How to get rid of pesky blackheads — once and for all

Blackheads suck. So we consulted a dermatologist to get the lowdown on which ingredients fight them best.

how to get rid of blackheads

If you’re about ready to give up on your blackheads, listen up: It is possible to target these stubborn, minuscule spots and it doesn’t involve squeezing them or undergoing a painful extraction at the derm’s office. It doesn’t even involve using those bandage-like nose strips. It’s all about knowing what ingredients to use, using them consistently — and understanding what blackheads are in the first place.

Blackheads form in open pores when excess oil that contains an acne bacteria (called P. acnes) combines with debris from the shedding inner lining of your pore. Gross. And the reason they’re black is because the debris has oxidized — not because there’s dirt in your pores, says Victoria-based dermatologist Dr. Mark Lupin. They also don’t form as a result of inadequate cleansing. “Manual exfoliation and frequent washing make no substantial difference to blackheads,” he says. “That’s a common misconception.” (That’s not to say you shouldn’t cleanse daily and exfoliate regularly — you should.)

While some people are genetically prone to blackheads, and those with oily skin tend to have more, they can also occur due to hormonal changes (like puberty or starting a new hormonal birth control) or from wearing heavy makeup. Using thick moisturizers or Vaseline on the face can also make them worse. Some people may need to see a dermatologist for their blackheads, and there are in-office treatments that can help, but it’s worth trying to tackle them at home first. Here are the top five blackhead-fighting ingredients to look for in your products:

Benzoyl peroxide
This antibacterial ingredient also targets active acne, plus it’s easy to find (and inexpensive). It can be drying, however, and harsh on sensitive complexions. Spot treat on a small patch of skin first to make sure you don’t react. Try: Clean & Clear Persa-Gel 5, $10, Walmart.

How to get rid of blackheads: Clean & Clear Persa-Gel

Salicylic acid
This beta hydroxy acid is derived from willow bark and helps to break down debris in clogged pores. It’s found in many acne products. Try: Juice Beauty Blemish Clearing Cleanser, $28, Sephora.
How to get rid of blackheads: Juice Beauty Belmish Cleanser.jpeg

Glycolic acid
This alpha hydroxy acid is derived from a natural sugar molecule. It also helps to break down the debris in the pores, and it’s found in cleansers, solutions, lotions and peels. Try: Neostrata Oil Free Gel Cleanser 4% Glycolic Acid, $22,
How to get rid of blackheads: Neostrata Oil Free Gel Cleanser for Chatelaine

Azelaic acid
A natural substance derived from yeast, this acid targets blackheads and can also lighten the brown discolouration caused by acne. (It’s also available in a prescription cream called Finacea in Canada.) Try: DERMAdoctor Photodynamic Therapy Age Spot Eraser & Skin Brightener, $62, Sephora.
How to get rid of blackheads: DERMAdoctor

Products that contain this form of vitamin A are the best acne treatments out there, says Lupin. Look for “retinol” on the ingredients list; it’s converted to tretinoin on our skin, which itself is found in prescription topicals such as Stieva-A and Retin-A. Try: Philosophy Help Me Retinol Night Treatment, $62, Hudson’s Bay.
How to get rid of blackheads: Philosophy Help Me Retinol Night Treatment, $62

Pro tip: Using an electronic cleansing device, like a Clarisonic, will increase the absorption (and, as a result, boost the effectiveness) of many of these topical products, says Lupin.

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