What are blackheads?
It’s a common misconception that blackheads are caused by trapped dirt. In reality, blackheads form when the opening of a hair follicle (also known as a pore) fills with dead skin cells, sebum (an oily, waxy substance produced by your sebaceous glands to keep your skin naturally moisturised), and p. acnes bacteria. When this substance is exposed to air it turns black through a process of oxidisation.
Officially called open comedones, blackheads have a tendency to appear during times of increased androgen production, when the sebaceous glands under your skin generate more sebum than usual – but more on this in the next section.
It’s important to note that blackheads are not the same as clogged pores (aka sebaceous filaments), which happen when the lining of your pores get plugged with sebum, causing your pores to look larger. While blackheads appear black (hence their name), clogged pores have more of a light grey, yellowish look. A different kind of black dot that is commonly mistaken for a blackhead is called a sebaceous filament, which are small plugs of oil and dead skin cells.
It’s also worth mentioning that there are two types of blackheads, standard and deep, both with their own removal techniques.
If it turns out what you’re really after is some insider info on pores, read our article on how to make them look smaller!
What causes blackheads?
The number one cause is hormonal changes. Blackheads, like other acne-like breakouts, are most common during puberty, when changing hormone levels (most notably androgen, the male sex hormone) trigger a spike in sebum production and a higher turnover of skin cells.
The hormonal changes experienced during menstruation, pregnancy and when using birth control pills can also result in the hormonal fluctuations that increase the risk of blackheads.
Other possible factors at play can include:
Cosmetics blocking or covering your pores
Activities that expose your hair follicles, such as shaving
Spending time in a high-humidity environment or exposure to greasy substances, like in the kitchen or in a car repair shop
Health conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome and premenstrual syndrome
Steroid-based drugs like corticosteroids, and medications that increase the rate of skin cell turnover.
How to reduce the appearance of standard blackheads
To remove regular blackheads, simply follow these steps:
Cleanse. To get rid of the dirt, oil and make-up blocking your pores, you’ll want to make cleansing a part of your morning and evening skin care routine. There are two different schools of thought you can pick from. On the one hand, you can go for a water-activated dry cloth, such as Olay Daily Facials, Oily skin, which delivers a deep cleanse of your skin and pores in just one step thanks to its glow-some 5-in-1 cleansing power. On the other, you could opt for Olay Cleanse, Hungarian Water Essence, which helps you lift away dirt and caked-in make-up with a single cotton pad, leaving your skin clean and refreshed, thus decreasing your chances of developing blackheads. For an in-depth look at how to effectively cleanse your skin check out our article on the 4+1 steps for an effective cleansing routine.
Exfoliate. Exfoliating your skin a few times a week helps remove excess dead skin cells, preventing them from settling into your pores and helps remove existing blackheads. Formulated with Vitamin E and Pro-Vitamin B5 Olay Cleanse, Detox & Glow Daily Polish is a gentle exfoliant designed for everyday use, containing touch-activated particles to gently purify and refine your skin’s texture, as well as reduce the appearance of pores for a more radiant look.
Moisturise. Applying a moisturiser at night after cleansing will help you keep blackheads at bay while calming and restoring the protective skin barrier, resulting in healthy-looking, hydrated skin. Equipped with our proprietary Retinoid Complex formula and Vitamin B3, Olay Retinol 24 Night Face Cream and Retinol24 Night Serum hydrate your skin for 24 hours, delivering visible improvements in fine lines and wrinkles, smoothness, brightness, firming, dark spots, and pores.
Smooths and Hydrates
How to remove deep blackheads
If you find yourself dealing with a more severe or persistent case of blackheads that you can’t seem to tackle even with Olay’s help, we advise you to see a dermatologist.
How to prevent blackheads from appearing
Follow these three simple rules to reduce your chances of developing blackheads:
Don’t use self-tanners on your face. Since the ingredients in many self-tanning products can take up residence in your pores, it’s best to skip these products to help reduce the risk of blackheads forming.
Don’t overuse acne products. Overusing skin care products developed to fight acne (such as those containing sulphur, salicylic acid, and benzol peroxide) can easily overwhelm and dehydrate your skin, resulting in more blackheads popping up on your nose and face as your pores will produce even more sebum to combat your skin’s dryness.
Don’t skip moisturising. When you have dry skin, your sebaceous glands will produce more oil to prevent further dehydration, increasing the number of blackheads peppering your face. The best way to combat this is to use a daily moisturiser, as part of the skin care regimen.
The bottom line on blackheads
In short: Blackheads are caused by sebum and dead skin cells clogging up your pores, and they typically appear on your nose, cheeks and forehead. The best way to prevent or get rid of them altogether is by cleansing, exfoliating, and moisturising regularly. This helps ensure that dirt and grime is removed from your skin’s surface, that healthy skin cell turnover is encouraged and that your skin is properly hydrated so that the sebaceous glands don’t go into overdrive producing extra sebum.