If you have watched the new season of Dr. Pimple Popper, you know how addicting cleaning out pores can become. Doctor Sandra Lee pops with ease, digging all sorts of gunk from the depths of human skin. And with your own at-home extraction tools, just an Amazon click away (and for so cheap, at that!) it can be tempting to use an extraction tool at home on your innocent-looking blackheads. Although, they are nothing compared to what the good doctor faces on her show.
“Blackheads form when a clog develops in the opening of hair follicles in your skin,” dermatologist Morgan Rabach, M.D., tells the Sunday Edit. “Dead skin cells and oils collect in the opening to the skin follicle, producing a bump called a comedone. When all the clogged material hits the air outside, it oxidizes and the outside turns black.” Because your skin constantly produces oil and sheds old skin cells, blackheads can appear again and again, even after removal. That doesn’t mean that fending them off is a useless battle — it just means you will have to adopt a consistent blackhead-fighting plan, rather than attacking on an ad-hoc basis.
Blackheads can appear again and again, even after removal.
But if you have ever fended off a dark bump, you know that looks can be deceiving. A speck of oxidized oil sometimes stays put despite your prodding (or sinks further into the skin), and that fun little tool you just got in the mail? It can lead to scarring, redness and even infection.
Here is what the pros want you to know.
Leave the tools to the professionals
Tempted to order your own extraction tool after seeing them on TV? You should really reconsider. “Removing blackheads is definitely a job better suited for a dermatologist,” says Rabach. “Trying to extract the blackhead with a tool can cause mini tears and can push the clogged pore deeper into the skin, ultimately leading to a deeper, more inflamed pimple that can then leave scarring and pigmentation.” That pitting and redness often draws more attention than the blackheads themselves, leaving the DIY extractor-wielder worse off than before. Pushing any dirt further into the skin can even break down the barrier between gunk and dermis, causing bacteria to spread and cause an infection.
If you pushed and picked, leave it be — and monitor the situation
Say you ignored our warnings and prodded anyway, and now you are left with a red, possibly-bleeding situation. What now? First, drop the metal wand. Reach for a warm (but not scalding) wet compress and wipe away any blood or excretion. Then, leave the spot alone. No touching, no drying treatments, just time. If puffiness lingers or you suspect an infection, check with a doctor who may prescribe a treatment cream or drain a particularly upset spot.
If you are looking for a DIY approach, stick to a tried-and-true prevention method
Rather than reaching for an extraction tool, opt instead for a solid skincare regimen. “The first thing is trying to wash your face every night, removing makeup and other products,” suggests Rabach, who also recommends showering immediately post-exercise to keep sweat from sticking around and clogging pores. At night, consider following a wash with a quick exfoliation. “Exfoliators, especially ones that contain alpha or beta hydroxy acid or even salicylic acid, will help reduce the amount of clogged materials around the pores, unclogging them and reducing the number of blackheads.”
From there, choose whatever stays on your skin — moisturizers, foundation and the like — wisely. “Using oil-free makeup and moisturizers and [avoiding] oil-based cosmetic products can dramatically reduce blackheads,” says Rabach. However, it is worth noting that some experts swear by oil cleansers as a way to free gunk from skin. (The idea is that like attracts like, so massaging a cleansing oil into skin can help pull other oils from pores and the epidermis.) Need to call in the big guns? Reach for a retinol — either over the counter, such as Differin or by prescription. “Retinol, or vitamin A creams, usually used at night, is the most helpful ingredient to unclog blackheads and make them go away,” says Rabach. A blackhead-fighting skin care routine won’t work as quickly as in-office extractions, but it will help your pores de-gunk and keep themselves clean.
If you have the means, visit a professional
If you are battling blackheads and have access to a dermatologist, request comedone extractions followed by a salicylic acid peel. The one-two punch doesn’t always feel great, but it can help remove and prevent those pesky black dots.
The MD or aesthetician will likely start by softening skin with a stream of steam, says dermatologist and Epionce founder Carl Thornfeldt, M.D., which makes for an easier removal process. Then, the pro will attack each blackhead individually with an extraction tool or gauze-wrapped fingers. “The removal of the mass needs a very fine-sized grasping device and magnification so that only the lesion is grasped, and surrounding skin is not traumatized,” says Thornfeldt. Extractions may be followed up with a traditional chemical peel, a more mild form of exfoliation, or just a good facial massage. You will be sent home with gunk-free pores, plus instructions on how to keep them clean using skincare products.
Just don’t forget to keep going after you have cleared your pores
Don’t claim victory once you are blackhead-free — fighting off the spots is a life-long battle.
“A study… showed that the comedones refill within 12 days,” explains Thonfeldt. “Combining in-office chemical peels with good at-home skincare regimen that helps keep the pores clear and microbial growth in check will help prevent the need for as [many in-office treatments].” Remember: clear skin can take some commitment, but it is well within your grasp. Just so long as you put down that extraction tool.
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