How to get rid of blackheads is a question that spans our lifetime after adolescence. You never entirely outgrow the ability to make blackheads and unless you specifically treat them with your skin care routine, they won't go away on their own. Nope, they will stay there blocking the pore getting harder and harder over time. And not all acne skin care products will get rid of blackheads. They may target the other skin problems caused by acne, including pimples or excessive production of oil.
To get rid of blackheads, you need to use acne treatment skin care products called keratolytics that loosen and soften the dead skin cells to get the blackheads out of your pores
What is a keratolytic that loosens and dissolves blackheads?
Skin cells are called keratinocytes and the suffix "lytic" means to decompose or disintegrate, hence kerato+lytic. These keratolytic ingredients loosen the dead skin cells both on the surface of your skin and down in your pores to help you get rid of blackheads.
The best non-prescription keratolytics used to treat acne are:
- salicylic acid (which is especially effective at penetrating oily clogged pores)
- benzoyl peroxide (which also kills the acne causing bacteria called P. acnes/C. acnes)
- glycolic acid (which fights the signs of skin aging)
- retinol (which, like glycolic acid, fights the signs of skin aging)
The best acne products and skin care routine to help you get rid of your blackheads contain one or more of these ingredients.
What Causes Blackheads?
Blackheads, called open comedones, are plugs of dead skin cells, oil, skin germs, and debris that get stuck in your pores.
This stuff is normally present in your pores and is supposed to pass to the surface of your skin where you can wash it off. The problem is that they get sticky and form a clump that then gets lodged in the pore. This clump gets bigger and harder as it sits there, which makes it more stubborn when you finally start using the right products to treat your blackheads.
Some skin care products actually increase this clumping and are called comedogenic.
You definitely want to avoid these, and they are a little different for every complexion. I find that heavy oils are also sometimes a problem for blackhead-prone complexions and those include coconut oil, mineral oil and petrolatum.
Read the ingredients on all the products that you use on your blackhead-prone skin. I find that patients often don't realize that things like their make-up and sunscreen can contain blackhead-forming ingredients. I recommend oil-free products free from the notorious, comedogenic ingredients for all my patients who are prone to blackheads.
Interestingly, as common as blackheads are, we still don’t know exactly why they happen on your skin in the first place. The good news is that even if we don’t know why they happen, we have great products to treat and prevent blackheads.
How do you get rid of blackheads and what are the best product to treat blackheads?
Everybody’s skin is different which is why there are so many different acne skin-care products. Plus, all the keratolytic ingredients I mentioned above can be irritating if you have sensitive skin. You may even be allergic to benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.
It means that to pick the best blackhead treatment products to fit your skin, you need to know something about your skin type and just how much of the keratolytic ingredients it will take to clear up your skin.
You need to know if your skin is:
- oily and tolerant, meaning that you can't remember the last time it got dried-out or irritated from a product;
- normal to dry, meaning it's not hard to "over-treat" it, causing dryness and chapping; and
- allergic to salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.
You also need to decide:
- if you want a one-step treatment with just a medicated cleanser that will leave behind some amount of active ingredient; and
- if you also need to apply a product after washing for an even higher "dose" of the active ingredient.
Dermatologist's tips for treating blackheads
For treating blackheads, I usually recommend both a cleanser and a product applied after washing the skin for my patients struggling with blackheads. This is why my acne kits have them both. For really stubborn blackheads, the more keratolytics the better. Build a complete skin care routine with keratolytics, a non-comedogenic moisturizer and sunscreen and get the best results fighting blackheads while avoiding skin irritation. - Dermatologist Dr. Cynthia Bailey
Dermatologist's recommendations for the best products to prevent and treat blackheads for your skin type?
Select your skin type and needs, then click on the links to build yourself a customized skin-care regimen that treats your blackheads fast.
Normal to Oily Tolerant or Sensitive Skin with Blackheads
My Ultimate Acne Solutions Skin Care Kit has a combination of glycolic acid, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide at effective concentrations that are also tolerated by sensitive skin. Using all 3 keratolytics will help get rid of blackheads faster than using just one active ingredient. The Foaming Acne Treatment Cleanser and Acne Treatment Pads will remove excess oil, dirt and debris so that the active ingredients will penetrate deeply into pores.
For even faster results use the Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Cream during the day and Retinol Night Cream at night instead of the Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Cream. Retinol cream fights the signs of skin aging and can soften the appearance of acne scars and uneven skin pigmentation.
How to Treat Blackheads if Your Skin is Allergic to Salicylic Acid
If using products with salicylic acid makes your skin dry and chapped, then you can still get great results by using products with either benzoyl peroxide, glycolic acid, retinol or all three. Great options include:
My Glycolic Acid Face Kit that comes with my Glycolic Acid Face Wash, Glycolic Acid Face Cream and an Exfoliation Sponge. The Glycolic Acid Face Cream has 10-20% glycolic acid which also fights the signs of skin aging so you get a two-fer benefit with this routine.
"Really enjoy using this product (Glycolic Acid Face Cream), it clears dark spots and blemishes, makes the skin look great! Russell F on May 22, 2019"
If you wanted to incorporate benzoyl peroxide and retinol you could apply the Benzoyl Peroxide 2.5% Acne Treatment Cream during the day after washing and the Retinol Night Cream followed by Glycolic Acid Face Cream at night.
"This (Retinol Night Cream) was a great addition to my anti-aging regime. I love the fact that it contains green tea!" Julie C. on Dec 19, 2018
Alternatively you could use the Foaming Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Cleanser which has with a full 10% benzoyl peroxide to cleanse your skin once or twice a day followed by the Glycolic Acid Face Cream.
How to Treat Blackheads if Your Skin is Allergic to Benzoyl Peroxide
If you've had trouble with benzoyl peroxide in the past, then I recommend using salicylic acid, glycolic acid and retinol.
Options include my Glycolic Acid Face Kit that comes with my Glycolic Acid Face Wash, Glycolic Acid Face Cream and an Exfoliation Sponge.
Alternatively you could use my Triple Action Scrub which contains salicylic acid, glycolic acid and eco-friendly exfoliating beads.
This is THE BEST facial cleaner I've ever used. I've used Obaji, I've used ZO, I've used skinceuticals and Dr. Bailey Skin Care's Triple Action exfoliating cleaner is the final stop in my cleansing journey. I have acne prone + aging skin, so this glycolic + salicylic + exfoliating cleanser is just what the doctor ordered. It provides the perfect amount of foam during cleaning, and leaves my skin feeling clean and exfoliated after use. There's nothing better than having a clean, smooth and soft feeling face! I HIGHLY recommend! Lori on Apr 25, 2019
What are the best moisturizers and sunscreens to use if you have blackheads?
Be sure to use oil-free and light textured products. My top choice for a moisturizer for complexions struggling with blackheads is my Daily Face Cream for Oily to Normal Skin. My Sheer Strength Matte Tinted SPF 50+ and Sheer Strength Pure Physical Invisible SPF 50+ Sunscreens are my tops choice for sun protection. If you wear makeup, top these with a mineral makeup powder to avoid comedogenic ingredients that are can be a problem with makeup foundations.
What additional treatments for blackheads can you use to increase the results from your daily skin care treatment products?
When it comes to how to get rid of blackheads, the steady use of your at-home skin care is the most important thing you can do.
But you can also boost your treatment with a few really great "hands-on" tricks, too. These include:
- Deep pore-cleansing facials with extractions are a great way to jump start treatment and maintain results.
- A series of light chemical peels done by a doctor or aesthetician will help to dissolve your blackheads, using even stronger amounts of keratolytics than what you can get in your daily acne treatment skin care products.
- Add a Clarisonic Sonic Skin Cleansing System to your skin care to really ramp up the effectiveness of all your acne products. Ultra-clean skin receives its medicated treatment more fully. Plus, the sonic waves from the Clarisonic will "jiggle" your cleanser down deeper into your pores to help clear-up your acne faster.
- Biore strips can pull blackheads out of the pores on your nose. Be careful, though. I’ve seen patients pull off a little skin with these strips, too.
- Clay masks help draw oil out of your pores and refine your pore size. The results are temporary, but hey, temporarily smooth pores are better than nothing. However, you can't use them every day because they can be too drying.
Prescription retinoids are really powerful keratolytics for treating blackheads.
You could ask your doctor to prescribe a retinoid instead of using retinol. These medicines have been used for years to treat blackheads. They include products like Retin A (tretinoin), Differin, and Tazorac, which require a trip to the doctor. They're tricky to combine with the other non-prescription products so you’ll need medical supervision to add them to your skin care regimen.
Zaenglein, Andrea L. et al., Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris, Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Volume 74, Issue 5, 945 - 973.e33