Blackheads are a small and dark mark containing melanin. Blackheads can appear anywhere where hair follicles are found and are known as a feature of acne however they do not always come hand in hand. Many believe that blackheads are caused by dirt trapped in the skin but they are actually oxidised melanin; these occur when the pores are clogged by dead skin cells and sebum (an oily protective substance). The dark colour is formed by the dead skin cells in the open pore reacting with oxygen.
There are some factors that could increase the chances of developing blackheads, age and hormonal fluctuation being a key cause. When a change in hormone levels occurs it can cause the sebum production to spike; this is often most prevalent around puberty. For women there are even more hormonal factors such as changes in menstruation, pregnancy and birth control; these can all bring on blackheads.
Other blackhead triggering factors are:
- Heavy sweating
- Blocking the pores with clothing or makeup
- Opening the hair follicles i.e shaving
- Being in an environment with high humidity and grease
- Overproduction of skin cells (can be caused by medication)
- Steroid based medications (corticosteroids)
- Health conditions including stress, premenstrual syndrome and polycystic ovarian syndrome
Due to blackheads being non-inflammatory they will not be painful and uncomfortable like acne and are generally flatter. Many however confuse sebaceous filaments for blackheads as they look similar but these are not a form of acne and act to channel the flow of sebum through the pores.
There are many ways that people have decided are the best to treat blackheads however sometimes they will make them worse and not better.
- Cleansing - It is very important to cleanse the skin and gently exfoliate. However anything too harsh will have the opposite effect and dry out your skin too much. This will therefore send the sebum production into overdrive and could make the problem worse than it was before. You should look for products that are fragrance free and made for sensitive skin.
- Makeup - The best thing for your skin when wearing makeup and cosmetics is to find those that are non-comedogenic so that they keep the pores clear and open and also help to reduce the buildup of dead skin.
- Prescription Treatments - For non-inflammatory acne there are topical treatments available: azelaic acid, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, these can be attained over the counter or by prescription to apply to the skin directly.
- Underlying Conditions - If you are suffering with anything else such as rosacea or eczema, these should be treated first which in turn may help with the blackheads.
- Rest and Relaxation - It is important to ensure you are making an effort to stay stress free as this can trigger sebum production, stress may be reduced by exercising.
- Masks - Strips and blackhead removal masks like the Neutriherbs one must be used with caution however they can be extremely useful in creating a vacuum to draw out the impurities.
- Makeup - Oil based makeup and skin care can provide too much oil for the skin to handle however oils and moisturisation with oily skin should not be completely avoided as they are necessary to keep the skin hydrated.
- Scrubbing - Too much scrubbing will remove the necessary sebum and therefore cause an overproduction to occur, this will result in even more blockages and the risk of inflammatory acne.
- Squeezing - Even with a blackhead remover squeezing the blackheads can make the skin irritated and could make the problem worse.
- Hydrogen Peroxide - Recommended for acne as it can reduce outbreak severity however it is known to be an extremely harsh product that will irritate the skin and dry it out, therefore resulting in an overcompensation of the lost sebum; it needs to be used with caution.