EXPLAINER: What are blackheads?

And how to get rid of blackheads for good.

By Erin Cook

Blackheads. They're gross, unsightly and for 99 per cent of the population, they're just a part of life.

Getting rid of blackheads is a long-term process. It's a marathon, not a sprint. Here, the Cosmopolitan guide to nixing blackheads for good.

What are blackheads?

First things first: What are those little suckers? Speaking to, Dermatologist Dr. Zoe Draelos answers the age old question: What are blackheads?

"A blackhead is a wax plug in a pore made up of dead skin cells, debris and bacteria," she says. "What causes them is a blockage in the pore that prevents the gland from secreting and shedding what it needs to (oil, dead skin cells, etc.)."

"Then, as the wax plug slowly gets pushed to the skin's surface, it comes in contact with the air, which oxidises it and turns black."

Cheers, air, for making them noticeable.

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What are whiteheads?

To be honest, whiteheads, blackheads and pimples have quite a lot in common. Who'd have thunk it? As we established earlier, a blackhead is a build-up of gunk below the skin's surface, which has been oxidised, turning it black.

A whitehead is a similar build-up of excess sebum, dead skin cells and wax etc., which hasn't breached the skin's surface. Therefore, the air can't oxidise it, so it hasn't yet turned black.

Often, whiteheads turn into pimples. Why? Well, when a clogged pore – i.e. whitehead – is under too much pressure, it can rupture, causing your body to trigger an inflammatory response. Then, the area becomes inflamed, and the pus (sorry!) is pushed to the surface.

How to remove blackheads

Ever wondered: How do I get rid of blackheads on my nose? You're not alone. We have the same thought at least three times before breakfast.

When it comes to removing blackheads, there are two routes you can go down: you can use at-home skincare products designed to prevent blackheads or you can seek the help of a dermatologist. (There's plenty of YouTube-approved methods – like skin gritting or extracting blackheads using dental floss – but to be honest, they're probably a waste of time.)

Popping blackheads: good idea or bad?

Let's be real – if you have a big ol' blackhead on your nose, you'll probably want to pop it. But, is popping blackheads a bad idea?

While squeezing a blackhead may be satisfying, it's better to keep your hands off. When you expel a blackhead, it releases bacteria which, in turn, can affect your surrounding pores. That bacteria can cause more blackheads to form further down the line.

As dermatologist Jason Emer explained to Allure, there's no medical reason to extract blackheads or whiteheads.

However, we realise that sometimes, you're going to squeeze a blackhead regardless of what the professionals say.

Importantly, only squeeze blackheads that have made it to the surface of your skin. If a blackhead doesn't want to be squeezed, leave it alone. You'll just irritate your skin, causing inflammation or even scarring. Always sterilise your hands beforehand and for extra points, squeeze using two Q-Tips on either side of the blackhead.

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Best products & home remedies for blackheads

For most people, a good skincare routine should nix blackheads for good. Unfortunately there's no quick-fix, but incorporating these steps into your daily skincare routine will make a big difference.

1. Invest in a cleansing oil

Oil dissolves oil, so applying an oily cleanser daily is a great way to loosen up those waxy plugs.

La Roche-Posay Lipikar Cleansing Oil, $28.49, at [Chemist Warehouse], Eve Lom Cleanser (includes small muslin cloth), $72, at [MECCA]
La Roche-Posay Lipikar Cleansing Oil, $28.49, at [Chemist Warehouse], Eve Lom Cleanser (includes small muslin cloth), $72, at [MECCA]

2. Get to know salicylic acid

Unlike Benzoyl Peroxide which can really irritate the skin, this deep cleansing agent gets right inside the pores, exfoliating them from the inside out gradually.

Look out for it in serums and spot treatments. You'll notice it pops up in cleansers too, but it works more effectively when left to absorb into the affected area.

Mario Badescu Anti-Acne Serum, $28, at [MECCA](; Ultraceuticals Ultra Clear Treatment Lotion, $89, at [Ultraceuticals](
Mario Badescu Anti-Acne Serum, $28, at MECCA; Ultraceuticals Ultra Clear Treatment Lotion, $89, at Ultraceuticals

3. Try a low-strength retinoid

Retinoids are essentially a type of vitamin A that are very good at speeding up cell turn-over and unclogging pores.

They're great at softening fine lines too. The only negative is, they can be quite harsh, EG: they can make your skin peel.

Apply a retinoid cream once a week to begin with, and if that's still too drying, apply it between two layers of moisturiser.

Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream Travel Size, $11.99, at [Priceline](, 
The Ordinary Advanced Retinoid 2%, $17.90, at [Adore Beauty](
Olay Regenerist Micro-Sculpting Cream Travel Size, $11.99, at Priceline,
The Ordinary Advanced Retinoid 2%, $17.90, at Adore Beauty

4. Apply moisturiser like there's no tomorrow

All this cleansing, exfoliating and skin needling can strip a lot of oil from the skin, sometimes, too much.

If you don't moisturise your skin to keep it balanced, it won't be able to tolerate all the deep cleansing. Always use a non-comedogenic formula that won't clog your pores.

Daily SPF 50+ protection is also essential, especially when you're using chemical exfoliants.

Natio Daily Defence Face Moisturiser SPF 50+, $17.95, at [Natio](, Bioderma Atoderm Nourishing Cream, $29.99, at [Adore Beauty](
Natio Daily Defence Face Moisturiser SPF 50+, $17.95, at Natio, Bioderma Atoderm Nourishing Cream, $29.99, at Adore Beauty
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N.B. If you really aren't seeing any significant changes in the size of your blackheads after trying these methods, speak to a Dermatologist or your GP. They'll likely prescribe an oral contraceptive pill or a vitamin A treatment plan to clear your skin.