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Know the basics

What is blackheads?

Blackheads are small bumps on the skin, which are a type of clogged pores (hair follicles) called open comedo. It occurs when you have an open pore that is clogged with excess oil, dead skin cells and bacteria. It may look like your pores are clogged with dirt but actually it’s the combination of oil and bacteria that turns black when exposed to the air. They are different from a closed comedo, which are called whiteheads. Blackheads are a common symptom of acne and usually appear on the face. Sometimes they can appear on the back, chest, neck, arms or shoulders.

How common is blackheads?

Blackheads are very common, affecting anyone who is suffering from acne. It can affect more females than males at any age. But most often will affect patients during teenage years when acne is most common. Blackheads can be easily managed along with the treatment of acne.

Know the symptoms

What are the symptoms of blackheads?

Blackheads are easy to identify on your skin. They are usually tiny and slightly raised bumps that appear dark on the skin. The combination of oil, dead skin cells and bacteria oxidize with the air, causing the open clogged pore to appear black. Blackheads are usually not painful or inflamed like pimples. Blackheads usually associated with other symptoms of acne such as whiteheads, pustules and pimples.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • When home remedies don’t work to clear up your blackheads;
  • If blackheads persist or worsen;

When there are other associated symptoms of acne that cause discomfort.

Know the causes

What causes blackheads?

There are several reasons why blackheads form. It could be from the environment or from hormone imbalance in your body. You can have blackheads if:

  • The sebaceous glands produce excess amount or oil (sebum);
  • The excess sebum clumps together with dead skin cells and blocks the hair follicle;
  • The open comedo exposes this plug of sebum to the air;
  • Your body is producing too much oil;
  • You are taking drugs such as corticosteroids, birth control, lithium or androgens;
  • Experiencing hormonal changes that cause increase in oil production such as puberty or menstruation;

You have too much bacteria on your skin, particularly bacteria called p. acnes bacteria (propionibacterium acnes).

Know the risk factors

What increases my risk for blackheads?

There are many risk factors for blackheads, such as:

  • Hormonal changes that leads to an increase in oil production during the teen years, during menstruation, or while taking birth control pills;
  • Certain drugs, such as corticosteroids, lithium, or androgens;
  • Cosmetics, cleansers and clothing that block or cover pores;
  • Heavy sweating or high humidity;
  • Dietary factors, disease or medications that encourage rapid skin cell turnover.

Understand the diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is blackheads diagnosed?

Your doctor can have a look to know what type of skin you have. Then, the doctor may take a history by asking questions to know if your using of drugs such as corticosteroids causes blackheads. Diagnosis may involve characterizing the blackheads as part of mild, moderate or severe acne. This helps determine the likelihood of psychosocial effects and if treatment is needed.

How is blackheads treated?

Blackheads can have many treatment options. There are some products that you can buy without a prescription, which are called over-the-counter (OTC) products. These products may contain ingredients such as salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, which may be used as a cream, ointment or medicated soap bar. When these over-the-counter (OTC) treatments don’t work, your doctor may prescribe you stronger medications. These medications may contain forms of vitamin A such as tretinoin, tazarotene, and adapalene.  These medications can keep plugs from forming in the hair follicles and promote more rapid turnover of skin cells.

Dermatologists, who are doctors specializing in skin conditions, can use a special instrument called a round loop extractor to remove blackheads. In some cases, doctors can use a special instrument that contains a rough surface to sand out the top layers of your skin. Sanding the skin removes clogs that cause blackheads.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage blackheads?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with blackheads:

  • Wash your face regularly. It is suggesting that you need to wash your face twice a day with cleanser, once you wake up and once before you go to bed to remove oil buildup that can cause blackheads. Washing more than twice each day can irritate your skin and make your acne worse. A gentle cleanser that doesn’t make your skin red or irritated is required. Besides, don’t forget to wash your face if you have finished eating oily foods such as pizza.
  • Wash your hair regularly. If your hair is oily, hair oils can contribute to clogged pores.
  • Use oil-free products. Any product that contains oil can cause you to have new blackheads. You should use oil-free makeup, lotions, and sunscreens to avoid making your problem worse.
  • Try an exfoliating product. Exfoliating scrubs and masks can help you to eliminate dead skin cells from your face and then reduce blackheads. You should choose products that don’t irritate your skin.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: January 4, 2017 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017

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