When blackheads occur, is your first inclination to self-extract or use a pore strip? If your answer is yes, perhaps you are unaware of the benefits of exfoliating to help remove blackheads.
The proper term for blackheads is open comedones and they begin to develop in the skin when the sebaceous glands produce too much oil and accumulate in the hair follicle. When the buildup of oil in the pores is exposed to oxygen, it turns black, hence the name ‘blackhead.’ It is imperative to exfoliate in order to reduce oil buildup and thus prevent blackhead eruption.
Two Ways To Exfoliate
There are two ways to exfoliate: mechanically and chemically. Mechanical exfoliation refers to the physical removal of dead skin cells. Examples of mechanical exfoliants are face scrubs, facial brushes, washcloths—basically when you are manually “scrubbing” away dead skin cells and debris. Chemical forms of exfoliationinclude skin care products—particularly cleansers—that contain chemical exfoliants to help dissolve or loosen up dead surface cells, debris and oil. Examples of chemical exfoliants are alpha hydroxy acids, beta hydroxy acids and enzymes (fruit-based enzymes such as papaya or pineapple). Alpha hydroxy acids include glycolic acid and lactic acid. Beta hydroxy acids include salicylic acid.
Any method of exfoliation will help reduce blackheads, but the best way to accomplish this is to implement both mechanical and chemical exfoliation (but not simultaneously). For instance, once a week mechanically exfoliate your skin. Two other days of the week, use a cleanser that contains salicylic acid, which specifically targets comedonal acne. In fact, there are a plethora of skin care products that are marketed to combat blackheads due to their inclusion of salicylic acid.
Combine Exfoliation and Salicylic Acid
Mechanical exfoliation in conjunction with salicylic acid is a powerful strategy for combating blackheads because the skin is reaping the benefits of physical removal of dead skin cells while the power of salicylic acid gets deep into the pores, loosening and dissolving excess oil and debris. Consistent use of mechanical exfoliation and salicylic acid will help reduce excessive oil and debris production, thereby keeping blackheads at bay. However, if you also struggle with inflamed acne, avoid all methods of mechanical exfoliation as they are too abrasive for non-comedonal (cystic, pustular, papular) acne and will only exacerbation the inflammation. It is best to stick with chemical forms of exfoliation only.
Too much of a good thing can go wrong, so resist the urge to over-exfoliate. Exfoliating more than three times a week is overboard, so limit it to two to three times a week tops. In fact, over-exfoliating can actually cause more blackheads since the sebaceous glands will produce additional oil to compensate for the excess stripping of natural oils. When this happens, the protective lipid barrier is weakened and the moisture balance is disrupted.
If you struggle with a moderate to severe case of open comedonal acne, seek the help of a Licensed Esthetician at a reputable salon or spa. They are properly trained to perform extractions without compromising the skin’s integrity. (It is extremely important that you do not attempt to extract blackheads yourself; you run the risk of permanently scarring your skin.) An esthetician will know which treatment and type of exfoliation your skin needs, and how often your skin needs care. Moreover, your esthetician will recommend products for you to implement in your home skin care regimen to maintain the prevention and reduction of blackheads.
Let’s face it: everyone gets blackheads from time to time, but they do not have to be a struggle in your life. If you exfoliate regularly in addition to using skin care products that are suitable for your skin type, you are bound to achieve clear, beautiful skin. Bye bye blackheads!
Lee Ann Buttery is a Licensed Esthetician and Professional Makeup Artist that works for Mario Badescu Skin Care. She is passionate about all things beauty-related and has a particular obsession with anti-aging.