Body Chemistry and Genetics

Blackheads are a form of acne, and are notoriously difficult to treat and prevent. They aren’t as noticeable as pimples, but if you have them, you understand the desire to get rid of them.

Blackheads are generally genetic or caused by hormones. The glands underneath the skin produce oil, known as sebum. This sebum normally moves freely through the pore and to the skin’s surface. Once on the surface, it expands, creating a thin layer of protection.

Your genetics regulate how your hormones will react in your body. In turn, your androgen hormones regulate how much sebum your body secretes. When an excess amount of sebum passes through your pores, it can mix with dead skin cells and become blocked inside the pore. This combination then mixes with air and oxidizes, which causes it to turn black.

Environmental Factors

Blackheads are primarily due to excess sebum production. However, certain environmental factors can make your face more prone to blackhead breakouts, even if your body doesn’t produce a lot of excess sebum.

The environment can wreak havoc on your face. Excess pollution, dust and other small particles can end up in your pores, where they mix with sebum and create a blackhead. Your cosmetics can also cause blackheads. Some types of cosmetics are made with ingredients that contain triglycerides, fatty acids and waxes. These components are also the building blocks of sebum. If you don’t properly wash your make-up off each day, then the cosmetics can react like sebum in your skin and ultimately create blackheads.

Typically Affected Areas

Certain areas of the face are more prone to blackhead breakouts. The nose and chin tend to see the most blackheads. Why this happens is not completely clear, but dermatologists believe this is due to the tight concentration of pores and the tendency for sebum to collect in these areas.

Treatment and Prevention

Treating blackheads can be more of a challenge than treating pimples. The natural reaction is to squeeze the blockage out of the pore. Dermatologists differ on their opinions on extraction: Some say it’s fine if it’s done gently while others advise against it.

The best practice is to treat your blackheads from the inside-out. Squeezing treats only that one blackhead and doesn’t address the underlying causes. Instead, make changes to your skin care routine to see lasting changes.

Avoid using bar soaps–only use cleansers designed for the face. Next, establish an exfoliating routine. Exfoliating gets rid of excess dead skin that could end up blocking pores. Caution: Don’t overdo exfoliation. Excess sloughing of the skin can irritate it and cause more problems.

The next step after cleansing and exfoliating is to break up the blockage in the pore. Astringents and toners formulated with beta hydroxy, or salicylic, acid can penetrate the pore and clean it out. After toning, you can opt to apply a clay mask a couple of times per week. Clay masks can help regulate sebum in the pores. Finally, avoid using facial moisturizers that are thick and greasy; instead, use a light moisturizer only when needed.

If you do all of this and find that it still doesn’t work, then your next step is to visit a dermatologist. Your dermatologist can prescribe powerful medications such as Retin-A that help regulate sebum’s affect on the skin. Your dermatologist might also recommend birth control pills. Birth control pills regulate the androgen hormones, and in turn the body produces less sebum. Over time, the extra attention you pay to your skin will produce the results you want–fewer blackheads and smoother, beautiful skin.