Beauty Tips & Tricks

Skin Care

Expert Advice on How to Beat Blackheads (and Pores) For Good

12 Oct, 2017
By Daniela Massenz
Most of us have had enlarged pores or a crop of blackheads spring up at some time - not great to look at, we'll agree, and if you leave them, they will continue growing. So how do we get rid of them and stop them returning?
Have you come across Dr Pimple Popper yet? An internet sensation, American dermatologist Dr Sandra Lee's performance pieces are really not for the squeamish and queasy-of-stomach. You've been warned!
But it's likely she'll have popped up like an over-ripe pimple on your screen at some point - she has over 2 million followers on Instagram (@drpimplepopper), and over a billion views on her YouTube channel. 

So why are we talking about her work? It's simple. Think of it as a cautionary tale about why you need to keep your pores clear so they don't develop blackheads. OK, okay! Maybe the monsters Dr. PP has to take down are a very extreme scenario - we’re talking years of careful nurturing to create those, er, beauties - but don’t you want to have smooth skin, free of whiteheads and blackheads, and invisible pores?

What are blackheads?

Now that we have your full attention, let's understand what we're dealing with…
  • Blackheads (aka comedones) are not dirt. They're actually a mix of oil (sebum) and dead skin cells sitting in your pores. When the tip is exposed to air, the oil oxidises and turns black or brown.
    They can form anywhere on your body that has a hair follicle and its accompanying oil gland, but they are most common on the oilier areas of your face - your nose and its sides, chin, forehead, and inner cheeks. Some people, especially during puberty and if they have very oily skin, can get blackheads in their ears, on their chest, shoulders, and back.
  • Whiteheads are essentially the same as blackheads, except the pore isn't open, so the tip doesn't oxidise, and you see a white bump under the skin. If the whitehead becomes infected with bacteria, you get a full-blown pimple or acne.
But it's not just excess sebum that can cause blackheads. According to world-renowned dermatologist Dr. Nicholas Perricone, 'One of the main culprits for blackheads is rising insulin levels. When our blood sugar and insulin levels rise, whether from a poor diet or from stress, we experience a serious increase in inflammatory chemicals at the cellular level. This causes inflammatory diseases, such as blackheads, to worsen dramatically.' So best you cut down on dunkin' those donuts. Pass the salad, please.
Oily skin is the main cause, however, which is one time you may thank your genes if you have drier skin.
Looping back neatly to Dr. Pimple Popper, her advice, in an interview with, is: 'With both blackheads and whiteheads, I advise trying not to squeeze them while they're forming. Any attempt may cause the comedone to stick around for longer and become bigger and uglier. Both are usually responsive to topical adapalene or tretinoin (which are both prescription medications - for example, Differin by Galderma). For something over-the-counter, I recommend using retinol products at night to speed up skin cell renewal. They can irritate the skin somewhat, especially in those with very dry skin, so a little goes a long way. A pea-size portion is plenty for the entire face.'
Her favourites are Dermalogica Overnight Retinol Repair and La Roche Posay Effaclar Duo+ Anti-Imperfections Corrector.
Related: You Need to Know How Diet Can Actually Help Clear Your Acne

What about enlarged pores?

Because blackheads occur when pores get blocked, it makes sense that the larger the pore, the bigger the blockage, and continual blockage can stretch your pores. Most often genetics will determine the size of your pores, but enlarged pores, especially on the cheeks, nose, chin and between the brows are a telltale sign that you have oily skin - at least in that area.
There are several ways to keep your pore size stable and even to improve their appearance:

What else can help?

So there you have the recipe for clear pores. But what if you have them? Then what?
  • Option 1: There's always camouflage
    If you haven't discovered the joys of primer to disguise pores and make your foundation float on the surface of super-smooth skin, you don't know what you're missing. We like Revlon PhotoReady Perfecting Primer and Catrice Prime and Fine Pore Refining Anti Shine Base.
    You could also try one of the great BB and CC creams, such as Olay Total Effects Pore Minimizing CC Cream SPF15.
  • Option 2: Can you squeeze them yourself?
    Opinion is divided on this, but yes you can - although it's important to be EXTREMELY gentle, as over-enthusiastic squeezing will traumatise the skin and could cause lasting scarring and dark marks.
    First cleanse and gently steam (or do this after your shower), then try to extract the contents of the pore using gentle pressure (and cotton wool or gloved hands!), wiggling the area gently rather than squeezing hard.
    Extractor tools and pore strips are also available. Be very gentle with a blackhead extractor as you can cut and damage the skin quite badly if you apply too much pressure.
    But if you have a significant blackhead problem, it's probably better to leave extraction to the professionals.
  • Option 3: What would the professionals do?

    • Extractions are an essential (and important) part of any facial, but they can cause damage if not done properly. Too much pressure - particularly on sensitive skin - can lead to 'broken' capillaries. Likewise, too much pressure causes damage, which leads to hyperpigmentation (dark marks) in people with black skin.

    • It's a good idea to book yourself regular facials for a few weeks, so that extractions can be done in stages to avoid any adverse effects.

    • Salons also perform microdermabrasion, a bit like a mini vacuum cleaner which blasts the skin with tiny, smooth microcrystals and literally lifts blackheads out of the pores. Microdermabrasion has the great effect of encouraging the formation of fresh collagen and skin cells.

    • Skin peels are another option. They use gentle fruit acids to remove the top layer of skin (and the blackheads). The acids are very mild, and are usually safe for even sensitive skin. Superficial peels are suitable for all skin tones, but make sure you go to a reputable skin-care clinic who is well trained in using peels, so you don't get results you don't want.

    • Micro-needling (also known as collagen induction therapy) uses fine needles to create hundreds of tiny, invisible puncture wounds in the top layer of skin. This therapy can be done in a salon or at home using a dermaroller. The tiny injuries that the needles create stimulate the body's natural wound healing process.

    • Light and laser treatment target the deep pockets of oil that are the cause of blackheads, reducing the future oil supply. Light therapy also attacks underlying bacteria in the blackheads. Speak to some of the medical laser clinics such as Lasermed, Skin Renewal, etc. for your best light options.
For the best DIY, over-the-counter and professional remedies for clogged pores, Byrdie uncovers a few pore treatments that could change your life… and your skin.
Here's to a smooth future!
Related: The Best Cosmetic Procedures - How to Improve Your Face and Body Without Surgery

Do you have a beauty problem that’s really bugging you? Ask our experts now