How Blackheads Form and Effective Ways to Treat Them.

Blackheads are a common yet unwelcome sight, often wreaking devastation on our skin and overall look. They lay siege to faces worldwide, regardless of age or gender. Have you ever wondered how these tiny dark spots form? Or how can you declare war on them effectively? Keep reading to explore the fascinating world under your skin where blackheads are born and cultivate impactful strategies to reduce their population. 

Blackheads are caused by a combination of factors, including clogged hair follicles due to the buildup of dead skin cells and excess oil production. Hormonal changes such as puberty, menstruation, and pregnancy can increase oil gland activity, leading to the development of blackheads. Other contributing factors include irritated hair follicles and irregular shedding of dead skin cells. While over-the-counter products containing salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide can help treat blackheads, severe cases or complications from at-home extraction may require professional treatment from a dermatologist.

Blackheads and Their Causes

Blackheads are a common form of acne that usually appears on the face and skin. Often, they can be mistaken for dirt and grime, but blackheads result from clogged pores caused by excessive oil production or an accumulation of dead skin cells. Over time, these elements mix to form a sticky substance that plugs the opening of hair follicles and forms black dots on the skin. While harmless in most cases, blackheads can be unsightly and affect one’s self-esteem in severe cases.

What are Blackheads?

Blackheads, also known as open comedones, are small bumps on the skin’s surface when skin cells, bacteria, and excess oil get trapped within hair follicles. When this mixture combines with oxygen from the air, it turns black, creating tiny dots called blackheads or, in some cases, whiteheads.

What are Blackheads?
  • While similar to pimples, they typically have a flatter appearance and do not have redness or inflammation around them. Blackheads can occur anywhere on the body but most typically appear on parts with large amounts of sebaceous glands, such as the nose or chin. They can be painful if squeezed forcefully; squeezing can damage your skin.
  • To avoid damaging your skin through squeezing, use an exfoliating scrub once a week to unclog your pores gently.
  • It is important to note that a variety of factors, such as age, genetics, hormones, and lifestyle habits like poor diet or smoking, can trigger blackheads. However, effective treatment options are available to help reduce their appearance easily.
CausesTreatment Options
Excessive Oil ProductionTopical Creams
Accumulation of Dead Skin CellsChemical Peels
Hormonal shiftsLaser Therapy

For instance, topical creams like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid can help unclog pores and control oil production. At the same time, chemical peels and laser therapy can be used to deal with more persistent blackheads. Home remedies that include baking soda, lemon juice, and honey effectively soothe and reduce blackheads.

Overproduction of Sebum and the Role of Dead Skin Cells

Blackheads are small bumps that form when oil, known as sebum, combines with dead skin cells and buildups inside the hair follicle. Fundamentally, blackheads are clogged pores on your skin that result from excess sebum and dead skin cells sticking together. Every individual has hair follicles with two types of glands: sebaceous glands, which produce oil, and sweat glands, which release perspiration. When sebum production is disrupted or occurs excessively, it binds to dead skin cells, forming a plug that clogs the pore. This plug becomes darkened when exposed to oxygen, leading to a blackhead.

A teenager with oily skin produces more sebum than they need due to hormonal changes during puberty. Their dead skin cells cannot exfoliate fast enough, mixing with excess oil and clogging their pores.

Blackheads can contribute to the development of other acne forms, such as pimples and deeper cystic acne when bacteria invade these blocked pores and cause inflammation.

To address acne caused by blackheads, maintaining a clear and balanced skin environment is crucial. One effective solution is the use of Sebasorb Oil Absorbing Lotion.

This product is specifically designed to control excess oil on the skin’s surface, reducing the likelihood of pores becoming clogged. Its oil-absorbing properties help to keep the skin matte and less prone to blackhead formation, thereby preventing the progression to more severe acne. Regular use of Sebasorb Oil Absorbing Lotion, as part of a comprehensive skincare routine, can significantly improve skin clarity and health, reducing both blackheads and associated acne.

Bacterial Activity and Blackheads

Apart from clogged pores resulting from the overproduction of sebum and dead cell buildup, bacterial activity also plays a role in exacerbating blackhead formation. Inside our hair follicles reside Propionibacterium acnes bacteria that cause inflammation when they multiply excessively within such a confined space. This inflammation inevitably irritates the clogged follicle. Such irritation can cause more skin cell debris, furthering blockage within the pore.

Bacteria create all kinds of detrimental changes in the body. In some instances, they often trigger immune responses activating healing processes; however, this isn’t the case with the P.acnes bacterium around blackheads as they live within it like in a ‘safe zone.’ The longer these bacteria stay active on your face, the greater your chance of developing acne.

Conditions that Might Facilitate Blackhead Formation

Blackheads are a common skin problem, but what causes them to form? Several conditions can contribute to the formation and exacerbation of blackheads. Some include clogged or overactive hair follicles from dead skin cells and excess oil. Other factors, like hormonal changes during puberty, menstruation, or pregnancy, can also contribute to the overproduction of oil glands. Irritated hair follicles and irregular shedding of dead skin cells can also lead to blackhead formation.

To effectively treat and prevent blackheads, it’s essential first to understand the differences between comedones and closed comedones.

Comedone vs Closed Comedone

A comedone is a non-inflammatory type of acne that forms when dead skin cells and oil block pores. It’s commonly called an open comedone or blackhead since the pore’s opening is visible on the skin’s surface. When exposed to air, it oxidizes and turns black.

Closed comedones, on the other hand, are small flesh-colored bumps that develop under the skin’s surface. Closed comedones are known as whiteheads because the pore opening isn’t exposed like an open comedone or blackhead.

It’s worth noting that while both types of comedones may share similar mechanisms leading up to their formation, they require different treatment plans.

For instance, closed comedones are notoriously difficult to treat topically since their origin is beneath the skin’s surface. Treatment options for closed comedones typically involve exfoliating agents like chemical peels or topical retinoids prescribed by a healthcare professional.

Practical Ways to Reduce and Prevent Blackheads

Like acne, blackheads can be prevented or reduced by adopting a few practical steps that help unblock clogged pores. 

  • Ensuring proper hygiene practices 
  • Avoiding tight clothing
  • Oil-free products that don’t clog the pores are the way to achieve this. 
  • Avoiding common triggers such as touching the face frequently with hands or oily hair 
  • Consuming foods high in refined sugar or dairy can also limit their occurrence.

To maintain proper hygiene levels, one must cleanse one’s face gently twice daily with a derm-approved mild cleanser. Regular exfoliation can also alleviate blackhead formation by scrubbing away dead skin cells that block the pores. However, avoid over-exfoliating as this could lead to inflammation of the skin.

Another way to prevent blackhead formation is by ensuring one’s skin stays hydrated. This can be achieved by drinking enough water – at least eight cups a day – and using lightweight moisturizers that do not contain comedogenic or pore-clogging ingredients.

Effective Treatments for Blackheads

Despite taking preventive measures, blackheads might still prevail. In such cases, seeking appropriate treatments for effective relief is imperative.

Some blackhead-fighting ingredients include retinoids, salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, lactic acid, and charcoal. These components work differently but typically dissolve impurities within the pores and hinder bacterial growth on the skin’s surface.

TreatmentHow It Works
Differin Gel (contains 0.1% adapalene)Slows down excessive sebum production thanks to its retinoid content
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser (has salicylic acid and lipohydroxy acid)Unclogs pores and removes dead skin cells
Murad Acne Control Clarifying Cleanser (contains salicylic acid and green tea extract)Reduces inflammation, thereby limiting the occurrence of blackheads
AcneFree Blackhead Removing Scrub with Charcoal (contains 2% salicylic acid and charcoal)Helps unclog and refine complexion by absorbing impurities
Clinique Deep Pore Cleanse & Face Scrub (has salicylic acid and silica)Dissolves oil production on the skin’s surface
Skinbetter Science AlphaRet Clearing Serum (combines salicylic acid and retinoids)Removes existing blackheads while preventing new ones from forming
The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA (contains lactic acid)Exfoliates skin, removes dead cells, and prevents clogged pores
Mele Refresh Even Tone Facial Tonic (has lactic acid and vitamin C)Combats blackheads through skin exfoliation, serums, and spot treatments
Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow PHA + BHA Pore-Tight Toner (contains beta hydroxy acids, watermelon extract, and polyhydroxy acids)Smoothens skin texture while treating blackheads with its mild yet potent formula

When using any of the above treatments or others not listed here that contain active ingredients like alpha hydroxy acids or benzoyl peroxide, it’s essential to follow the instructions carefully to avoid irritation.

It’s also advisable to start with low concentrations of any product containing active ingredients before increasing gradually for better tolerance. When selecting products used for treating blackheads, consult a dermatologist for advice based on your unique skin type.

Pro tip: Blackhead-fighting treatment is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle – be patient, take your time to find the right fit, and keep trying till you achieve the perfect complexion.


  • Michael Reed

    Michael Reed is a medical writer at Sumlab, focusing on dermatological studies and treatments. His articles help demystify complex clinical results for a broad audience.

    View all posts