First things first, assess the situation. Are we dealing with an actual blackhead here, or is it a sebaceous filament? “Sebum is usually a white-ish color, and when it gets exposed to oxygen for a period of time, it oxidizes and turns dark,” says New York City dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD. In other words, they’re very clearly black in comparison to the sebum you’ll notice occupying the rest of your pores.
Once you’ve identified the source, clean the area with your favorite face wash, arm yourself with a comedone extractor—we like the double-ended version from Sephora ($17)—and use either a warm compress or steam to help the blackhead surface. “Heat softens up the contents and dilates the pore opening, so applying a warm compress makes it easier to extract the blackhead,” explains Dr. Engelman. “Use alcohol to cleanse the tip of the comedone extractor, then gently apply pressure to the area.” Don’t drag or scrape the tool over your face, and remember the less-is-more mantra in terms of applying overall pressure. You certainly never want to do is bruise or damage the skin, which is highly possible if you’re pressing too hard and manipulating one specific spot.
According to Dr. Engelman, excess pressure is one of the biggest mistakes that can be made when extracting a blackhead. “This can cause microdamage to the skin, especially delicate areas like where the nostril meets the cheek,” she says. “Certain areas are prone to more congestion for sure, so be very gentle with your skin, because the last thing you want to do is cause injury that can take heroics to repair.” If you’re still meeting resistance, the blackhead may not be ready to be removed just yet. Either opt to try again in a few days, or have it extracted by a professional.
In an ideal world, the blackhead will pop out in the most satisfying of ways, you’ll stare at the weird, oxidized sebum for a minute or two, fascinated that this thing just escaped your skin, then move on to dealing with the open pore left behind. Dr. Engelman recommends following with a toner that contains either salicylic acid or witch hazel to clean, calm inflammation, and help the pore contract back to its normal size. We’re big fans of GlamGlow Supertoner ($42), which incorporates both ingredients.
If you’re already using retinol, that can help to reduce the size of the open pore as well, but if your skin isn’t used to retinoids, Dr. Engelman advises against using them, especially post-extraction. Moving forward, keep future blackheads at bay by putting that salicylic acid-infused toner such as Ren Clarimatte Clarifying Toner ($30) in your regular rotation, especially if you’re prone to them. Exfoliate once a week if your skin needs it, and if you use acne-fighting products, balance out those potentially drying effects by ensuring your skin gets enough hydration. In the case another blackhead pops up, you know the drill.
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