Blackheads are pesky little things. Whilst pretty small in size, it’s a concern a lot of people have when it comes to their skin. Sometimes it can feel like as soon as you’ve got rid of the collection of dark bumps on your nose, they return with a vengeance.
We come bearing good news though. Sure, stubborn blackheads can’t be eradicated overnight, but they aren’t impossible to reduce. We’ve got all the info you need on what blackheads are and how you can prevent them from returning.
What are blackheads?
First, let’s look into exactly what blackheads are. They are something called open comedones and are technically a type of acne — they just present very differently from a typical breakout.
They occur when the hair follicle gets clogged with oils and debris. If this skin opens, this oxidises and becomes black causing a blackhead, but if this plug closes then it becomes a whitehead.
Blackheads are said to be more common in those with oily skin types simply because your skin is producing more oil (sebum).
What causes blackheads?
Blackheads are caused by tiny open hair follicles that become plugged with oils and dead skin cells that then become clogged.
The reason they appear black (as opposed to closed spots which are red and yellow if pus-filled) is because these oils have oxidised when exposed to air, and create what we call a blackhead.
What's the difference between blackheads and sebaceous filaments?
Now, this is where things get a little confusing. There’s also something called sebaceous filaments which are similar to blackheads in appearance but they’re not the same thing.
A sebaceous filament lives in your pores. Your pores have a few characteristics, including a follicle, which contains a hair and an oil gland, known as a sebaceous gland. The role of sebaceous glands is to prevent dry skin (we need those natural oils), clear away dead skin cells, and excess oil and prevent clogged pores.
When the pores are overloaded with dead cells and excess oil, it becomes clogged. This can give you the appearance of enlarged pores, which is why you might label them as blackheads. They can be clear, grey or yellow in appearance, whereas blackheads are very dark in colour.
Sebaceous filaments are a normal and healthy part of the skin’s structure and aren't plugged like a blackhead is. Because of this, unlike blackheads, sebaceous filaments are not a form of acne.
When it comes to extractions, if you’re squeezing out a blackhead, you’ll see a dark plug-like substance that comes out, which may be followed by some yellow gunk too.
However, sebaceous filaments have no dark plug and either have nothing to squeeze out, or it’s a white or yellow-coloured substance.
What about blackheads on the nose?
It’s true that blackheads are often found in the centre of the face, most notably the nose and surrounding area.
The nose has lots of glands and the largest pores, which means there are more opportunities for sebum and debris to reside and form blackheads.
Blackheads are all the same, no matter where they occur on your face. But remember: they might not be blackheads at all. They may be sebaceous filaments. If you’re unsure, visit a registered facialist or dermatologist.
Blackheads vs whiteheads: what's the difference?
Blackheads and whiteheads begin life the same. They’re both formed thanks to bacteria (p. acnes), excess sebum and debris making its way onto your skin. But the way this progresses is where it can turn into either a blackhead or a whitehead.
Blackheads are open comedones. They get their name from their blackened appearance because the gunk has essentially darkened during a process of oxidation from the air.
Whiteheads, on the other hand, are closed comedones. This is why you can quite literally see the white or yellow gunk underneath the surface of the skin and when you pop it, it oozes out.
Both are trapped oil and dead skin cells, they just progress differently.
Is it OK to squeeze out blackheads on the nose?
Most experts don’t recommend squeezing any spots. The reason being? Most people cause more damage than good. There are a few reasons for that. The first is that it’s easy to use too much pressure and injure the area.
The second is that you might actually be squeezing sebaceous filaments, which are a normal part of your skin and shouldn’t be poked or prodded.
And the most important is that most people don’t take cleanliness into account when popping pimples or blackheads — you can actually make matters worse if you’re introducing a bunch of new bacteria and debris into those open comedones.
How to get rid of blackheads safely
As with most skin concerns, treating blackheads isn’t an overnight fix. It’ll take some time and patience, but the good news is that it is possible to reduce blackheads. There are a few ways of doing this.
Cleanse your face daily
The first is always cleansing. Making sure your skin is free from dead skin cells, oil, and grime from the day can reduce the chances of build-up.
The cleanser you’re using matters, too. If you want something that won’t further clog your pores — stay away from the coconut oil! Instead, opt for a gentle cleanser, like the one in our Software Essentials. This cleanser is hydrating to the skin while also removing makeup, dirt and impurities.
Use chemical exfoliants to keep oily skin clear
Exfoliators must always be used with caution, but when a chemical exfoliant is used correctly, it can have excellent results when it comes to reducing blackheads. Ingredients like alpha-hydroxy acids and beta-hydroxy acids (AHAs and BHAs) are great for clearing away dead skin cells and helping to reduce acne and blackheads .
Software's Salicylic Acid Foaming Wash has gentle exfoliating properties and works to wash away dead skin cells, unclog pores and reduce acne-causing bacteria in order to reduce the formation of blackheads and whiteheads. Use this 2-3 times per week across your face and nose (you can also use this across your body to target pesky body acne).
Salicylic acid is a hero when it comes to treating acne as it has the ability to sink deep into your skin. This is because — like other BHAs — it’s oil-soluble and can get right into your pores to dissolve those pesky oils and dead skin cells. Your pores are then much clearer and less likely to develop certain types of acne.
Chemical exfoliants are particularly helpful for acne-prone skin but can also be used on sensitive skin, just be careful to introduce them slowly. Other ingredients like glycolic acid, benzoyl peroxide and lactic acid can also be used for blackhead treatments.
Add retinoids to your routine
Adding a prescription retinoid to your skincare can help treat blackheads as it increases skin cell turnover, which stimulates the growth of new cells as well as the rate that which old skin cells are shed.
Retinoids also work to reduce the production of sebum (the oil on your sebum) as well as keratinization (the production of excess skin cells) which both lead to the formation of comedones, which are also known as blackheads.
Software's prescription acne treatment uses medical-grade ingredients like topical retinoids, niacinamide and azelaic acid to target acne by strengthening the skin barrier, fighting acne-causing bacteria, preventing clogged pores (and in turn, blackheads) and reducing redness and swelling.
Simply take our text-based consult and share your skin goals and an Australian doctor will customise a formula just for you. From here, your skincare treatment will be compounded and shipped straight to your door.
Use clay or charcoal masks
The premise of using a clay or charcoal mask is to absorb all of that excess oil.
This isn’t something you should do daily, as you don’t want to remove all of your natural oils — your skin needs that! But you can do it once a week to help reduce excess oils and in turn, reduce the occurrence of blackheads.
Most experts recommend a clay mask over pore strips as pore strips can cause microtears and damage to the skin, which can worsen existing blackheads and cause scarring.
Get extractions from a professional
Alongside the regular use of skincare at home, many people have great results seeing a professional aesthetician or dermatologist for extractions.
Extractions are pretty much what the name suggests: it involves an expert removing blackheads (it's important that an expert is in charge of your extractions so you don't accidentally cause damage to your precious skin!).
Extractions usually begin with cleansing and steaming the area to soften the skin before the expert applies gentle pressure to the blackhead and squeezes it out. It's also common for a comedone extractor or tweezers to be used in the process as well.
Please note that this is not a procedure you should attempt at home as you could cause more harm to your skin by squeezing and poking at your skin. In some cases, scarring can occur as a result of extracting your own blackheads.
Whatever you do, don't use one of the blackhead suction devices that you can buy online. These can cause bruising, broken veins and microtears so it really isn't worth it.
Practising good skin hygiene
Although even people with impeccable hygiene still get acne and blackheads, it’s worth mentioning that it’s an important step in reducing blackheads if you sometimes get a little lax in that area.
Do nose blackheads go away?
Some blackheads, especially those on the nose, can go away on their own; particularly if they’re close to the surface of the skin.
You can help minimise the recurrence of blackheads with a proper routine and professional help, but nothing can guarantee they will go away, or never return.
How to prevent blackheads on the nose
Prevention is always better than cure, and the same goes for blackheads. Whilst you often can’t completely eradicate them (after all, it’s a natural process), you can definitely help reduce blackheads.
A combination of treatments can help reduce blackheads on the nose — these include:
- Cleanse your skin with a gentle cleanser thoroughly daily and use a salicylic acid-based wash 2-3 times per week.
- Use a clay mask once a week if you have particularly oily skin. If you have dry skin but find that your nose still gets oily, you can target the clay mask specifically to the blackheads on your nose.
- Practice good skin hygiene, which includes washing pillowcases regularly, wearing sunscreen daily, reducing stress if possible, and getting enough sleep. You'd be surprised how much these factors combined can help.
- Call in a professional to extract blackheads on your nose.
- Consider a prescription acne treatment if you have blemish-prone skin.