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Notes on Blackheads

One of the most common concerns I hear from my clients, they affect all walks of life, at any age and unfortunately once settled in, they can be notoriously stubborn. However, treatment is relatively straightforward – and believe it or not, it doesn’t involve extractions – and is best approached from a preventative standpoint, coupled with the right products. When it comes to keeping blackheads at bay, consistency is key. 

What are Blackheads?
Blackheads are small, brown or black blemishes that usually pop up in oil-prone areas of the face such as the T-Zone, but can also appear on other areas of the body like the back and the chest. Often referred to as “blocked pores”, they differ from blemishes or closed comedones as they don’t form a white head and aren’t caused by bacteria. Rather, they manifest when our pores become blocked with oil (sebum) and dead skin cells. Blackheads form in open pores which are exposed to air causing the trapped debris and oils to oxidise and making them appear black. 

How can Blackheads be treated?
The old adage of never picking your complexion applies here, more than ever. Squeezing and extracting a blackhead can cause more damage to the skin and can result in scars that will take longer to heal. Rather than performing extractions, the gentlest and most effective way to treat blackheads long term is to keep the complexion clean, ensure your products aren’t occlusive, regulate your oil production and most importantly, keep your skin cells turning over. 

Which ingredients target blackheads most effectively?
A handful of strategically placed ingredients can both break down and free the pores of impurities as well as prevent their return. Chemical exfoliation is key, BHAs and AHAs see great results for treating blackheads, look for ingredients such as glycolic acid, salicylic acid, lactic acid, clays and retinol.

Salicylic Acid
Part of the BHAs group of chemical exfoliants, salicylic acid is such a stand-out due to its ability to deeply penetrate and clear out pores. It’s also antibacterial and anti-inflammatory; perfect to refresh and refine blackhead-prone complexions. You can find it in cleansers, serums and even moisturisers, for a targeted approach, I find exfoliating lotions are most effective for treating blackheads.

Noted for its mineral properties, clay detoxifies the skin and removes blockages from your pores. There are a few different clays, each with its own benefits; I often suggest kaolin clay (rich in silica and pH-neutral) and bentonite clay (it absorbs oils and debris) for treating blackheads.

An ingredient best known for treating ageing in the skin, retinol also offers incredible results for decongesting blackheads. A Vitamin A derivative, retinol promotes rapid cell turnover – removing old layers of skin along with anything clogging your pores. Start with a slow-release formula a few times a week before working your way up to nightly use.

Hyaluronic Acid
This powerful humectant holds water molecules on the surface of the skin to give a dewy appearance. It quenches, hydrates and plumps the complexion without occlusion – in short, it won’t block pores. Look for serums containing hyaluronic acid that is paired with B Vitamins. These will not only offer instant and lasting hydration but offer anti-inflammatory benefits to the complexion, reducing redness, irritation and agitation.