Blackheads and whiteheads can be a frustrating problem that you can’t seem to get rid of no matter how hard you try. Scrubbing them can only make them worse, so what can you do?
Plenty, as it turns out.
“In order to deal with blackheads and whiteheads effectively, you need to understand what causes them,” says Dr. Susanne Lockhart, a board-certified dermatologist at North Texas Dermatology Richardson and North Texas Dermatology Plano, a part of U.S. Dermatology Partners.
“Blackheads are basically just open hair follicles that have become clogged by skin debris, sebum oil, and bacteria. Whiteheads are similar, but they are enclosed inside the pore, which can make them much more difficult to get rid of.”
However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Here’s a look at ways to get rid of both.
7 Ways to Battle Blackheads and Whiteheads
Blackheads are the result of the skin producing too much oil. While it’s a natural reaction to want to over-wash the problem area or try scrubbing them away, that actually isn’t helpful. In fact, it will just dry out your skin and encourage even more oil production, making the problem worse.
Dr. Lockhart recommends the following methods to alleviate blackheads and whiteheads:
No. 1: Use a Topical Retinoid
If you aren’t familiar with retinoids, you’re missing out. Retinoids are made from vitamin A and can help unclog pores — plus they have the added bonus of boosting your collagen production, which will help smooth fine lines.
“They speed up cell production, and you can see dramatic results in just a few weeks,” Dr. Lockhart says. A dermatologist can help determine which prescription retinoid is right for you.
No. 2: Try a Little Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil has antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties, so it’s perfect for helping unblock those clogged pores. Be sure to use a product that uses a diluted formula, rather than applying the full-strength oil to your face since it can be too harsh for your skin. You may also look for cleansers or masks containing tea tree oil.
No. 3: Put on Salicylic Acid
Salicylic acid is found in a number of over-the-counter products, and it can help dissolve what is trapped in your pores. It decreases oil production and is a great tool for prevention.
“This can be a good long-term solution for people who have recurring problems with blackheads and whiteheads,” Dr. Lockhart says. “I always recommend a product they can leave on for a longer period of time because it gives the salicylic acid more time to work.”
No. 4: Exfoliate — But Do it Gently
The mistake that many people make when cleaning their skin is that they scrub it too hard. Using an abrasive formula and applying too much pressure will do more harm than good.
“There are many gentle formulas you can use that will help slough away those dead skin cells and improve the appearance of your skin,” Dr. Lockhart says. “The key is to find one that is gentle and isn’t going to dry out your skin.”
She recommends only exfoliating a few times a week, not daily, to achieve the best results.
No. 5: Change Your Makeup
Since blackheads and whiteheads are caused by clogged skin, you want to avoid creating a situation that helps clog them even more. While you might use makeup to conceal your breakouts, it could be contributing to the problem.
She says to look for a liquid foundation with medicated ingredients that are specifically made for people with acne. Another option is to switch to a non-comedogenic mineral-based makeup, which should help your skin heal at the same time it provides coverage. (Wash your makeup brushes and sponges regularly to make sure they aren’t harboring bacteria.)
And, once you’ve found the right makeup, be sure you’re taking it off every night and cleansing your face properly.
“Sleeping in your makeup is only going to contribute to the likelihood of blackheads and whiteheads recurring,” Dr. Lockhart says. “Make sure you’re using a great makeup remover and following that up with a cleanser for best results.”
No. 6: Get Professional Help
Your dermatologist has many tools to help resolve problems with blackheads and whiteheads. He or she might advise another over-the-counter medication or may have a prescription product that is better suited to your individual needs.
“While both blackheads and whiteheads can be frustrating, they can be eliminated with the right treatment plan,” Dr. Lockhart says.
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