Release your pore, put your hands down and step away from the mirror. Seriously, you'll thank us later. Trying to remove blackheads can be troublesome, and doing so incorrectly can cause scarring; just ask Kim Kelder, lead aesthetician and skincare specialist at Miraval Resort & Spa, or Dr. Kenneth Mark, board-certified cosmetic dermatologist. We did, and these two skincare professionals shared the best way to remove blackheads at home to avoiding scarring.
What is a blackhead?
A blackhead is an open comedo, or pore, that becomes filled with dirt, oil, makeup or other products. Kelder says blackheads get their dark appearance from oxidation, and they cause the pores to grow larger in size. "You're going to get a blackhead if you're clogging your pore more than you're unclogging your pore," Mark says. "It's a balance of how much oil your skin is producing versus how much you're properly exfoliating."
Best at-home solutions
Kelder says she does not recommend at-home extractions—especially not those done with a comedo extractor—for fear this removal technique will lead to scars, infection or broken capillaries. However, if done correctly, it's not unreasonable to successfully extract blackheads at home.
"I usually recommend making sure that you clean the skin. You want to wash your face," Kelder says. "I would say either use a warm compress in the area that you want to extract or do extractions after you've taken a shower, after you've been in the steam for a little while, because it really helps to soften up the pores and soften the skin."
Kelder says it's important to use the sides of the fingers and to use the index finger in particular for more control when extracting. Beware of using fingernails, as they can easily cause scarring. Also, wrap fingers in tissues to prevent oils from causing the fingers to slip away from the targeted area.
"When you put your fingers on the skin, you want to press down gently, squeezing and rolling from underneath the skin," Kelder explains. "So it's like a squeezing, rolling method with your two fingers, almost like pulling up on the skin."
Kelder stresses that this action is to be done gently, and she says she has a strict three-squeeze maximum rule. "I'll squeeze an area. If it doesn't come out, I'll squeeze it again. If it doesn't come out, after the third time, I'm done. I don't touch it again," Kelder says, and she explains that this method prevents extracting a blackhead that isn't ready to be removed.
For those weary of extracting blackheads by themselves, both Kelder and Mark say products like the Bioré Deep Cleansing Pore Strips are great at-home remedies for blackheads, with little risk involved. "For an at-home removal, that's probably as good as it gets," Mark says.
Of course, preventing blackheads from forming is the best way to deal with this skincare dilemma, and doing so starts with clean skin.
"Keep the skin clean, washing morning and night," Kelder says. "Also use a toner, something like a stringent that's non-alcohol to make sure that you tone the skin after you cleanse."
Kelder says she is also a big fan of using the Clarisonic brush, or any cleansing brush, for a daily cleanse. "It cleanses the skin six times more than cleansing with your hands alone," Kelder says. "That helps to deter blackheads."
Another thing to keep in mind is what you are putting on your face. Look for skincare products that are labeled "non-comedogenic," which Mark says means those products don't clog pores.
"I always tell people if they are prone to blackheads or even if they're not prone to blackheads to make sure that they're moisturizing a.m. and p.m. with something that is non-comedogenic, or non-pore clogging," Kelder says. "That also will help with balancing. We're trying to balance the skin, and that helps also with preventing breakouts and blackheads."
Exfoliating once a week with a gentle scrub or a product containing alpha or beta hydroxy acids can also help prevent blackheads from forming. "I'm in love with salicylic acid," Kelder says. "So if you can find some type of exfoliant that has salicylic acid in it, it actually helps keep the skin clean and blackheads at bay."