Ah, blackheads - those little pinpoints of darkness that hold you back from the complexion of your dreams. They may feel like a fact of life, but with a few smart strategies you might be able to send them packing for good. Three dermatologists have the lowdown on how to treat the clogged pores you've got - and keep new ones from popping up.
Exfoliate the Right Way
Sloughing off dead skin cells seems like a great way to keep them from mixing with debris and sebum and clogging pores - and it is, mostly. The problem is with scrubs, which can cause irritation and actually lead to more breakouts. "The process of skin cells (keratinocytes) being born at the bottom layer of the skin, moving to the top layer, dying, and flaking off is called 'keratinization,'" Dr. Leslie Baumann, a board-certified dermatologist and author of Cosmeceuticals and Cosmetic Ingredients, explains. "When this keratinization process is altered, say with friction, the pores get blocked."
Instead, look for chemical exfoliators like glycolic acid, retinoids, and salicylic acid. Dr. Joel L. Cohen, director of AboutSkin Dermatology in Greenwood Village, CO, recommends PCA SKIN's Intensive Clarity Treatment: 0.5% Pure Retinol Night ($106; pcaskin.com), which contains retinol, salicylic acid, and niacinamide, and can help reduces som of the redness and discolorations left from breakouts.
Skip These Ingredients
You probably already know to look for the words "non-comedogenic" on the package of any skin care product (if not, you should - that means the product was made specifically to avoid causing blocked pores), but Baumann says the worst offenders in the pore-clogging category are isopropyl myristate, isopropyl palmitate, and coconut oil. So if you spot them in the ingredients list, do not add to cart!
Seek a Professional
It can be temping to squeeze out your blackheads yourself, but all the derms we talked to agreed: It's best to go to an experienced facialist for extractions. "The goal is to remove the plug without damaging surrounding skin, as not to leave a scar or cause infection," says New York dermatologist Kally Papantoniou, M.D.
Go Light With Moisturizer
Heavy creams can be a problem for blackhead-prone folks. "Products that are designed for very dry skin often contain oils that can exacerbate acne and blackheads by precipitating more clogged pores and breakouts," says Cohen. So stick with lightweight formulas that hydrate without feeling heavy (and clogging pores). One to try: Simple Kind to Skin Protecting Light Moisturizer ($12.99; ulta.com).
(Carefully) Consider a Mask
You might have spotted those black Korean peel-off masks for blackheads on social media lately (My Scheming Mask ($11.18; amazon.com) is a popular one), and the derms were split on whether they're a good idea or not. The basic premise is that they act like a giant pore strip for the face, lifting off blackheads as you peel them back. Dr. Papantoniou suggested they might be good for maintenance between appointments with an experienced facialist. But Dr. Cohen and Dr. Baumann worry that the ripping off motion may cause irritation. The verdict: If you want to give them a try, make sure to patch-test on a small area first.
If you try all of the above and don't see results overnight, relax. "Remember that nothing with the skin is overnight and it will take two to three months to sometimes see dramatic improvement," says Dr. Papantoniou. That means you're likely to have clearer skin next season, not next week. Annoying, yes, but true.