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If you’ve ever ripped a pore strip off your nose, you know all about blackheads — and the satisfaction that comes from extracting them.

They love to make an appearance on the sides of your nose and your “T-zone,” but these little spots can pop up just about anywhere. And while they’re not as in-your-face as pimples, they’re still a common skin care woe that people want to get rid of.

We’ve got all the deets about what causes blackheads, how to get rid of them, and the best skin care products that can help clear them up.

How to clear blackheads

“Blackheads are tiny dark or black-looking bumps on the surface of the skin caused by clogged hair follicles,” explains Dr. Michele Green, a cosmetic dermatologist in New York City.

They get their name from the reaction that happens after oil takes up residence within one of your pores.

“Air from the outside reacts with the sebum that has collected, turning it black in color,” says Adam Mamelak, an Austin based dermatologist.

They develop for two reasons, according to Mamelak:

  1. Your skin is making too much oil (sebum).
  2. Your skin cells aren’t turning over properly, clogging your pores and follicles.

“Blackheads can be prevented by cleaning your skin and pores, decreasing oil production, and exfoliating dead skin cells to keep your pores open,” he adds.

Pricing guide

  • $ = under $25
  • $$ = $25–$50
  • $$$ = over $50

“Blackheads are a type of acne known as open comedones,” explains Mamelak. (Whiteheads are closed comedones.) They’re also considered a form of noninflammatory acne.

Research shows that BHAs (beta hydroxy acids) like salicylic acid are effective at treating all kinds of acne — open comedones included. (Salicylic acid is also pretty dang good at reducing post-acne hyperpigmentation, too. Two birds, one stone!)

“[BHAs] work by gently exfoliating the surface of the skin,” explains Green. “Using salicylic acid frequently can prevent the buildup of dirt and oil in the hair follicles preventing blackheads.”

There are a bunch of diff ways you can add salicylic acid to your routine. You can mix and match a few of these, but proceed with caution if you have sensitive skin — using too many peeling agents can really irritate sensitive and dry skin.

Salicylic acid products to try

Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

  • Price: $$
  • Benefits: lightweight, nongreasy, contains green tea to soothe inflammation

CeraVe SA Cleanser

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque

  • Price: $
  • Benefits: inexpensive, contains glycerin and squalane for hydration

Remember: Clearing away dead skin cells is a major part of getting rid of blackheads. And alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic acid and lactic acid are superficial peeling agents (aka exfoliators) that have proven to do just that.

Clearing away dead skin cells does more than just reduce your chances of getting blackheads — it also makes way for brighter, smoother skin. Love that.

Something to keep in mind is that AHAs can cause irritation. You can reduce your chances of irritation a few diff ways:

  • Start slow. Use AHAs 1–2 times per week and increase as tolerated.
  • Avoid using BHAs (like salicylic acid) and retinoids at the same time as AHAs.
  • Try gentler AHAs like lactic acid.
  • Put moisturizer on before AHAs (this also makes them less effective).

AHA products to try

Paula’s Choice SKIN PERFECTING 8% AHA Gel Exfoliant

  • Price: $$
  • Benefits: glycolic acid exfoliation, contains soothing ingredients like chamomile, aloe, and panthenol (vitamin B5)

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA

  • Price: $
  • Benefits: lactic acid exfoliation, inexpensive, contains hyaluronic acid for hydration

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Anti-Aging Pore Minimizer Face Serum

  • Price: $$
  • Benefits: glycolic acid and salicylic acid exfoliation, contains hyaluronic acid for hydration

Biossance Squalane + Lactic Acid Resurfacing Night Serum

  • Price: $$$
  • Benefits: lactic acid exfoliation, contains squalane and glycerin for hydration

You’ve heard of retinol, but have you met retinoids?

The word “retinoid” is the umbrella term for alll of the vitamin A derivatives, including retinol, tretinoin, and adapalene.

Mamelak considers retinoids to be the first line of defense against acne, including blackheads. “They are powerful keratolytics, anti-inflammatory, decrease oil production, and normalize skin cell turnover in pores reducing their ability to clog pores,” he says. As a bonus, “they also have great anti-aging properties,” he adds.

So basically, Mamelak says they cover everything we need to get rid of blackheads and more. And science agrees. The FDA even approved a specific retinoid called adapalene for the treatment of acne.

You can get prescription strength retinoids from a dermatologist, but adapalene is now available over the counter too. Woot!

Retinoid products to try

Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1%

  • Price: $
  • Benefits: inexpensive, available over the counter

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment

  • Price: $$
  • Benefits: available over the counter

Niacinamide does not get enough hype. This ingredient helps improve skin hydration and smoothes out wrinkles, all while also reducing acne and curbing oil production. That means she can do wonders for helping get rid of and prevent future blackheads.

You can find niacinamide in all kinds of products, from toners to serums to moisturizers.

Niacinamide products to try

Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Pore-Reducing Toner

  • Price: $
  • Benefits: tones skin, contains hyaluronic acid and ceramides for hydration, and chamomile to soothe skin

The Ordinary Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% Oil Control Serum

La Roche-Posay Toleriane Double Repair Face Moisturizer

  • Price: $
  • Benefits: contains ceramides and glycerin for hydration

Clay minerals are like scavengers for oil and dirt. They help open up pores and and stimulate secretion (aka they loosen that sh*t right up).

Research has also found that Dead Sea clay mud has antimicrobial benefits and can even help kill the bacteria that causes acne (P. acnes).

Clay mask products to try

Good Juju Herbal Dead Sea Clay Mask

  • Price: $
  • Benefits: Dead Sea clay, inexpensive

Kiehl’s Rare Earth Deep Pore Minimizing Cleansing Clay Mask

  • Price: $$
  • Benefits: Dead Sea clay, contains soothing ingredients like aloe and vitamin E

For an alternative to chemical exfoliants, try using a skin brush. Sonic brushes use gentle vibrations (think: Sonicare toothbrushes) to scoop up excess dirt and oil, while also helping your cleanser penetrate deeper.

Research supports their use, finding that they help reduce inflammatory *and* noninflammatory acne lesions (that’s blackheads, ppl!) and improve skin condition. Other research finds that they’re an ideal way to cleanse deeply without removing too much sebum, which can cause more skin imbalances and skin barrier dysfunction.

Mamelak says he likes them as a complement to a personalized regimen, along with masks, peels, and facials.

Facial brush products to try

PMD Clean

  • Price: $$$
  • Benefits: silicone brush head never needs to be replaced, fully waterproof, multiple vibration settings

Soniclear Petite

  • Price: $$$
  • Benefits: rechargeable battery, fully waterproof, multiple vibration settings

Makeup and heavy moisturizers and oils can be comedogenic, meaning they tend to clog pores. Rude much?

Luckily, there are certain ingredients you can avoid, and most brands that go the extra effort to avoid these ingredients will list “noncomedogenic” on its product description and/or packaging.

Here are some of the worst offenders, according to an older study:

  • isopropyl myristate
  • isopropyl palmitate
  • isopropyl isostearate
  • butyl stearate
  • isostearyl neopentanoate
  • myristyl myristate
  • decyl oleate
  • octyl stearate
  • octyl palmitate
  • isocetyl stearate
  • propylene glycol-2 (PPG-2) myristyl propionate
  • Acetylated lanolins
  • Ethoxylated lanolins
  • D & C Red dyes (more common in makeup)

tl;dr: Look for the term “noncomedogenic” on makeup, moisturizers, and serums to ensure your skin care routine isn’t working against you.

Noncomedogenic products to try

La Roche Posay Effaclar Mat Anti-Shine Face Moisturizer for Oily Skin

  • Price: $$
  • Benefits: contains salicylic acid, mattifies oily skin

EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46

  • Price: $$
  • Benefits: contains niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, lactic acid, and SPF to hydrate, gently exfoliate, and protect skin from UV damage

Bare Minerals Complexion Rescue Tinted Moisturizer

  • Price: $$
  • Benefits: lightweight coverage, contains hyaluronic acid to hydrate and SPF to protect skin from UV damage

Lancome Teint Idole Ultra 24H Long Wear Foundation

  • Price: $$
  • Benefits: full coverage, mattifies oily skin

We don’t know who needs to hear this, but sleeping in makeup is a bad habit — and may be to blame for all sorts of skin issues, including blackheads.

When you leave your makeup on at night, then press your face into a pillow, it can “block pores, allowing oil and sebum to build up,” says Mamelak.

Of all the ways to treat blackheads, this is the easiest one.

Makeup removers to try

La Roche-Posay Micellar Water Ultra

  • Price: $
  • Benefits: noncomedogenic, good for sensitive skin, hydrating

Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water

  • Price: $
  • Benefits: noncomedogenic, works on waterproof makeup, inexpensive

Burt’s Bees Facial Cleansing Makeup Remover Towelettes with Rose Water

  • Price: $
  • Benefits: noncomedogenic, inexpensive, contains alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)

There’s a lot of info out there from TikTok influencers and random people on the internet. (Trust us, we know how hard it can be to resist trying a recommendation from someone who has an amazing “before and after” compilation.)

But some products just don’t have any evidence behind them and aren’t worth your time.

Benzoyl peroxide

This might come as a shock, but hear us out. Remember when we said that blackheads are a form of noninflammatory acne? Well benzoyl peroxide is a proven treatment for inflammatory acne, not noninflammatory acne.

“Using benzoyl peroxide won’t work well for removing your blackheads, as benzoyl peroxide works on inflammation or bacteria that causes inflammation,” says Green.

So while the stuff can work wonders on pimples, pustules, and nodules, it’s a no go for blackheads.

Charcoal

Some people swear by charcoal masks, saying they work similar to clay and draw out all the gross stuff in your pores and loosen up blackheads. But unfortunately, there’s literally no evidence supporting that yet. We’re sorry.

Again, some products and methods get a LOT of hype online, but that doesn’t mean they’re the best option for your skin. Some at-home extraction methods are too abrasive, stripping your skin of more than just the stubborn blackheads you’re trying to get rid of.

Pore strips

These strips work like a bandage, allowing you to literally pull dead skin and sebum off of your face. And while seeing the little blackheads on the strip is satisfying AF, they’re also pretty hard on your skin.

“Strips typically use a polymer resin that get activated and binds to the dead skin cells, sebum, and oil,” he explains. “The resins have been known to cause skin irritation and even allergic reactions.”

Pore vacuums

Once only available to the pros, vacuum suction tools to excavate pores are now available to the rest of us.

“Vacuum tools use suction to evacuate the dead skin cells and sebum in the blackheads,” says Mamelak. “They can create significant suction, which could be helpful with stubborn blackheads but also cause pain, bruising, and broken blood vessels in the treated area.”

So while yes, pore vacuums can be an effective temporary solution for getting rid of blackheads, they can also cause a lot of bad side effects if you aren’t trained in using them. We recommend leaving this one to the professionals.

Harsh scrubs

Gone are the days of using harsh scrubs to exfoliate your face. Instead, look for chemical exfoliators like BHAs and AHAs. These are a gentler alternative that (with proper use) won’t cause irritation and strip your skin of oils it needs.

Squeezing and/or picking

Mamelak knows you’ll be tempted, but resist the urge! (Seriously.) “Home extractions can damage the skin, lead to scarring and — worse — cause additional breakouts by spreading oil and bacteria to other areas of the skin.”

When it comes to extractions, you’ll want to leave the sharp instruments and pore vacuums to the trained medical professionals.

A dermatologist can safely use sterile tools to remove whiteheads and blackheads, but “you should never attempt to do your own extractions,” cautions Mamelak. “Attempting to do your own extractions can cause skin infections, scarring, or irritation.”

If your blackheads are relentless despite trying many of the tricks and tips here, reach out to your dermatologist or schedule a facial or treatment.

“Facials are very effective in treating blackheads,” says Mamelak. There are a bunch of different kinds of facials and treatments — like chemical peels — that can help.

As an example, hydrafacials are like a wet-dry vac for your pores, and Green says they work great for exfoliating blackheads. They use “a medical-grade hydra-dermabrasion device which cleanses, exfoliates, and infuses serums,” all in one, she explains.

Talk with your dermatologist or find a licensed aesthetician in your area who can perform them (and ask to see the gunk that’s pulled out of your pores!).