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As faux freckles continue to rage as a cutesy makeup trend, blackheads on cheeks have alternatively gained zero fanfare. This pesky member of the acne family may not be as painful as its sibling the whitehead or as visually dominating as a pimple; but nevertheless, blackheads are annoying AF.
Blackheads are a form of noninflammatory acne that pops up when dirt gets into your pores. They typically form when pores become clogged with dead skin cells and sebum, a naturally occurring oil in your skin.
Unlike whiteheads, which occur when the pore is closed, blackheads take root when the pore is stretched open. When the sebum in the open pore is exposed to air, it turns a dark color. Then ta-da, you have a blackhead.
But this kind of acne doesn’t discriminate and can affect just about everyone.
What’s the tea-(zone)?
Blackheads can occur on any part of your body (just ask the area under your butt cheeks) but there’s a reason the nose and cheeks are a popular blackhead breeding ground.
The T-zone of your face includes your forehead, nose, and chin area. Your sebaceous glands here may overproduce oil, giving you an unwanted glow and clogged pores.
Although not in the T-zone, the cheeks are also an area that can overproduce oil, leading to those blackheads.
There are many reasons why you may get blackheads on your cheeks. While some of these causes are out of your control, behavioral factors also play a role. Here are the main causes of blackheads on your cheeks.
If one of your parents has oily skin that produces excess sebum, you may be genetically prone to blackheads. You could also just have larger pores prone to fill with that good ol’ excess sebum.
While oddly satisfying, squeezing or picking at your skin to remove a stubborn blackhead may result in long term damage.
When you pick a blackhead, stretching and inflammation may enlarge the pore and make your face ripe soil for future blackheads. Picking is particularly harmful for deep blackheads and can result in permanent scarring.
Wearing a face mask for 8+ hours could cause blackhead-forming friction on your cheeks. Which in the time of COVID-19, is often called “maskne.” In derm speak, acne that develops as a result of friction or rubbing against the skin is actually known as acne mechanica.
Sleeping with makeup on
After all, you’ve left your cheeks (and corresponding pores) covered in concealer, foundation, blush, bronzer, highlighter, and maybe a touch of glitter.
Your skin composition dictates which products are going to yield the best results. Despite five-star Amazon reviews, cleansers, masks, and exfoliants that aren’t oil-free can cause blackheads depending on your skin type.
Way too harsh products
Products that totally dry out your skin can send your sebaceous glands into overdrive, leading to more sebum (and blackheads!). Benzoyl peroxide, for example, is designed to treat inflammatory acne like cysts and using it on other types of acne can make things worse.
Natural remedies for blackhead removal do exist. Before you get ready to DIY your way into clearer skin, be aware that not every method will work for every skin type.
1. Seek out salicylic acid
Products containing salicylic acid target blackheads and whiteheads by breaking down excess oil and dead skin cells. You can find this ingredient in over-the-counter (OTC) products, particularly cleansers, treatments, and serums.
Skin can be sensitive to salicylic acid so start using it every couple of days and pay attention to how your skin reacts.
2. Get your face mask on
The OG face mask refers to the kind that’s actually good for your skin.
Moisturizing and mattifying face masks work best for targeting blackheads. Using a mask 2 to 3 times a week can clean out your pores and even potentially shrink your pores over time. Clay masks remove excess oil and dirt making them the best for folks with oily skin.
3. Exfoliate, exfoliate, exfoliate
Exfoliation refers to the process of removing dead skin cells. Since dead skin cell accumulation is a cause of blackheads, exfoliation can help.
The kind of exfoliant that you need depends on your skin type, but you’ll typically find chemical exfoliators like beta-hydroxy acid (BHAs) and alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) helpful. Physical exfoliators like gentle facial brushes or scrubs might also help.
PSA: Always be careful of your delicate facial skin! Try exfoliating just once a week and gently massage onto the skin.
4. Try oil cleansing
While it may sound counterintuitive to apply more oil to your skin, oil cleansing can be helpful in treating blackheads on cheeks. This process utilizes noncomedogenic oils, the kind of oils that don’t clog your pores, to dissolve the oils that do.
5. Suck it up with a vacuum tool
A blackhead vacuum tool can be an effective at-home tool if used in conjunction with other treatment methods.
The process can be harsh on your skin unless you have already summoned the blackhead from its pore-dwelling lair. Salicylic acid, steam, and glycolic acid can all be used to loosen the blackheads prior to sucking them out.
6. Roll with retinoids
Retinoids are known to help fine lines, but they also prove helpful in treating blackheads.
Retinol, which is a type of retinoid often found in OTC skin care, can also be helpful. These topical vitamin A products clean out pores while evening out skin texture. You can also get higher strength retinoids with a prescription from a dermatologist.
If you’re still noticing persistent blackheads, you may want to seek a skin expert like a dermatologist or aesthetician. A treatment for blackheads (or really any acne) can take anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks to see results.
7. Get a clinical chemical peel
If an OTC chemical exfoliator isn’t doing the job, you can also give an at-home chemical peel a try. Or you can visit a derm for a clinical-strength chemical peel, and find results after a few weeks if you get them often.
These babies are usually used to help even skin tone and reduce wrinkles. But because they exfoliate off the top layer of skin, they may help clear out your pores and reduce the appearance of large pores.
8. Go for professional extraction
The at-home picking method is a big no-no, but a dermatologist or aesthetician is trained and equipped to safely extract those deep blackheads on your cheeks.
Think you can just use the same extraction tools at home? That’s a big nope. You can really damage, irritate, and cut your skin if you use an extraction tool incorrectly. Seek out your local Dr. Pimple Popper and let the professionals take care of it.
9. Pull out gunk with a hydrafacial
Hydrafacials are like a vacuum tool on steroids that use a medical-grade device to cleanse and exfoliate your skin with serums. You can visit a derm or aesthetician to get this facial and suck out any dirt in your pores.
10. Try out dermabrasion
A dermatologist may also recommend dermabrasion to remove outer layers of the skin in an attempt to prevent blackheads on the cheeks. This is essentially another heavier-duty exfoliation option.
If your skin is prone to blackheads, treatment may not be a one and done situation. Skin responds differently to treatment so it may take trial and error to find your ideal blackhead treatment.
When you find the product that treats your blackheads best, repeat the process consistently. Exfoliate and use a mask on the regular. When in doubt, consult your dermatologist. They’re skin experts for a reason.
And if you do nothing else, try not to pick at your face.