What Are Blackheads?
Blackheads, also known as comedones, are a form of acne. They occur in the pores of the skin and can be very unsightly and sometimes painful. Blackheads occur frequently during puberty, but can develop at any time. Left untreated, they can become inflamed and infected.
Sebaceous Gland Function
The skin has a variety of glands within it, the sebaceous glands among them. Sebaceous glands are located within hair follicles and are widely distributed throughout the skin, except for the palms and foot soles. The skin of the face and scalp contain the most sebaceous glands. They produce an oily substance known as sebum. This substance helps keep the skin supple and moist and keeps skin waterproof.
When excessive amounts of sebum are created by a sebaceous gland, the substance can back up in the gland, forming what is commonly called a whitehead. This is due to the white color of the sebum under the skin. Over time, the sebum will harden, forming a plug. This plug can erupt through the pore and block the opening of the hair follicle. When exposed to air, the sebum plug will oxidize and turn dark. This is called a blackhead. Blackheads can persist in the skin for a long time.
Blackheads usually occur during adolescence. The hormonal changes occurring in the body can trigger the release of excess amounts of sebum, resulting in blackheads. Another cause is excessive use of makeup, moisturizers and lotions, which can clog pores and cause sebaceous glands to back up. Poor hygiene can also lead to a buildup of skin cells and oils that can produce blackheads.
Regularly washing the skin, particularly the face and neck, can help reduce blackheads. Using exfoliating creams or lotions can also help to remove dead skin cells that may clog sebaceous glands. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe medications that can reduce the production of sebum.
Never squeeze a blackhead to remove it. This can cause scarring. To remove a blackhead, the skin is first exposed to moist heat to soften the plug. A device called a comedone remover is used, first to loosen the plug, then to carefully press around the pore to extract the blackhead. The cleared pore can then be cleansed.
Topical skin products that contain Resorcinol or salicylic acid can also be used to break down blackheads. Severe cases of blackheads may need to be addressed by a dermatologist.
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