Have you ever looked at someone with the most perfect complexion and wonder how they got so lucky? Chances are that they have at some point suffered from some type of skin ailment, just like you and practically every other person in the world. Some skincare problems, such as blackheads, are so common that practically no one escapes unscathed. The good news is that even though blackheads are one of the top dermatological complaints, they are easy to treat and prevent. With an understanding of what exactly blackheads are and how they develop, you too can have a picture perfect complexion.
Blackheads, which look like little dirt filled pores on your face, chest or back are actually considered to be a mild form of acne. Blackheads aren’t dirt filled pores at all. In fact, their composition and coloring is a bit more complex. Just under the surface of your skin are minute oil glands that secrete sebum, which acts as a protective moisture barrier and hydrating agent. In addition to this, each one of your pores contains a hair follicle. Certain factors, such as hormonal fluctuations and medications, can increase sebum production beyond the level which is necessary for healthy skin. The excess sebum can combine with bacteria, dirt and dead skin cells in the pore near the base of the hair follicle. When this happens an inflammatory reaction occurs. We typically call this reaction “acne.”
There are different types and severity of acne. Blackheads are generally considered to be mild acne unless they are accompanied by other, more severe acne features. What many people don’t realize is that blackheads and whiteheads are actually very similar, except for one distinct feature. Blackheads are known as open comedones, meaning that the clogged pore does not have a layer of skin covering the pore opening. Whiteheads, on the other hand, are just underneath the skins surface. Both of them are a collection of sebum, skin cells, bacteria and dirt. Blackheads look different because the sebum contains a pigment, melanin, which oxidizes and turns dark when exposed to air. Because blackheads are an open comedone, the air turns the blockage a dark color.
There are plenty of myths about what causes blackheads, however few of them are true. In order for a blackhead to appear, something must cause an excess of sebum production, an excess of dead skin cells or irritation to the skin. Certain foods, such as chocolate or fried foods, will not cause any of those things to happen unless you have an underlying sensitivity to those foods. Poor hygiene is rarely the cause of blackheads either. In fact, over cleansing and over stimulating the skin is more likely to cause blackheads than skipping a day of your cleansing routine. Most other myths or old wives tales about the causes of blackheads and acne in general are also false. Scientifically speaking, the primary causes of blackheads include:
- Hormonal fluctuations associated with puberty, menstrual cycles, pregnancy and other conditions that might affect hormone levels.
- Certain medications such as anabolic steroids, cortisteroids, lithium, testosterone, certain oral contraceptives (although some are used to relieve more severe acne symptoms), medicines that contain iodide or bromide and anticonvulsants.
- Certain health conditions that cause an increase in the production, or turnover, of skin cells. High insulin levels have been associated with an increased rate of blackheads.
- An over strenuous skin care routine. Harsh exfoliants or products that dry your skin are more likely to cause an excess of dead skin cells to combine with irritated pores.
- Inflammatory reactions to certain agents.
While blackheads can be unsightly, the best approach is to treat them gently and to avoid doing anything that might further irritate your skin or possibly cause an infection. This means absolutely no picking, squeezing or abrasive scrubbing. For most people, blackheads are something that can be treated at home with the proper skin care routine and preventative measures. If your blackheads are particularly troublesome to you, a dermatologist or licensed esthetician can help you. There is a professional tool that can be used to loosen the sebum plug and gently extract it from your skin. If you try doing this yourself, you could end up enlarging the pore, or worse cause an infection. There are also medications that a dermatologist might prescribe to you; however, topical applications are generally preferred unless you have other acne symptoms.
When it comes to choosing skin care products that will help to treat and prevent your blackheads, gentle and natural is best. You want to stay away from harsh scrubs, or any ingredients, such as alcohol, that might be too drying for your skin. Look for products that advertise themselves as being non-comedogenic, which means that it will not clog your pores. Here is a list of some of the best blackhead fighting ingredients that you should be looking for in your skin care products.
Vitamin A: Vitamin A, when applied topically, is one of the best vitamins to treat and heal blackheads. As a skincare ingredient, vitamin A is usually altered to form a retinoid, which you might recognize by the name “retinol.” This ingredient helps treat blackheads by enhancing skin regeneration and controlling excess sebum production.
If you suffer from the frustrating combination of blackheads and aging skin, you will find that vitamin A, or retinol, serves double duty as it is one of the best skincare ingredient to address the early visible signs of aging. One thing to remember, however is that for some skin types it can be mildly drying to the skin, and some people experience redness and dry patches for up to two weeks when they first begin treatment. This side effect goes away as your skin adjusts. However, it is important to start slow and apply it only once per day, or less, as needed to treat mild acne, including blackheads. OZNaturals Retinol Serum delivers visible results without the irritation common to many other retinol formulations.
Sulfur: You might associate sulfur with the unpleasant smell of rotting eggs, but it is becoming recognized as a valuable skincare ingredient, especially in formulations crafted for problem skin. Sulfur is an antibacterial and an exfoliant. When used in small amounts in skincare products, it can help to dry out excess sebum, exfoliate dead surface cells and extract the sebum plugs from your pores.
You don’t need to worry about your skincare products having an unpleasant odor, but you should be advised against crafting any homemade sulfur preparations yourself. Sulfur can quickly change from a beneficial skin care ingredient to a dangerous one if not used correctly. Choose gentle products that contain just enough sulfur to compliment your skin care routine and make sure that you follow the instructions for when and how often they should be used. OZNaturals Ocean Mineral Tonic contains organic Sulphur in the form of methylsulfonylmethane or MSM.
Glycolic acid: Glycolic acid, also known as alpha hydroxyl acid or AHA, chemically loosens the bonds between the outermost layers of skin cells, so that damaged or dead skin cells can be easily and gently exfoliated away. This gives room for fresh, healthy skin cells to take their place. It also means that unhealthy skin cells will not sit on top of your skin, looking for a nice pore to snuggle up in and clog. Glycolic acid, when used properly, can also help to restore the natural moisture balance in problematic skin. Our newest serum, Vitamin C + AHA combines one of the most proven antioxidants with the power of AHA to brighten skin and reduce the occurrence of blackheads.
Antioxidants: If you are looking for a treatment for your acne that will also be restorative for your skin, you want to seek out products that contain at least one type of antioxidant. Antioxidants fight against cell damage, and an acne control product that contains them will help to keep your skin healthy and glowing. Some of the best antioxidants to look for in your skincare products include vitamin E, green tea extract, coffee berry extract, vitamin C and retinol (mentioned above). You’ll find a wide range of the most innovative and scientifically proven antioxidants in all OZNaturals products, including our flagship Vitamin C Facial Serum.
The ingredients in your skin care products are only half of the battle of treating blackheads. The second part of treatment involves knowing how to properly care for your skin. Here are a few tips for developing the best skin care routine to treat blackheads and mild forms of acne.
- First, resist the urge to scrub away your blackheads because it is likely that you will only end up making the problem worse. Blackheads are nothing more than clogged pores, so there is no need to use something other than a product meant to gently lift out dirt and oils. Aggressive scrubbing or exfoliating will damage healthy skin cells, cause inflammation and further aggravate your symptoms.
- The above advice doesn’t mean that you should never exfoliate at all. The trick is knowing how often and what to use. We recommend using our Ancient Orient Enzyme Dermafoliant two to three times a week to keep pores unclogged and healthy.
- Sometimes, plain old water is the best medicine. If you have been washing your face twice a day with cleanser, and have found it to be too drying or irritating for your skin, try replacing your morning washing routing with just splashing tepid water on your face and gently patting it dry.
- Rather than wash your face repeatedly throughout the day to remove excess oil and dirt, try a gentle, non-alcohol toner such as our Ocean Mineral Tonic in between cleansings instead.
- Don’t try to extract it yourself. You can buy a simple tool that is meant for extracting the plugs of blackheads, but resist the urge to try this yourself unless you have been trained in how to safely do so. Most people will use these tools incorrectly and damage the pore or introduce harmful bacteria into the area. Make an appointment with a dermatologist or esthetician if you have more questions about using these tools.
- Don’t skip the moisturizer. It might seem counterintuitive to moisturize clogged or acne prone skin, but a great non-comedogenic moisturizer is exactly what your skin needs. The proper moisturizer will help restore moisture balance after using acne control products, which even the gentlest of can be a little drying. Choose a light formula moisturizer that contains beneficial antioxidants to help moisturize and repair your skin. Our Sea Infused Moisturizer is an ideal choice to blackhead-prone skin.
Blackheads are one of the unpleasant facts of life, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t stand up against them and win the fight. With the right gentle and natural skin care products and ingredients you can say goodbye to blackheads forever.