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What Are Blackheads & How to Treat Them

Blackheads — we meet again. And again. And again. Frustrating but ultimately harmless, they’re repeat offenders that come out of nowhere to end a good skin day before it starts. And forget trying to remove a blackhead without turning your skin red and angry, since going the DIY route can only make matters worse. Fortunately, there’s a light at the end of the skin care tunnel: Once you learn how to get rid of blackheads and prevent them from forming, they can be surprisingly easy to deal with. With this blackhead removal guide, you’ll be in the clear and ready to get your glow on in no time.

What Are Blackheads?

First, let’s talk about pores, which is where blackheads start. “Pores are the opening of the pilosebaceous unit, or the hair and oil gland,” says Michele Farber, MD, a dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City. “They help regulate moisture by depositing sebum, or oil, to help protect the skin from the environment.” 

Within this important opening in the skin, sebum and dead skin cells can pile up, eventually forming a clogged pore or “plug.” And when this combo of debris is open to the air, the oxygen then oxidizes it — thus turning it black. (For that reason, blackheads are also known as open comedones.)

Blackheads are a form of acne, but unlike cysts, papules, and pustules, there’s no inflammation or P. Acnes bacteria involved in their formation. So, on the bright side, there’s not usually a ton of swelling or redness around blackheads. (Not sure what type of acne you’re dealing with? No sweat: We have a handy guide to help you tell the difference.)

What Causes Blackheads?

Blackheads can happen to anyone, but depending on your skin type — whether you produce more sebum or have dead skin cells to create those plugs, for instance — you may be more likely to get them. “For oily or acne-prone skin, oil glands become clogged and appear as blackheads or whiteheads,” Dr. Farber says. 

Blackheads are not caused by poor hygiene, since dirt isn’t usually involved in the formation of blackheads. (That being said, dirt doesn’t help matters, and cleansing is always a good idea no matter what your skin concern may be.)

How to Remove and Treat Blackheads

Blackheads do go away naturally, but that can take a long time (we’re talking several weeks or even months). To remove them faster, just make sure you’re doing it the right way.

Your first step to dealing with blackheads is to eliminate dead skin cells. A good way to start that is with a beta hydroxy acid, or BHA, which you can use “to spot treat,” says esthetician Ava Lemons. “It’s oil-soluble, so it will be able to break up excess oil.” Its oil-soluble composition also means that BHA has the unique ability to dive deep into pores, working on blackheads from the inside out. That’s why you can find it in the Watermelon Glow Pore-Tight Toner, which harnesses willow bark (a natural, gentler source of BHAs) to keep pores clean and tight while softening skin.

The acids don’t stop there. “Gentle exfoliation with alpha-hydroxy acids also helps remove excess debris and oil to keep skin clear,” says Dr. Farber. Also known as AHAs, they slough away the layer of dead skin cells that can form on your skin, potentially getting into pores and thus causing blackheads. They’re a mainstay in the Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask, which nourishes skin and refines pores while you snooze. Together, BHAs and AHAs offer a one-two punch of pore-clearing power, making it the ideal combo for treating existing blackheads.

Extractions 101

A word of warning: Unless you’re a professional, manually poking and squeezing your skin can potentially create more trauma to the area, which could lead to inflammation there. Sure, you might remove your blackhead — but you might also cause redness and scarring, too. So proceed with caution!

Make the process easier on your skin (and yourself) by prepping your skin properly before you start squeezing. A double cleanse with an oil-based cleanser, such as Papaya Sorbet Enzyme Cleansing Balm, and a foaming cleanser, like Blueberry Bounce, can help soften the plug. Gently massage in the oil-based cleanser, since the manual touch can help loosen it up — ultimately making it easier to remove.

You can follow that up with the Watermelon Glow Toner and Mask, both of which contain acids to further soften your blackheads. Then, gently squeeze it with your two index fingers wrapped in tissue (skip the extraction tools, which are hard to sterilize and can inflict too much damage on skin). If it doesn’t come out after two or three squeezes, call it a day — otherwise, you risk traumatizing your skin.

How Can You Prevent Blackheads?

Don’t fall for the mistake of skipping moisturizer, which is common among those prone to blackheads and other forms of acne. “A lot of people with blackheads think that moisturizing will make them worse,” says Lemons. “But when you don’t moisturize, your skin will produce more oil — which will lead to more blackheads.”

The better option is to keep your skin properly hydrated throughout the day, and there’s no easier way to do that than by using a hydrating mist, like the Watermelon Glow Ultra-Fine Mist. The bi-phase formula gently removes dead skin cells with a combo of naturally derived AHAs and hyaluronic acid. Just shake and spray.

Another good way to stop blackheads before they start? Retinol. “Using retinol regularly helps reduce the oil content and reduce build-up on the top layer of the skin,” explains Dr. Farber. “Regular, appropriate exfoliation helps to reduce acne [in general] and clogging of pores.” Look no further than the Avocado Melt Retinol Sleeping Mask, which delivers a form of encapsulated retinol that’s far gentler than its traditional (and non-encapsulated) counterparts.

With this well-rounded approach, blackheads will be on their way — and you’ll be one step closer to the glass skin of your dreams, no less. It’s a win-win.

Read more about breakout-prone skin:


Glow Recipe

Avocado Melt Retinol Sleeping Mask


Glow Recipe

Watermelon Glow PHA + BHA Pore-Tight Toner


Glow Recipe

Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask


Glow Recipe

Watermelon Glow Ultra Fine Mist


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