If your quest for seamless skin if often thwarted by an army of pesky blackheads that just won't let up, no matter how hard you squeeze, you are not alone.
Thanks to the growing popularity of Dr. Pimple Popper's wince-inducing videos and even the rise of DIY blackhead vacuums (yep, totally a thing) we've become obsessed with quick and easy extraction techniques, which are essentially a short term solution to clearer skin. But how can we banish the unsightly black bumps for good?
To tackle blackheads, well, head-on, we need to understand what they are.
"Primarily as a result of hormones, blackheads occur when too much oil is produced inside the pore, making it difficult for the oil to flow to the surface" says Paula Begoun, skincare specialist and founder of award-winning skincare brand Paula's Choice."It mixes with built up dead skin and after it is exposed to air, it oxidises and becomes darker."
That may sound a little gross, but you'd be wrong to think that blackheads are a result of unclean skin. "A common misconception regarding blackheads is that the skin is dirty," says Rosi Chapman of Transformulas, "and this is incorrect. There is no need to scrub and to be rough with your skin to remove them."
So what other options do we have? Well, more than you might have thought.
Use an enzymatic exfoliator during cleansing:
"Enzymatic exfoliators prevent pores from becoming clogged," says Rosi. In simple terms, choose a product that contains an ingredient like glycolic acid which gently sloughs away dead skin cells and dislodges the thick sebum that leads to blackheads without disturbing your skin's pH balance.
Transformulas Miracle Daily Glycol Priming Cleanser, £19.95 www.transfomulas.com
"Scrubs are also essential and can totally transform the skin," says skincare specialist and facialist Sophie Ace, "but if you are targeting blackheads, it's a good idea to avoid anything containing microbeads or polythylene because they scratch the skin. Instead, use one containing Alpha Hydroxy Acids – it is lightweight and it breaks down sebum brilliantly. Your scrub should also be pH balancing to help normalise the level of oil production."
Elethea Pure Balancing Cleanser, £36 www.elethea.co.uk
Opt for products containing Salicylic Acid:
Zit zapping salicylic acid, found in skincare formulated for acne sufferers, including moisturisers and cleansers, is another great ingredient for dissolving blackheads in the pore lining, as it cuts through excess oil unlike other cleansing ingredients. "Exfoliating with a leave-on BHA that contains salicylic acid is a game-changer," says Paula. "It gets rid of dull cells but doesn't strip the skin essential oils."
Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, £25 www.paulaschoice.co.uk
Don't give up the moisturiser:
Another thing most of us get wrong is that moisturisers contribute to blackheads, but using one is necessary to maintain hydration and moisture balance in the skin: "It will also allow you to keep using exfoliating products without any issues," says Rosi.
With that in mind, your choice of moisturiser is a very important one and Paula mentions that heavy, creamy or occlusive products can make blackheads worse by blocking pores. Instead, choose a lighter, milkier textured cream, preferably one that contains niacinamide, as it has the ability to normalise the pore and in turn, regulate oil production, which results in less blackheads.
Echoing this is dermatologist Dr. Dennis Gross, who advises never to add extra oil to an oily situation, so filling your skincare arsenal with oil-free moisturisers is a great start.
Paula's Choice Resist Niacinamide Booster, £40 www.paulaschoice.co.uk
Clinique Moisture Surge Intense Skin Fortifying Hydator, £34 www.clinique.co.uk
Treat your skin to a peel-off mask:
Forget foaming masks, the peel-off kind is gaining traction and although we may have Instagram to thank, they aren't just a fad. "The charcoal powder in Masque Bar's Luminizing Charcoal Peel Off Mask, £9.99 www.boots.com is so effective for blackheads," says founder Allan Lever. "The peel off process helps to detoxify and deep cleanse the skin."
You might be tempted to cover the entirety of your face, but Sophie recommends only using them on concentrated areas in strips. "It's also important to steam your skin first to open pores before using peel off masks," she says "and pores left behind can be open to infection, so be sure to keep the skin clean."
Try a retinol treatment:
"Retinols are great at tackling blackheads," says Allan, "however the side effects can be more severe than suffering with them." And that's where MeruMaya's new Retinol Resurfacing Treatment, £33.50, www.merumaya.com comes in. Just like other skin-perfecting, vitamin A products, it does a great job of clearing blemishes like blackheads but the added Aroleat Samphira ingredient, extracted from Sea Fennel, means your skin skips the sore and flaky stage.
But how exactly do they work? "By shedding the skin and encouraging the cell-building process," says Sophie. "This makes pores less susceptible to being clogged which means the deeper layers of your skin become clearer and more even, and the surface layer sheds more frequently."
Choose a laser treatment:
If you're at your wits end with blackheads, it might be time to bring out the big guns – but it really isn't as scary as it sounds.
"There is all this technology, incredible stuff now, that can do things like laser away acne scars and treat active blemishes," says Dr. Dennis Gross. "It has so many benefits and there's no redness and no downtime."
Sophie agrees that professional lasers may be a much safer option than at-home 'vaccum' devices when it comes to getting rid of blackheads, because if used incorrectly, they could inflame the skin or even cause the capillary walls to break. Ouch!
Resist the temptation to squeeze:
Allan mentions that squeezing blackheads - as therapeutic as it can be - might be doing more harm than good. "It isn't recommended to squeeze blackheads as you risk tearing the pore walls," he says. "This causes bacteria to spread into the surrounding tissue which could cause bigger breakouts elsewhere on the face."