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What Are Blackheads and Why Do I Have Them?

We try hard to keep our skin clean and clear but, for some of us, it can feel like a never-ending battle. Blackheads are a common problem that most of us have no doubt faced at some point in our lives – especially during our teen years. But what exactly are blackheads, and what causes them? And why does one person have so many when another person’s skin is nice and clear? Let’s dive into these questions and more, getting to grips with blackheads and how to defeat them for good.


What are blackheads?

How do blackheads form?

What causes blackheads?

How to get rid of blackheads

How to prevent blackheads

What are blackheads?

You’ve probably had them and you’ve probably seen them on other people. Blackheads are a common problem, especially among teenagers. They are the little black bumps that can appear on your skin. They are a type of acne, but the most minor type of acne you can get, although they can appear in conjunction with more severe acne.

Blackheads are the result of a blocked pore or hair follicle. You might associate blackheads with appearing on the face, but you can actually get blackheads all over your body, anywhere one of your approximately 5 million hair follicles are located.

They most commonly appear on your T-Zone (the area of your face across the forehead and down the nose) because this is where our skin produces the most oil. You might also see them on your back, arms, chest, and backside.

How do blackheads form?

Each of those 5 million hair follicles contains a single hair and a sebaceous gland. These glands produce an oil called sebum. This oil does serve a purpose – to help keep your skin looking and feeling soft – but it can also cause problems when it’s produced in excess.

Occasionally, your hair follicles can get blocked by debris – think bacteria and all those microscopic skin cells we’re constantly shedding. When this debris mixes with the oil produced by your sebaceous gland, it clogs up your pore, producing the bump that is typical of blackheads.

At this point, one of two things can happen. If the clogged follicle remains closed, the bump will appear white – known as a whitehead. If it opens up, then it gets exposed to the air resulting in a process called oxidation. The sebum contains melanin pigment – the thing that lets us get a suntan. Oxidation of this pigment causes the blocked pore to darken, leading to a blackhead and the black or grey colour associated with them.

What causes blackheads?

You might often ask yourself “why do I have so many blackheads?” For the most part, blackheads occur when your pores are producing excess sebum or oil. With more oil coming from your pores, they are more likely to become clogged.

While there’s no single cause for blackheads and excess sebum, there are a number of factors that can make these things more likely.

Hormonal changes

Sudden hormonal changes can lead to an increase in sebum production. This is why most teenagers get blackheads, because their bodies start producing more hormones when they hit puberty. Other times you might experience these hormonal changes include:

  • During pregnancy
  • Before and during menstruation
  • When taking birth control pills or other medications that alter hormonal balance
Genetics

Unfortunately, there’s at least one factor that you can’t do anything about – your genetics. Some people are simply more prone to getting breakouts and blackheads, while others have naturally oily skin that can increase the likelihood of blackheads. Your parents may have had bad acne and passed this trait down to you.

What you eat

It’s often debated whether our diet contributes to bad skin. While there hasn’t been any conclusive evidence either way, some people believe that diets high in sugar and greasy foods make you more prone to breakouts and blackheads.

What you put on your skin

If your instinct is to cover your blackheads with makeup, then you could be making the issue worse. Makeup can also clog your pores, making blackheads more likely and more noticeable as it worsens the inflammation. Greasy, oil-based makeup products should especially be avoided if your skin is prone to breaking out.

Bad hygiene

Usually, blackheads are not as simple as needing to wash your face more. But if you don’t wash your face daily, then the build-up of oil on your skin will be greater. This doesn’t mean you should be constantly scrubbing your face, as this can do more harm than good. Washing your face each morning and night should be enough. If your hair gets greasy, then this can also make blackheads more likely if your hair comes in contact with your face.

How to get rid of blackheads

Now comes the big question – to squeeze or not to squeeze?

If you hate the way blackheads look when you’re suffering from a breakout, you might be tempted to try squeezing and scratching them away. Maybe you’ve even done it before with successful results, making your skin look instantly clearer. It’s certainly not beneficial in the long run, though.

Squeezing your blackheads can damage your skin cells, making your pores larger. This will make your pores more noticeable and will also make blackheads worse when they appear again. In more severe cases, it can even lead to infection and scarring. Doing this can also create more blackheads as you extract all the oil and bacteria from the blackhead and spread it to other parts of your face.

So, if taking them into your own hands doesn’t work, how can you get rid of blackheads?

Apply topical products

Applying a topical product to the affected area can be extremely effective at treating blackheads. Look especially for products containing benzoyl peroxide, which is good at killing the bacteria within the blackhead, and salicylic acid, which helps to thoroughly clean out the pore. These products should be used daily to treat blackheads.

Here are some of Proactiv’s products that can help you clear and prevent blackheads:

Blackhead Dissolving Gel Pore Targeting Solution Daily Oil Control Skin Purifying Mask

Dermatologist treatments

Although we don’t recommend trying to extract your blackheads yourself, a dermatologist may be able to do so safely and effectively. They have special tools to extract the blackhead, and they know how to treat the skin without causing any damage.

Other treatments that can help include:

  • Laser therapy
  • Chemical peels
  • Microdermabrasion

How to prevent blackheads

They say that prevention is the best cure, so let’s look at ways you can prevent blackheads from coming back, rather than having to fight fires every time they appear at the most inopportune moments.

Wash, but don’t over wash

It might be counterintuitive, but you shouldn’t wash your face too much in order to prevent blackheads. Scrubbing your skin too hard can cause damage and inflammation that can worsen blackheads. If you wash too often, then you’re likely to dry out your skin. In response to this, your glands will produce more oil to try to moisten and soften your skin again, which can lead to more blackheads forming. Wash your face gently, morning and night to keep bacteria and oil at bay.

Avoid oil-based products

As we mentioned earlier, oil-based makeup and other cosmetics may make you more prone to blackheads due to the increase of oil on your skin. Try to stick to water-based products and let your skin breathe regularly by always removing your makeup before bed and trying to wear less makeup in general.

Use gentle skin products regularly

Products that help eliminate blackheads shouldn’t just be used during a breakout. If you continue to use the right products on a regular basis, such as those suggested above, then you’ll help to keep excess oil and blackheads at bay. Moisturising and exfoliating your skin can make a big difference. Choose gentle products that are kind to your skin rather than ones that are too harsh.

Shower after exercise

During exercise, the sweat your body produces can leave a lot of oil and bacteria behind on your skin. This doesn’t mean you should avoid exercise, but make sure you shower afterwards to rinse away that sweat and bacteria.

Are you ready to say goodbye to blackheads? Armed with the knowledge from this article and an effective skincare regime, you’ll put yourself in the best position to battle problem skin one blackhead at a time.

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