There are three things that are certain in life: death, taxes, and blackheads. (That’s how the saying goes, right?) But what causes these annoying blemishes that seem to defy even the most diligent skincare routines? And more importantly, how do we remove and prevent them? We asked Dr. Jessica Wu, a Los Angeles-based dermatologist, to get the real dirt on these pesky spots and answer some common questions about them:
What causes blackheads, exactly?
Blackheads are a type of acne caused by an excess of oil and dead cells under the surface of the skin. “When oil flows out of the pores and onto the surface of the skin without a blockage, there’s no blackhead, no pimple,” Dr. Wu explains. “However, if the oil flows too quickly, or if the pore is inflamed by bacteria, the oil gets backed up and forms a blackhead.” These types of blemishes actually appear white or yellow at first, but turn dark (resembling specks of dirt—not actual dirt!) after the oil is oxidized when it’s exposed to the air.
Who gets blackheads and why?
Unfortunately, pretty much everyone. If you have dry skin and tiny pores (and incredible luck), you may not get any blackheads. For the rest of us, the T-zone is a typical hot spot. “The nose, inner cheeks, and chin are most likely to develop blackheads,” Dr. Wu says. “There are numerous oil glands in these areas, and the skin is thicker and pores are large, so blackheads can get huge.”
Does diet have anything to do with blackheads?
Though opinions are mixed on this matter, Dr. Wu cautions all of her patients with blackheads to avoid dairy. The high volume of hormones from cows contained in many dairy products can stimulate your oil glands and produce more dead skin cells, she explains. “This makes your pores more clogged and therefore causes more blackheads.” Some research also points to high-glycemic foods as a culprit, so “avoid sweets and simple carbs like white bread, pasta, potatoes, and rice,” advises Dr. Wu.
What are the best ways to remove blackheads?
To treat blackheads, look for products that absorb oil like Dr. Jart+ Black Label Detox Pore Penetrator, which eliminates excess sebum and tightens large pores, making them less susceptible to blackheads. Salicylic acid toners and retinoids also help by removing dead skin cells, according to Dr. Wu. The salicylic acid in ORIGINS Zero OilTM Pore Purifying Toner minimizes oil while saw palmetto keeps it in check all day, and Paula’s Choice Skin Balancing Antioxidant Serum with Retinol helps to normalize overactive sebum production. Before a night out or big event, nothing beats pore strips like these Master Patches from Dr. Jart, which are made with oil-sapping botanicals to minimize the appearance of blackheads on your nose, specifically.
Looking for a ready-made regimen? Try our Acne Fix-It Kit!