How to Get Rid of Blackheads Without Picking at Your Skin

There are better ways to remove them.

SEO: Getting Rid of Blackheads
Photo: Getty Images

You wouldn't be alone if you said your best method for removing blackheads from your nose is by using a tissue, your two fingers, and an up-close-and-personal mirror.

But let's be honest: While picking away at blackheads can be oddly satisfying, it's not the best way to rid of them. Using your fingers can lead to inflammation, hyperpigmentation, and scarring.

So, what is the proper way to clear those clogged pores once and for all? Two top dermatologists share their sound advice on how to get rid of blackheads and prevent them in the first place.

What Is a Blackhead?

Dr. Ranella Hirsch, a board-certified dermatologist in Boston, says the key to managing and preventing blackheads is by first understanding what they are.

Here's the gist: Dr. 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," she adds.

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, Dr. Hirsch says it's an open comedo that's exposed to air and takes on the appearance of a blackhead. Blackheads typically develop on the oiliest areas of the face, including the forehead, nose, and chin — also known as the T-zone.

How to Prevent Blackheads:

One of the best methods for preventing blackheads is to simply wash your face at the end of the day. "Remove all traces of makeup prior to going to bed at night," says Dr. Tina S. Alster, a board-certified dermatologist and director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery. "Makeup and dirt clog pores and create blackheads."

Aside from keeping your skin clean, it's also important to keep it hydrated. Dr. 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.

Dr. Tracey Evans, a board-certified dermatologist and medical director of Pacific Skin and Cosmetic Dermatology, adds that medications that control the oil production in your skin and encourage skin cells to turn over [like retinoids] are also very helpful in preventing blackheads.

How to Get Rid of Blackheads:

There are several in-office treatment options a dermatologist may suggest. All of them are relatively painless and have little to no downtime.

  • Hydrafacials: Dr. Evans says that this facial treatment can "really loosen sebum and help to clear blackheads over time" — without drying out the skin.
  • Chemical Peels: Medical-grade AHAs and BHAs can exfoliate skin and clear pores of excess buildup. The treatment can also help with hyperpigmentation.
  • Clear & Brilliant Laser: This gentle laser treatment can reduce large pores, dark spots, and acne scars.

How to Get Rid of Blackheads At Home:

The at-home ways to treat blackheads include using active ingredients found in selectf topical products, from face masks to liquid exfoliants.

  • Salicylic Acid: Dr. Hirsch calls salicylic acid (SA) a "perennial dermatologist favorite" when it comes to over-the-counter products that will wipe out blackheads. SA is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) that penetrates through the deep ayers of the skin to unclog pores, break up debris, and control the production of excess sebum. It is also believed to have anti-inflammatory properties to soothe the skin.
  • Retinoids: The derivative of vitamin A promotes skin cell turnover, which in turn will unclog pores and reduce the production of oil. Dr. Hirsch says it will also minimize the volume of acne-causing bacteria. When using retinoids, it's best to start off slow because it can cause irritation. Retinoids can be found in both prescription and over-the-counter products.
  • Enzyme Exfoliating Peel: Dr. Hirsch recommends an at-home enzyme exfoliating peel, which typically includes ingredients like papaya and pineapple. Enzymes dissolve dead skin cells, support cell renewal, and soften texture.

VIDEO: Double Cleansing Is the Foolproof Way to Really Get All of Your Makeup Off

When to See a Dermatologist About Blackheads:

If you can't seem to get to the bottom of your blackheads (or any skin issue, for that matter), then Dr. Hirsch recommends going to see 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."

Updated by
Omenaa Boakye
Omenaa Boakye is a fashion and beauty writer and editor from the UK. Her byline has appeared in The London Times, Stylist, Brides, BET, and InStyle, amongst others.
Erin Lukas

Erin is a Brooklyn-based beauty editor and has been with InStyle since 2016. She covers all facets of beauty for the site.

Related Articles