes it by suction.
The New Zealand Dermatological Society states that salicylic acid, derived from the bark of the willow tree, dries up sebum and exfoliates the skin. Exfoliation helps to prevent blackheads by keeping dead skin cells off your face. It can be done by washing with an exfoliating cleanser or scrubbing with a washcloth. Salicylic acid acne cleansing pads are convenient to carry with you for times when you can't wash your face.
Attempting to extract blackheads without softening them first could lead to scabbing and scarring. Squeezing blackheads with your fingers can transmit bacteria from your hands to your face and lead to pimples. If you must squeeze blackheads with your fingers, always wrap them in clean tissue first. If you have a serious blackhead problem, visit a dermatologist to discuss prescription or in-office treatment options such as acne creams or glycolic acid peels.
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