How to Treat Blackheads
Blackheads result when sebum, an oily skin secretion, and dead skin cells combine into a substance capable of blocking follicles on your skin. Also known as a comedone, blackheads are so named because the plug forms closer to the skin where it can be exposed to air. This oxidizes the plug and turns it a dark color, in contrast to whiteheads which form deeper in the follicle and are not exposed to the air. When blackheads occur on the skin, you can pursue one of several treatment options.
Clean the area with a mild cleanser to prevent the blackhead from progressing into a more serious form of acne. When choosing a cleanser, look for products made without ingredients that can cause or aggravate acne. Avoid oil-based cleansers or products with coco butter or algae extracts. Clean the area at least twice daily, including before you go to bed.
Refrain from playing with or squeezing the blackhead. When blackheads occur, your first instinct may be to touch them, squeeze them or try to remove them yourself. Doing this can cause a blackhead to push deeper into the follicle, making it more difficult to treat. Squeezing the blackhead may also irritate the follicle enough to create a more serious form of acne, such as a pustule or papule.
Use salicylic acid, a common active ingredient in many over-the-counter acne treatment products, to break down the plug. Salicylic acid can break down both acne blackheads and whiteheads, according to the New Zealand Dermatological Society. Acne plugs are partially made up of skin cells, and skin cells are made up of a protein called keratin. When applied to the blackhead, salicylic acid breaks down the keratin in the plug, releasing the plug from the follicle.
Apply a retinoid cream. Retinoids come in non-prescription forms, such as retinol, and prescription strength, such as adapalene, tazarotene and tretinoin. They work by unclogging pores and preventing future outbreaks of blackheads and whiteheads, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
Have the blackhead professionally removed. For fast relief from a blackhead, or if other methods have been unsuccessful, your dermatologist or family physician can use specialized tools to professional dig out the blackhead from your follicle while limiting your risks of developing infection or inflammation.
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