By Caroline Shannon-Karasik
Updated: May 09, 2019 @ 12:50 pm
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You wouldn't be alone if you said your best method for blackhead removal is a tissue, your two fingers, and an up-close-and-personal mirror. 

But, let's be honest: It's not exactly the best method and I — ahem, you — know that, right? So what exactly is the key to wiping out those clogged pores once and for all? Well, Dr. Ranella Hirsch, a Boston-based dermatologist, says the key to managing and preventing blackheads is first understanding exactly what they are

Here's the gist: Hirsch says a pore is the skin’s opening into the follicle where the skin produces oil and sebum. From there, sloughed off skin debris and also certain bacteria which live within or on the skin can cause a pore to become clogged. "It may sound gross, but it's normal," Hirsch says. 

In the end, the result of a pore or hair follicle that's jammed with oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria is technically called a comedo. While a closed comedo would cause a whitehead, Hirsch says it's an open comedo that is exposed to air and takes on the appearance of a blackhead.

So now that you have the 411 on what exactly a blackhead is, it only seems appropriate to give you the scoop on how to get rid of them for good. Here are some of the best tips to actually get rid of blackheads, straight from the experts.

VIDEO: 7 Acne Serums That Will Treat a Pimple Before It Surfaces

Try Salicylic Acid

Hirsch calls salicylic acid a "perennial derm favorite" when it comes to choosing a solid over-the-counter product that will wipe out blackheads. Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid (BHA), making it soluble in oil and better able to penetrate a pore to break up debris.

"It also helps clear out the oil and is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties, all three of which are extremely helpful when trying to prevent a comedogenic breakout," Hirsch says.

Over-the-counter products with salicylic acid include Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant and Biore Blemish Fighting Ice Cleanser.

Consider an At-Home Exfoliation Brush

Dr. Tina S. Alster, director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery, says she favors a Clarisonic Cleansing Brush for exfoliating while in the shower. "The sonic action of the brush gently unclogs pores and loosens — or prevents — blackheads," she says.

Rely on a Retinoid

Retinoids are powerful exfoliators that directly help to unclog pores and reduce the production of oil, as well as the volume of acne-causing bacteria, Hirsch says.

She does caution, however: "With any retinoid product, taking it slow is key. It is the capability of any product to be irritating, but particularly one that is absorbed as well as retinoids are."

For some people, Hirsch says, that might mean twice-weekly applications of the tiniest amount possible before bedtime. "You can test if you have used too much by applying a tissue to your face right after," she says. "If the tissue sticks, you’ve used too much — that little amount will get you places."

Retinoids can be found in over-the-counter formulas (like Differin Adapalene Gel and The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 0.2% in Squalane), as well as in a prescription from your dermatologist.

Try an Enzyme Exfoliator Peel

If you want to thwart blackheads while also smelling pretty amazing, Hirsch recommends an enzyme exfoliator peel, which typically includes ingredients like papaya and pineapple. Try Natropathica's Pumpkin Purifying Enzyme Peel or Amorepacific Treatment Enzyme Peel Cleansing Powder for a relaxing, blackhead-clearing night at home.

RELATED: The Most Satisfying Pore Strips on the Market

Read Labels

If you have blackheads to tackle, Hirsch recommends looking for the words non-comedogenic on all of your skincare labels. Those two little words mean you're treating your skin to ingredients that won't cause blocked pores, therefore leading to blackheads and breakouts.

Wash Your Face Before Bed

One of your number one methods for avoiding blackheads? "Remove all traces of makeup prior to going to bed at night," Alster says. "Makeup and dirt clog pores and create blackheads."

Visit Your Doc

If you can't seem to get to the bottom of your blackheads (or any skin issue, for that matter), then Hirsch recommends you pay a visit to your dermatologist. "In the office, we have multiple options including physician-only strength peels and prescription medications, as well as laser technologies to help with resurfacing."

Because some issues really are better left to the professionals.

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