the dirty dirt on blackheads

the dirty dirt on blackheads

Struggling with blackheads? OK, let’s be honest…who isn’t. Blackheads are notorious for being relentless and difficult to treat, especially around the nose and chin area. So what IS the deal with blackheads? Why do they seem to be so resistant to all of our time, efforts, and the products bought with our hard-earned cash? Here’s the dirt on blackheads. (Dare I say…) Your best intentions may actually be making it worse.

blackhead 101

As a skin therapist, one of the most common questions in the treatment room is, Thanks for your help, Kar, but how do I deal with blackheads?!. The first thing to know is that even people with seemingly flawless skin still struggle with blackheads. (yes, even that one friend who has effortlessly radiant skin, ARGHH!).  Blackheads show no mercy.

If you are anything like me, you occasionally stare into the mirror and ask yourself, “What exactly are blackheads and where do they come from?” So what causes blackheads? Basically, when hair follicles get clogged with dead skin cells, oil, and bacteria, then non-inflammatory acne lesions can develop...that’s our friend known as blackheads.

People with oily skin are more likely to have more blackheads than normal or dry skin types, sure… but everyone has a certain amount of oil in their skin. The oil is necessary for your skin to function properly and do its job. But if you have too much oil and throw some dirt into the equation…here comes those pesky blackheads. This is why almost everybody has dealt with blackheads at some point in their lives. You may have noticed these persistent little guys are usually more prominent around the nose and nasal folds. Here’s why.

Our skin contains a ton of different components that are working around the clock to basically shed and create new skin to protect us. Our Sebaceous Glands are a major contributor. They exist all over our body (except the souls of our feet and palms of our hands) and are usually attached to a hair follicle. Sebaceous glands create something called sebum. When a sebaceous gland gets blocked with that sebum… Voila!...a magical blackhead forms. Here’s where it gets interesting. We happen to have the greatest number of sebaceous glands on our face, particularly the nose. That’s why our noses are the main battlefield. The endless supply of oil in the nose area makes it a perfect home for our lingering friend the blackhead. If you’re not cleansing properly, those follicles will get blocked with sebum. Our job is to help you keep your skin clean and healthy (assuming you knew that by now), so please let us help. Here’s what you should be doing at home.

take action - unclog your skin

So now that we know the first step to preventing blackheads is washing your face. Sounds simple enough, right? Surprisingly, most people actually aren’t cleansing properly. To ensure you’re washing away all that dirt and oil, AND preventing those pores from clogging, double-cleansing is crutial!!! If you’re not already aboard the double-cleanse train, you should purchase a ticket. One that will get you to where you were actually trying to go in the first place!

If you wear any sort of makeup (And sorry guys, makeup wipes or micellar water doesn’t count as a cleanse… BUT if you’re a makeup god or goddess and wear a full face makeup, this is a great first step!)

Double cleansing typically consists of two parts – some type of oil cleanser followed by a gel or foaming cleanser. Oil cleanser is no secret nowadays, but did you know oil cleanser can still be used even if you have an oily skin type? I know this can be a little scary for all my oily/acne prone folks out there, but please hear me out. Oil actually attracts oil (crazy, I know), so if you are oily, this will actually help to pull the oil out of your skin from the places we don’t want it building up. If you notice that you are really oily, you may actually have overly-active sebaceous glands (check with your dermatologist next time you’re in for your annual skin check). Oil cleanser also helps to break down makeup, dirt and build up that accumulates throughout the day. My ABSOLUTE go-to oil cleanser is the Precleanse by Dermalogica. 

Maybe you’re thinking sometimes that’s just not enough, and you’d be right. Although washing your face is an essential first step for blackhead removal and prevention, it usually does require a bit more work.

what now?

So you’ve just doubled-cleansed and now have a clean, fresh face. You look great, feel great, and don’t want to lose that feeling. What’s next in the arsenal for the war on blackheads?

Well there’s a few things you can do at home to minimize your blackheads. Toner is a great tool with many benefits including combating dirt, oil and of course… blackheads. It also helps to balance your PH level, which indicates whether your skin is oily or dry. The natural PH level of your skin should sit at about 5.5. (being too far off in either direction can result in oiliness or dryness). What really sets toner apart from all the other steps in your skincare regimen is molecular size (apologies for the high school chemistry flashback, but this is something you should actually know). 

Toner, similar to water, has a very small molecular size, meaning it can penetrate deeper than most other products. Blackheads usually live pretty deep under the surface of the skin so the further the product can penetrate, the better. Look for an exfoliating toner with an AHA and BHA. If you’re not particularly sensitive, you can apply toner all over face. If you are particularly sensitive (referring to your skin, of course), I recommend using a cotton pad and applying it only to the areas where blackheads are present.

Serums are next in terms of molecular size. They also contain highly concentrated ingredients, meaning they’re jam packed with goodness and a little goes a long way. Look for a serum that contains a lactic or salicylic acid. These both help to remove oil and sloth away dead skin cells and prevent pore-clogging.

at-home masking – last, but not least

In my opinion this is the most effective way to treat blackheads at home. Using a mask at home is essential if you are struggling with blackheads and excessive oil. But be careful, you can overdo it with a clay mask. This isn’t a mask you want to put on and end up zoning out watching Netflix for 2 hours! Clay is a natural oil absorber and does exactly that. If left on the skin for too long it can result in dryness, which can actually result in over production of oil. You see where I’m going with this, right?… but don’t worry - as long as you are using the proper mask and removing it at the proper time, it really isn’t that hard, maybe set a timer on your phone.

There’s all kinds of masks on the market right now, but they are not all created equally. It can be difficult to whittle it down when you’re standing in the aisle of the store with two-hundred options. Just look for the Clear Start Blackhead Clearing Fizz Mask. If the name alone isn’t enough to make you want to fizz away your blackheads, here are some of the other wonderful qualities in this tantalizing mask… It contains sulfur, which has long passed test of time in terms of acne clearing ingredients. It also contains Kanolin – a clay different from its other cousin clays, due to its fine particle size and ability to absorb excess oils. The killer combo also includes ingredients like apple fruit extract and seaweed-derived extract to actually help rehydrate the skin- so it doesn’t become irritated or dry out your skin. This mask is an absolute must-have for anybody struggling with blackheads. Until next time, grab some champagne, relax, and get your fizz on with the Blackhead Clearing Fizz Mask. You can thank me later 😉

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