We've all been there before. A strange new freckle seems to have appeared on your face out of nowhere. But as you lean towards the mirror for further inspection, you realize you've made a misdiagnosis it's a blackhead: the notorious cousin of the standard red and white zits that plague nearly every upright mammal on earth.
This seems like a quick fix, so you squeeze that sucker like a stress ball. But alas, you’re left with inflamed skin and a half-unclogged pore. We understand how tempting it is to pick and pop the gunk out of your face. But before you embark on a blackhead busting binge session, you need the full, science-backed scoop on what these things are and how to banish them—for good.
Whether you have one pesky blackhead or a goldmine of clogged pores, this article is going to be your saving grace.
What are Blackheads?
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, a blackhead is a pore that has become clogged with oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria. Sounds a lot like a normal zit, but why does it turn black?
It turns black because [the clogged pore] is exposed to oxygen and it oxidizes," explains board-certified dermatologist Sandra "Dr. Pimple Popper" Lee, MD.
Blackheads are technically called “open comedones” (a whitehead is a closed comedone). The recipe for blackheads is a buildup of sebum, P. Acnes bacteria, and inflammation inside an open hair follicle, resulting in a sticky, earwax-like substance lodged in the depths of your skin. And if you’re wondering why blackheads always pop up on your face, back, neck, and shoulders, it’s because those areas of your body have more hair follicles.
What Causes Blackheads?
Blackheads are like termites: every time you exterminate a couple of them, they come back in droves. So, how can you get to the root of the problem, (or the root of your blackheads)?
Contrary to what your mom, girlfriend, or favorite beauty influencer told you, blackheads are not usually caused by a filthy face. This is a common misconception since blackheads look like dirt lodged in your pores. If you’re scrubbing your face like a madman and not seeing any results, now you know why.
The source of blackheads is complicated—dermatologists can’t even agree on a definitive answer, but we do have some clues:
Hormones: Androgen, the male sex hormone, triggers excess sebum (oil) which settles in dudes’ pores, crystalizing into whiteheads and blackheads.
Environment: If you live somewhere humid and you’re constantly drenched in sweat, your pores get a steady dose of one blackheads’ main ingredients.
Excessive sweat: Been hitting the gym extra hard? Boss refuse to turn on the AC at the office? Constantly falling victim to the meat sweats? Even if you wash up regularly (which most guys don't), sweat saturates your pores over time, potentially causing blackheads.
Genetics: Some dudes are straight up bred to develop blackheads. Just like people’s heights and hair colors vary, so do their levels of oil and how their body processes it.
How to Get Rid of Blackheads
Your gut instinct is to squeeze the hell out of blackheads. But if you think digging black gunk out of your pores with your fingers like a caveman is the smartest way to get rid of blackheads, boy do we have news for you. Spoiler alert: getting rid of blackheads has more to do with daily prevention than quick fixes.
To spare you from the infinite and often contradictory advice online, we distilled our research into a three-step daily skin care routine easy enough for a fourth grader to follow. Here it is:
- Wash. Gently scrub (don’t annihilate) your face with an oil-free facial cleanser. Trade that barbaric bar soap for a legit facial soap. Strapped for time? These face wipes or show-on-the-go wipes should do the trick.
- Exfoliate. You can break up the blackhead-inducing blockage with an exfoliating scrub or facial brush. Either of these tools can help you shed the dead skin that gets wedged in your pores
- Moisturize. Keeping your skin moisturized is an essential step for warding off blackheads, even if you’re an acne-prone dude. It helps maintain your skin’s balance and promotes exfoliation.
If you don’t see any progress after a few weeks, you might want to call up a dermatologist. He or she can write you a prescription for acne medication or professionally remove blackheads with fancy, sterile equipment, not grimy hands.
These tips may not be as satisfying as the immediate gratification of popping a blackhead, as you can see its much better to play the long game to keep your grill looking fresh.