What Causes Blackheads?
Blackhead are actually the very first stage acne. They appear just under the skin as a black or even yellow spot. They form in the pores near the sebaceous glands. (See Figure 1)It is most common in the adolescent years, but they can occur at any time of life.
Figure 1: Blackheads
Blackheads are caused by the sebum from sebaceous glands forming a blockage in the pores. Sebum is a normal lubricant that moisturizes the skin and hair. While it normally flows out freely, if air enters the pore it mixes with the sebum and the pore becomes blocked.
Blackheads take on their dark color from melanin. This is a normal component of sebum and when the air enters the pore it turns dark. Many people mistake blackheads for dirt under the skin and tend to over cleanse and scrub. The common belief that blackheads are caused by dirty skin is actually a myth.
Certain age groups and conditions contribute to acne including; puberty, pregnancy, hormone medications and the overuse of makeup products. Stress and anxiety can also contribute to blackhead formation. It has not been proven that any foods contribute to acne or blackheads.
Symptoms of Blackheads
The symptoms of blackheads are usually a precursor to acne. However, just because you get a blackhead does not necessarily mean that you are developing full-blown acne. Everyone gets a pimple or two once in a while. If you begin to suffer severe symptoms, check with your doctor for further evaluation and treatment.
The symptoms of blackheads are relatively mild and include:
- Lesions that are not inflamed (no redness or swelling) known as “comedones.”
- Black spots under the skin
- Large pores that appear slightly open
Usually one or two blackheads are not a cause for concern. If you notice they start to become inflamed, red and swollen you may be in the beginning stages of acne.
Certain types of blackheads or acne can actually be the manifestation of an allergic rash (See Figure 2) and your body is attempting to cleanse itself of toxins. Blackheads that normally appear in only one or two spots may appear over larger areas with an allergy such as; the entire face, the back and the sides of the arms. This is usually from contact with something like soap or lotion.
Figure 2: Acne Rash
Photo Courtesy of: WebMD.com
Any lesions that you think are blackheads but have irregular edges, bleed or are very painful to the touch should be evaluated by a physician.
How to get rid of blackheads at home
One or two occasional blackheads can easily and safely be treated at home with simple home remedies. If you get a blackhead or two once in a while you have a few choices, you can either leaves them alone until they go away on their own or you can use home remedies. You just need to follow a few simple rules:
- Never ever pick them or squeeze them with your fingers under any circumstances and no matter how tempting it is. The reason for this is your skin has a resident bacteria you don’t want inside, Staph (Staphylococcus). Yes, Staph lives on your skin all the time and any open areas are a good way for this nasty bug to get into your body. This puts you at risk for boils or even internal infection. Not to mention this causes scarring.
- Try not to over scrub your skin. This can add to the problem. Just a light face wash and a splash with astringent followed by a light moisturizer is the best skin care. Using a non-oily moisturizer can actually help by telling the skin it won’t need to produce so much sebum from the inside.
With these few rules in mind, you can try these easy home tricks:
1) Pore Cleansing Strips. These are strips with an adhesive on one side that are designed to grab blockage from pores and pull it out. Very safe with the exception of allergic reactions to the adhesive.
2) Baking Soda Mask. This is easy to do and something you have in your kitchen! Mix baking soda and water into a paste, apply to skin and allow to dry. Wash off with warm water like a scrub. You can also add some apple cider vinegar instead of water as a mild astringent.
3) Clay Masks. Clay masks can help remove dirt and soak up excess oil on the skin. They need to be used on a regular basis, but not too often or the skin can become too dry. Once or twice weekly is a good rule of thumb.
4) Steam. Try putting your face over a bowl of steaming water and covering your head with a towel. Do this before your daily face wash to help loosen dirt and debris. (See Figure 3)
Figure 3: Steam
Photo Courtesy of: Livestrong.com
5) Aloe Vera Gel. Dot each blackhead with a dab of aloe vera gel and leave overnight. Not only does this help heal acne, but can moisturize the skin at the same time.
6) Eat Fruits and Vegetables. Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables can provide your skin with healthy antioxidants to keep skin looking fresh and clear.
7) Honey, Lemon and Salt Scrub. Mix 2 tablespoons of honey with a squeeze of ¼ lemon and 1 tsp salt. Use as a scrub to wash your face. Make sure you moisturize with an oil free moisturizer afterwards. (See Figure 4)
Figure 4: Honey, Lemon and Salt mask
Photo Courtesy of: BlackDoctor.org
There are many more home remedies that you can use to help rid your face of blackheads easily and safely. As long as you refrain from “picking” blackheads should clear up on their own usually within a week.
When you should see a doctor for blackheads
Blackheads not always, but sometimes can be a precursor to acne. If there are risk factors like; puberty, pregnancy, or medications you may need to see a doctor. This is especially true with teen agers that have issues with self-esteem. Here are some good reasons to call a doctor if home remedies don’t help blackheads:
- Severe inflammation and redness
- Spreading over different parts of the body
- The skin begins to scar
- Comes on suddenly after starting medication
- Possible allergic acne
As a last resort, the doctor can prescribe treatments like; glycolic acid, prescription oral medications or laser treatments for scarring.
Blackheads are usually not a cause for concern, but if you want to know how to get rid of blackheads on your own the list above can be very helpful. Using natural products and moisturizing the skin, coupled with a healthy diet, can help keep blackheads to a minimum.