Blackheads, those tiny bumps on your skin, occur when hair follicles get clogged. They’re called “blackheads” because they often look dark. You can usually manage them with over-the-counter acne products.

Blackheads, a mild form of acne, typically show up on the face but can also pop up on the back, chest, neck, arms, and shoulders. They’re quite common, affecting nearly 50 million Americans, making acne the most widespread skin issue in the United States, as per the American Academy of Dermatology.

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Causes of Blackheads | Symptoms | Treatments | Prevention | Exfoliating Products

What causes blackheads?

Blackheads form when hair follicles in the skin get clogged with oil and dead skin cells. If the clog stays closed, it’s a whitehead; if it opens, it turns black due to exposure to air.

Factors like excess oil production, bacteria buildup, irregular shedding of dead skin cells, hormonal changes, and certain medications can increase the risk of acne and blackheads. While some believe diet plays a role, research on its impact remains inconclusive.

What are symptoms of blackheads?

Blackheads are noticeable due to their dark color and slightly raised appearance. Unlike painful pimples, they’re not inflamed. Pimples occur when bacteria invade blocked follicles, leading to redness and swelling.

How are blackheads treated?

Over-the-counter (OTC) treatments

Numerous acne treatments are accessible over-the-counter, both in stores and online. Available in various forms like creams and gels, these medications contain ingredients such as salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. They function by eliminating bacteria, reducing excess oil, and promoting the shedding of dead skin cells.

Prescription medications

If over-the-counter remedies don’t alleviate your acne, your doctor might recommend stronger prescription medications. These medications, often containing vitamin A, prevent blockages in hair follicles and accelerate skin cell turnover. Examples include tretinoin, tazarotene, or adapalene. Additionally, your doctor may prescribe topical medications with benzoyl peroxide and antibiotics, especially if you have pimples or acne cysts alongside blackheads.

Manual removal

Dermatologists or skilled skin care professionals utilize a round loop extractor to eliminate the plug causing the blackhead. They make a small opening in the plug and then apply pressure with the extractor to remove the clog.


During microdermabrasion, a doctor or skincare professional utilizes a special instrument with a rough surface to gently exfoliate the top layers of your skin. This process helps remove clogs that cause blackheads.

Chemical peels

Chemical peels effectively remove clogs and eliminate dead skin cells responsible for blackheads. A potent chemical solution is applied to the skin, causing the top layers to peel off gradually, revealing smoother skin. While mild peels are available over the counter, dermatologists or skincare professionals administer stronger peels.

Laser and light therapy

Laser and light therapies employ concentrated light beams to reduce oil production and combat bacteria. These treatments target blackheads and acne beneath the skin’s surface without harming the outer layers. Explore further to discover additional acne treatment options.

How can blackheads be prevented?

You can prevent blackheads affordably with these simple strategies:

Wash regularly

Wash your face gently twice daily to remove oil buildup without irritating your skin. Use a mild cleanser with antibacterial properties to combat acne-causing bacteria. Also, wash your hair daily, especially if it’s oily, and cleanse your face after consuming oily foods like pizza to prevent pore blockage.

Use oil-free products

Opt for oil-free or noncomedogenic skincare products, makeup, and sunscreens to prevent new blackheads. These products won’t clog pores, helping to avoid exacerbating the issue.

Try an exfoliating product

Using exfoliating scrubs and masks can effectively remove dead skin cells, reducing blackheads. Opt for products that are gentle and suitable for your skin to avoid irritation.

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Causes of Blackheads | Symptoms | Treatments | Prevention | Exfoliating Products