Conquer blackheads once and for all with these expert-approved tips and tricks.

By Susan Brickell
Updated January 29, 2020
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Is it just us, or do you also feel that no matter how many times you cleanse your face, exfoliate, or visit your esthetician for a facial (hello, extractions!), you just can't get rid of those freckle-like dots on your nose? Ugh. Blackheads might be the bane of our existence. Even if you are lucky enough to clear out a few of the dark pores, it seems like they keep coming back. *Sigh.*

Even more frustrating? Every very time you stare yourself down in the bathroom mirror and go to squeeze one, you most likely find a ton more to tackle—leaving your skin pinched, blotchy, and irritated from poking and prodding. And while it's satisfying to squeeze the blackhead out in that moment, this can actually damage the skin barrier and cause inflammation and scarring.

So, what exactly can be done about them? Here, dermatologists weigh in on how to get rid of blackheads for good, and offer up product recommendations to keep on hand to treat, prevent, and conquer blackheads before they even have a chance to wreak havoc on your face.

But really, what are blackheads?

ICYDK, your skin is constantly sloughing off and clogging your pores, while also secreting an oil called “sebum” that mixes with these dead skin cells, says  Rachel Nazarian, MD, a New York-based dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. Sure, it might sound pretty gross, but this process is actually a part of your skin's natural exfoliation, which helps to protect you from the external environment. However, as a result, you've probably noticed a few (or a heap) of dark pores cropping up on your nose, cheeks, chin, and even ears.

These dark pores—otherwise known as blackheads—are basically a mix of oil, dead skin cells, grime and bacteria in your pores. While their original color is more clear and greasy, the pores are open to oxygen, which makes them turn black when exposed to air—hence the name, explains Dr. Nazarian.

Hero ingredients that fight blackheads

While physical exfoliation can help smooth and brighten your complexion, it will not reach the keratin and sebum inside your pores, and therefore is not the most effective way to treat blackheads, shares Dr. Nazarian. You'll want to stick to chemical exfoliation with the right ingredients (think: lactic, glycolic, and salicylic acids) which can target this type of acne by loosening and dissolving the grime in your pores, she adds.

If you have stubborn blackheads, your go-to, over-the-counter ingredient should really be salicylic acid, says  Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "This beta hydroxy acid removes excess oil and exfoliates dead cells from the surface of the skin to dry out pimples and clear out the pores," he explains.

You can also use topical retinoids, which unclog pores, enhance cell turnover, and even out skin, Dr. Zeichner adds. But be advised that you don't want to layer an acid like salicylic acid with a retinoid (since they both work to exfoliate and could cause irritation and inflammation in the skin), but rather you'll want to stagger your application. Try using your products with acids during the day and save your retinoids for nighttime use.

And as much as it might be super tempting (not to mention, satisfying), do not try to squeeze the blackheads out yourself, warns Debra Jaliman, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist. "You can cause bacteria to go deeper in your skin, which can cause an infection," she says.

Left: Photo: AMAZON
Center: Photo: ORIGINS
Right: Photo: SEPHORA

How to prevent blackheads

The best way to prevent blackheads is by sticking to products that are oil-free and non-comedogenic (read: won't clog your pores), says Dr. Zeichner. Opt for exfoliating cleansers to help keep pores clear, and be sure to use acne products that contain ingredients like retinoids or salicylic acid, he adds.

But being consistent in your regimen is just as helpful as the products you choose to combat blackheads. While retinoids and salicylic acid are great at dissolving blackheads, you need to continue using them to prevent them from refilling and reforming, shares Dr. Nazarian.

Another likely culprit could be your fringe. Oil that builds up on your hair (a.k.a. your bangs) can block the pores, so you'll want to do your best to keep hair out of your face, notes Dr. Zeichner.

Left: Photo: AMAZON
Center: Photo: CLEAN & CLEAR
Right: Photo: PETER THOMAS ROTH

Best treatments for blackheads

Sure, there are plenty of professional procedures—including facials, microdermabrasion, and chemical peels—and topical prescriptions that help to remove blackheads, but there are also several affordable measures you can take from the comfort of home to treat and stop these annoying blemishes in their tracks. Ahead, dermatologist-approved products for clearing blackheads.

Neutrogena Acne Proofing Daily Facial Scrub ($8; amazon.com): You can't go wrong with Amazon's Choice for "acne facial cleanser," not to mention that it's a favorite of Dr. Zeichner. "This gentle scrub contain salicylic acid to remove excess oil and keep the pores clear without causing skin irritation," he says.

Proactiv Adapalene Gel ($36; amazon.com): This prescription strength retinoid helps treat and prevent acne and blackheads, while restoring your skin's natural tone and texture. Dr. Nazarian suggests using it 2-3 times weekly, and make sure to use it with a moisturizer to prevent irritation or drying of the skin.

Origins Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask to Clear Pores ($13; sephora.com): Dr. Jaliman likes this mask, because it helps remove environmental toxins and dirt that clog pores and dull skin. The bamboo charcoal eliminates excess oil that could lead to blackheads and acne, while lecithin dissolves impurities.

Kamedis Acne Facial Cleanser Treatment ($15; amazon.com): Another pick from Dr. Zeichner, this oil-free, foaming face wash gently cleanses acne-prone skin without overly drying it. Plus, it combines salicylic acid with soothing botanical extracts to clear blackheads and offer a calming effect on skin.

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Masque ($12; sephora.com): Infused with charcoal and clays, this budget-friendly mask removes dead skin cells on the surface of oily and acne-prone skin, meaning blackheads are less likely to be able to form. Dr. Nazarian recommends using it twice a week only for a few minutes to prevent irritation.

Foreo Luna Mini 2 Facial Cleansing Brush ($119, was $139; amazon.com): A sonic cleansing system—like a Clarisonic or Foreo—is a great way to help with blackheads, and can be used once daily, says Dr. Jaliman. This tool from Foreo delivers deep cleansing and exfoliation all in a convenient palm-sized device—and is a breeze to use.

Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Spot Treatment ($7; walmart.com): While this product is designed for targeting individual pimples, it is a personal favorite for treating blackheads on my nose, shares Dr. Zeichner. Just a tiny dab can help remove excess oil and clear pores, revealing a radiant glow.

Peter Thomas Roth Max Complexion Correction Pads ($40; amazon.com): If you have bumpy, oily, or acne-prone skin, these glycolic pads are incredibly helpful in exfoliating, sloughing off dead skin cells, and unclogging pores, Dr. Jaliman told Health previously. Plus, they also contain antioxidants to protect skin from free radicals, which can damage your collagen and elastic tissue.

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