Blackheads : Causes, Symptoms, Prevention and Treatment

Those black colored small bumps that appear on our skin and many of you might have experienced them or have them are called Blackheads (of course, because of their surface which appears dark-colored or black colored).

Blackheads can be & I think it is a problem that affects almost every one of us at some stage and not just face but they can appear on other parts of the body such as the back, neck, arms, shoulders, and chest. If you are also struggling with blackheads and need a solution then we are here for you. In this article, we are going to share with you what are blackheads, their possible causes, and how you can treat them so, let us get started.

What are Blackheads?

Blackheads are nothing but clogged mild acne that gets stuck on the skin surface i.e., in the dermal layer of our skin. We get our skin color from the pigment called Melanin (made by our skin cells) the more the content of melanin the darker color of the skin.

Blackheads are you can say a derivative of melanin pigment they actually contain an oxidized version of pigment Melanin. You must be wondering how? Well, what happens is that our skin is made of different layers, and the superficial layer i.e., the dermal layer contains pores from which our hair grows.

Just below hair follicles lies sebaceous glands (that produce oil), these sebaceous glands produce Sebum. Skin pores get clogged because of hair follicles and sebum and when this sebum gets in contact with air; it gets oxidized thus leading to the formation of blackheads.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, nearly 50 million Americans are affected by acne and blackheads. As I mentioned earlier blackheads can appear at different parts of the body apart from the face such as neck, shoulders, arms & back as there are more hair follicles in these areas of the body.

What are Blackheads?

Blackheads are the small bumps on the skin you might see or feel them around the corner of the nose or below the lower lip or on your back. The following picture will help you in identifying blackheads:

What are Blackheads

What Causes Blackheads?

There can be more than one factor that causes blackheads. Let’s discuss them:

There are some factors that in one way or another increase the chance of developing blackheads while some factors can be the actual reason behind their formation.

The most common factor is clogged or plugged pores i.e., our skin has pores through which hair follicles grow plus our sebaceous glands secretes sebum oil through these which helps in making our skin soft.

Sometimes pores get clogged with an undeveloped hair follicle and sebum and when it gets in contact with air it gets oxidized thus becoming black i.e., the name suggests Blackheads.

Often these clogged pores are covered with cells thus forming whiteheads but if they are not covered, the air gets in and the pore gets oxidized then blackheads are formed.

Other factors such as age and hormonal changes also play an important role in blackhead formations. As you may have noticed that when a child hits puberty, they tend to get acne, pimples or boils, etc. although it’s not common with each person.

The secretion of Androgen i.e., male sex hormone increases during puberty which in turn triggers the secretion of sebum oil from our skin pores which one way or another leads to blackhead formation.

Also, hormonal changes in female i.e., hormonal changes related to puberty, menstruation, pregnancy or uses or birth control pills also contributes to blackhead formation. Sometimes overproduction of skin cells also causes blackheads.

Some minor factors that cause blackhead formation are:

  • Over usage of cosmetic or clothing which blocks our skin pores.
  • Too much sweating as it triggers our sebaceous glands to secrete more oil.
  • Excessive shaving or other skincare activities that open hair follicles.
  • High humidity or greasy/ dirty environment which makes skin pores to be covered by dirt or sweat.
  • Some health conditions that involve hormonal disbalance such as PCOS, Stress, or PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) or Menopause or Medications that lead to rapid skin cell formation or turnover.
  • Consumption or usage of steroid-based drugs e.g. corticosteroids, lithium or androgens, etc.
  • The buildup of Cutibacterium acnes.

What Are the Symptoms of Blackheads?

Blackheads are nothing but a type of mild acne that turns black when exposed to air giving them the name i.e., blackheads.

The most common symptoms of blackheads are the appearance of small black lesions or bumps on the skin they are very easy to spot on the skin. They are non-inflammatory, painless, and do not cause any discomfort.

If compared to pimples they are flatter but still possess little raised texture. Blackheads often lead to embarrassment or social & psychological difficulties in some because of the change of appearance.

Though people often confuse blackheads with sebaceous filaments they are two different things. Sebaceous filaments are similar to blackheads in appearance but if you look closely, they are flatter, smaller, and usually appear in the group.

The main function of sebaceous glands is to channel the flow of sebum through the pores.

Do’s and Don’ts to Prevent Blackheads

Most people manage and treat their blackheads at home without any dermatologist recommendation or consultation. Though it is okay to treat them at home we must be cautious as some activities or skincare routines can make blackheads worse than before or even trigger a more severe type of acne or pimple.

Do's and Don'ts to Prevent Blackheads

Regarding blackheads and its treatment, there are many contradictions, myths, or false practices; so I think it may be good for each one of us to see what is best for our skin or what helps us in treating blackheads in a promising way.

Let us get started then:

Do’s to Prevent Blackheads

The following are a few practices that you can follow to prevent blackheads.

1. Wash Regularly

Washing your face in the morning after you wake up and at night before going to bed is a simple skincare routine that everyone should follow as it helps to remove the oil build-up and dirt from the skin.

But it is also important to consider the fact that washing the face more than a twice a day or repeatedly with soap/ face wash can lead to dryness, irritation and may also worsen acne (if present) as it removes too much oil from the skin (oil secreted to keep our skin gentle).

Consider washing your face every day (twice a day) with a mild & gentle cleanser to avoid dry or skin inflammation. You can opt for some acne cleansing products also containing antibacterial ingredients.

Note: if you have an oily scalp then try to wash your every day too otherwise it might lead to clogged pores and also consider washing your face after eating something oily such as pizza or cheeseburger because the oil from these can also lead to clogged pores.

2. Cleansing

Cleansing your skin regularly is the most basic & important way to keep your skin happy. You can choose mild exfoliating products and cleansers to keep your skin clean i.e., dirt & oil-free.

An important thing to note is that buy products that are fragrance-free, does not contain any alcohol/parabens/SLS, and is suitable for your skin type whether you have dry, sensitive, oily, or combination skin.

The idea is to remove excess oil from the skin & decrease excessive oil production without having to cause any skin dryness, irritation, or redness because this may result in stimulating overproduction of oil which in turn will make it even worse.

You can choose and purchase products from online portals as well.

3. Use Oil-Free Products

As you have already understood the fact that too much oil can increase the chances of blackhead formation so it is suggestable to use products that don’t contain too much or any oil.

If you wish not to make your blackheads any worse than they already are than consider using oil-free products such as non-comedogenic makeup, lotions, skin cream & sunscreens.

4. Make-up and Cosmetics

Well, one way to keep your skin healthy & clean is the use of no or minimal makeup and that too only when it is required. Though if your daily routine requires you to put on makeup then go for the non-comedogenic products.

Unlike other make-up & cosmetics non-comedogenic products do not block/clog skin pores in fact they help to keep them open, clear and also reduces dead skin cell build-up. You can easily buy non-comedogenic products online to suit your skin.

5. Try An Exfoliating Product

Using exfoliating products such as scrubs and face masks helps removing dirt, excess oil, and dead skin cells from your face as well as body which ultimately helps in blackhead prevention.

You can choose to exfoliate your skin once or twice a week but make sure you don’t do it harshly or put in too much pressure otherwise it might lead to skin irritation & redness. Choose exfoliating products wisely and according to your skin to avoid any complication.

6. Underlying Conditions

If the person has other skin problems such as eczema or rosacea along with blackheads then they should consider treating them before the acne or blackheads. Such skin problems can cause hindrance in treating blackheads and make it bothersome.

Thus, any serious skin problem (if one has) should be treated beforehand because they might lead to improvements in the blackheads or acne.

7. Rest and Relaxation

Stress and not getting enough rest or sleep can be the reason behind blackhead because too much stress sometimes triggers the overproduction of sebum. Exercise, yoga & meditation can help to relieve stress.

[Doing things that you love also helps in relieving stress such as painting, dancing, craftwork, etc.]

8. Food

Although it is quite debatable and not yet proved scientifically that avoiding certain food such as pizza, fries or chocolates will or will not help you in blackhead reduction.

But consuming a healthy & well-balanced diet with enough amount of fresh fruits & vegetables is both necessary and beneficial for overall health. Also, it might help in reducing the risk of skin lesions or acne becoming infected with bacteria.

Don’ts for Blackheads

it is true that hormonal changes or triggers if I may say can make it difficult to avoid blackhead but there are some factors/practices that can make blackhead even worse. Let us know about them:

1. Squeezing

Most people try to treat blackheads by squeezing them but this is not recommendable as it can cause skin irritation. So, avoid squeezing blackheads even with metal blackhead remover (or hands).

2. Steaming

Though its true that steaming helps in opening blocked pores and it has also been recommended as a method to treat blackheads but there is no study or research that proves it right. While some people might find steaming helpful some people find it makes things even worse.

3. Scrubbing

This is also one of the most followed methods people use to treat blackheads but this can also make the problem even worse. Well, when you scrub your skin it removes sebum from the pores and in return, the sebaceous glands produce more sebum which can lead to more pore blockages, clogged pores, and risk of acne inflammation.

4. Removers

If you prefer using removal strips, masks or vacuums to prevent blackheads make sure to use it with caution as it can lead to skin damage and irritation.

5. Makeup and Cosmetics

Avoid makeups and skincare products containing too much oil as it might trigger blackhead formation.

6. Hydrogen Peroxide

Though this has been long recommended for acne treatment and also helps to reduce skin outbreaks it is also important to consider the fact that it can cause skin dryness and irritation. Other factors that need to be avoided are humid environments & tight clothes.

How are Blackheads Treated?

The following are the types of treatment that can be done to improve blackheads:

1. Over-the-counter (OTC) Treatments

This type of treatment includes the use of medications available in creams, facewash, gel & pad and they are to be pit directly on the skin. These medications generally contain ingredients such as Benzoyl peroxide, Salicylic Acid & Resorcinol.

When put directly on the skin these ingredients help reduce blackheads by killing the bacteria, drying/removing excess oil from the skin, and forcing the skin to shed off dead skin cells early.

Many of the acne medications containing these ingredients can be easily purchased from drug or grocery store can be purchased from online portals as well.

2. Prescription Medications

In case, If OTC treatment doesn’t work on your blackheads then your skin doctor i.e., a dermatologist will probably prescribe you a stronger medication to reduce your blackheads.

These stronger medications contain Vitamin A this helps by preventing plug to form in the hair follicle and stimulate rapid skin cell turnover. Other than Vitamin A these medications also contain ingredients like tretinoin, tazarotene or adapalene and like OTC treatment medication these are also applied directly on the skin.

In case you have pimples or acne along with blackheads then your doctor may prescribe you topical medications containing benzoyl peroxide and antibiotics.

3. Manual Removal

This procedure includes first making a small opening in the plug or clogged pore and then extracting it out by applying pressure with the help of a special instrument called round hoop extractor.

This should be done by only a Dermatologist or a specially trained skincare professional to avoid any mishappening.

4. Microdermabrasion

This treatment is also carried out only by a dermatologist or a skincare professional using a special instrument. This instrument contains a rough surface that sands the upper layers of skin this sheds/remove the clog that causes blackheads.

5. Chemical Peels

As its name suggests this treatment includes the application of a mild or strong chemical solution on the skin, allowing it to dry and then peeling it off the skin. When the chemical solution is peeled the top layers of skin come out reveling the smooth & clean skin underneath.

As I said chemical peels can be mild and strong, mild chemical peels are available as over-the-counter treatment while strong chemical should only be performed by a dermatologist or skilled skincare professional.

6. Laser and Light Therapy

In this treatment, blackheads are subjected to tiny beams of intense/strong light (laser and light beams) this reaches below the dermal layer and helps reduce blackheads by stimulating a decrease in oil production or by acne-causing bacteria. This treatment works on the root without causing any damage to top layers of skin.


Blackheads are small, bumpy, and black-colored lesions on the skin caused by clogged hair follicle & sebum which when comes in contact with air get oxidized giving blackheads their black color which gave them this name i.e., Blackheads. Blackheads are mild acne and can appear on the face, neck, shoulders, or arms.

One of the most basic and important ways to keep your skin healthy and blackheads free is washing it twice a day, keeping it clean thoroughly, cleansing with products suitable for skin types, and avoiding products, clothes, or food that triggers blackhead formation.

There are various home treatments and professional methods one can follow to treat blackheads.

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