A round of applause for the people removing their blackheads at home. I’m certainly not brave enough to do it because the mere word “extraction” sounds like serious business. One slip-up and a penchant for clumsiness would leave me with permanent scarring and a permanently bad mood. If I’m going to dip my toe into DIY blackhead removal, I need the method that doesn’t involve any sort of tool.
Thankfully, there are certain experts who actually don’t vouch for self-extractions, one of them being Candace Marino, more popularly known as the LA Facialist. “It’s the equivalent of giving free condoms to teens—not encouraging it, but if they’re going to do it, let’s make it safe,” she says. “Pores are not doors. They don’t open or close, but we can improve their appearance.”
With that being said, let’s get into some preventative “pore protocol,” including ways to nix blackheads without digging into your skin with a tool or device.
Start With Identification
For starters, make sure that what you’re targeting is actually a blackhead. According to Marino, those “little dots on your nose most likely aren’t blackheads; they’re sebaceous filaments.”
“Sebaceous filaments are the normal function of the follicle. Narrow, lighter in color under the skin— they do not fully obstruct the pore and are not meant for extractions,” she says.
“Blackheads will be raised, textured, truly black, thick, and waxy. The skin oils solidify, forming plugs that can dilate the pore further leading to enlarged pores.”
Ramp Up Preventative Cleansing
Prevention should be your first line of defense against any skin setback, including blackheads. Whether you have a cluster on the tip of your nose or not, Marino recommends regularly using a gentle cleanser with light acids for mild exfoliation, like the SkinBetter Oxygen Infusion wash.
“Keep the face free from cellular build-up and environmental sludge. Clean pores will always appear smaller so exfoliate daily. Salicylic acid is your friend—use it!,” she adds.
Additionally, aim to strengthen collagen production and elastin with peptides. These miracle workers are compatible with most other skincare ingredients and can be found in everything from eye cream to night serums to your daily moisturizer.
Turn Up the Heat
In lieu of extraction tools, DIY steaming is both preventative and a gentle, yet effective way to loosen already existing blackheads. Marino only warns that this isn’t recommended for anyone with melasma or hyperpigmentation.
Her favorite and most cost-effective way to steam is by boiling hot water over the stove, throwing in some tea “to give off spa vibes” and “hovering over the pot with a towel over your head to trap in steam for 5 minutes to allow your skin to soften.”
Just be sure to cut yourself off after five minutes; anything longer can cause TEWL (transepidermal water loss and dehydration).
Pinch Up Instead of Digging Down
However, if you must extract, Marino stresses doing it “with caution and care.” But first, “put down the knife” and “use clean fingers only.”
“Leave digging devices to the professionals to avoid potential permanent scarring or pigmentation issues and injury,” she adds. Instead, “wrap your finger in tissue or cotton, gently pinch the skin together and press upward. Press only the direction you want the congestion to go. If you’re pressing down into the skin, you’re making things worse and potentially spreading bacteria under the skin.”
In general, you should be gentle and leave aggravated or super stubborn acne alone. Most importantly, give your pores a break in-between; no need to steam or extract every other day.
Don’t Forget to Cool Off
Once you’ve extracted a blackhead or two, cleansing and treating the skin afterward is of the utmost importance. Immediately cleanse and tone the face, ideally something with AHAs and BHAs to micro-exfoliate and balance the skin, like the Biologique Recherche Lotion P50W.
Marino also recommends incorporating cooling products into your post-removal routine as well. One of her favorite go-to serums is the iS Clinical HydraCool Serum and if you can, she vouches for an ice roller to immediately reduce inflammation and pain.
Should you want to take things a step further, treat yourself to a mask like Biologique Recherche’s Vivant too.
Stay Balanced With Moisture Binders & Retinol
Whether you’re into DIY extractions or not, the best way to prevent blackheads is with regular exfoliation, daily cleansing and moisture, moisture, moisture.
“Support balance using humectants and moisture binders like hyaluronic acid,” suggests Marino. “Don’t overly dry. Limit benzoyl peroxide, as it can create a rebound effect of more production of sebum.”
A retinol product like the Better Skin AlphaRet also helps with skin cell turnover minus the trauma and if you want to go for the big guns, do it with a weekly peel. Pro-tip: it doesn’t have to be a liquid solution; something like the AlphaRet Peel Pads are just as effective.
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