I’ve been plagued by blackheads my entire life. I’m one of the unfortunate few to have oily skin. As you get older, the pores in those oily areas get larger, and the blackheads become more common. It’s an issue many of us deal with, but it’s been a nightmare in my beauty routines to counteract these issues to try to maintain my healthy skin while treating my blemishes. Countless times in the past when I’m plagued with blackhead issues, the question always comes up in my mind: what exactly is a blackhead?
A lot of us girls, and guys, deal with these issues. It’s something that starts in puberty for many of us, and is an enduring issue that can last as you get older. Unfortunately, it can be hard to treat if you first don’t understand what it is you’re dealing with.
What are blackheads?
A blackhead is basically just a clogged pore. People have always explained it that way, but I suppose it is a bit misleading in a way. The first time someone told me that I figured if I just scrubbed my skin more, I could unclog those pores, right? A blackhead is something a bit more than that.
More specifically, it is a little plug of sebum that’s lodged itself all the way down by the hair follicle. They often will manifest as very shallow, but not always. There are not too many types of blackheads, but there are differences in how they form. Most blackheads are quite shallow, and easily treatable. Sometimes a blackhead can become larger over time by itself if it’s left untreated. That is not always the case, fortunately.
In areas where the pores are larger, it is possible to have deep blackheads. The blackhead has much more room to form, and the plug will be much larger and harder to get rid of. In these cases, it’s also possible to have what is called an embedded blackhead that ends up so far down it ends up under the skin. For the larger ones especially, it isn’t always a clear cut case of blackhead. Any bit of sebum exposed to the air will form a black head to it.
I recently had a cyst on my back removed that had manifested at first as a deep blackhead that wouldn’t go away. Upon further examination, it was found to be a cyst. The cyst appearing as a blackhead is the one you need to watch out for. When in doubt, contact a dermatologist to be sure it isn’t anything you need to worry about.
What are blackheads made of?
On a very basic level, a blackheads is simply a mixture of the natural oil from your skin (or sebum as it is otherwise known) and any of your extra dead skin cells (keratin as some like to call it) that might be hanging around. Those two will mix together into a paste that is quite easily packed into small spaces, such as down by hair follicles.
Now if this all happens under the surface of the skin, a white head would form and you’ve got yourself a pimple. If that little mixture is exposed to air, then the top of it would turn black, thus a blackhead. It doesn’t really matter how small or large they are, the basic structure of a blackhead is the same.
Keeping in mind the very few differences between a regular pimple and a blackhead. This is where the advice of a dermatologist would come in handy. I mentioned before I had a blackhead form over a cyst. Technically true, but not entirely accurate. There is a condition called cystic acne. Recall that a blackhead is formed when the pore is clogged by skin oil and debris all mixed together and wedged down by the follicle? Should bacteria get into the area, it can become infected. The area would fill with puss, and you’ve got an entirely different problem on your hands.
Just like with blackheads and whiteheads, a cyst can form close to the surface of the skin. If it’s near an open pore it will be oxidized and form a black head. Looks like any other blackhead, but it won’t go away by itself. Cystic acne can be incredibly difficult to treat, especially without the help of a professional.
How do blackheads form?
Now here’s where it can get complicated. We already know that blackheads are made up of excess oil from the skin mixed with skin debris. We shed excess skin cells every day, so the school of thought of generally believed that an excess of sebum (the skin’s oil) is at fault.
However, there’s not really an easy answer. Some people naturally produce too much oil in their skin (and I’m one of them), and would then be more prone to blackheads when it all clumps in pores and around follicles with that excess skin debris. But other times, it may be down to hormonal changes that can encourage the excessive production of that oil.
During puberty, menstrual periods, pregnancies, women on birth control, or even women going through hormonal changes later in life will all experience these acne and blackhead breakouts. I myself experienced that throughout my life in many stages. Oddly enough, it is the same hormone that triggers it in both men and women – androgen.
Anytime there’s a chance that your body could produce too much of that hormone, you’ll wind up getting too much oil in your skin and voila! You’ve got skin blemishes to deal with. If you’ve got naturally oily skin already, and have large pores to begin with, these hormonal changes can be a nightmare.
There are ways to deal with blackheads, both naturally and not. Whether you’re dealing with it for the first time going through puberty, or the second time through a pregnancy, or even in my case dealing with it later in life as hormones shift for the final once again. The step will always be to know the facts, and to go from there.
Causes of Blackheads
There are times when the human body goes through hormonal imbalances in the course of a lifetime. During menstruation, puberty, or while taking birth control pills, hormonal changes occur in the body. While the level of estrogen in the body falls, it creates an opportunity for the level of testosterone to increase, leading to an imbalance; this causes the oil glands to form more oils which clog the hair follicle forming a blackhead. This is the reason many teenagers and young mothers suffer from this condition.
Improper Sleeping Position
Research shows if a person sleeps regularly on one side of his or her face it may lead to blackheads on one side of the nose. This is because sleeping on one side causes the oils from your hair to come in contact with your skin, leading to further blackheads.
You should wash your face every day before going to bed to remove the makeup and other dirt that may clog the pores. Some skincare products and makeup increase the chances of having this condition. The use of greasy (oily) makeup, such as primer or foundation, may lead to blackheads on the face.
Intense working conditions in places where high temperatures can cause excessive sweating may lead to the formation of blackheads by blocking the pores. Sweat also causes makeup to clog the hair follicles accumulating oil behind the blocked pores, which may lead to the formation of blackheads.
Alcohol tends to reduce the size of the pores in the skin, which further aids the clogging. Moreover, it also effects sleep, which creates more chances for blackheads.
Smoking can block the pores of the skin. Cigarettes contains harmful chemical compounds, such as ash and tar, that damage the surface of the skin.
Unsuitable Food Products
Certain foods rich in carbohydrates are not healthy for the skin. Carbohydrates increase the blood sugar level that triggers mild acne. Additionally, some dairy products, sugary products, and fried foods can also lead to the formation of blackheads. Here’s an article I wrote on the best food to prevent blackheads.
How to Prevent Blackheads
There are many external factors that can negatively impact the skin. Our face is the most prominent area that results in blackheads and acne.
Follow these steps for the prevention of blackheads
Timely Wash Your Face
Nowadays, our natural air is chock full of dirt, bacteria, and grim that sticks to our face and causes pimples and blackheads. This is why it’s necessary to clean your face regularly to avoid blackheads.
Make sure to use a gentle cleanser with a neutral pH level (I would recommend this) for best results. You can also try cleansers having salicylic acid, as they’re very helpful in breakout prevention and keeping pores clean.
People with naturally oily skin are recommended to use oil-free cleansers, whereas dry skin should use a cream-based cleanser.
Also, don’t over-wash your skin, as it may irritate your skin and cause breakouts.
Remove All Makeup before Going to Bed
There is a risk of clogging your pores when going to bed without removing makeup. You can use a gentle cleanser or any makeup remover for removing waterproof products. Regularly usage of makeup products raises the risk of getting bacteria so it is advised to clean your cosmetic sponges and makeup applicators with soapy water at least once in a month.
Take Showers after Vigorous Activities
Excess sweating is one of the most likely reasons behind blackheads because it increases bacteria on the face. Thus, if you are a highly active person, it is suggested to shower after vigorous activities. It is cautionary to not use a bar soap on the area of the face prominent with blackheads as the soap can clog your pores.
Make Use of Moisturizers after Washing Your Face
For perfectly hydrated skin, use any moisturizer regularly after cleaning your skin. People with oily skin can opt for non-comedogenic and oil-free products. You can buy products specially formatted to your facial type; if unsure off your type just ask a skincare expert for help. You might want to check out my post on the best moisturizer.
These are general methods used for blackhead prevention, but there are many other methods as well like regular exfoliation for removing dead skin cells or using oil-absorbing products to remove excess amount of oil from your face. Keep your fingers away from the blackheads to avoid infections.