9 Blackhead Myths You Should Stop Believing In
If those tiny black dots scattered across your nose look like vast and unfathomable black holes to you, you’re standing too close to the mirror. To get rid of your blackheads do this one simple thing: Back away from your reflection until they disappear.
Alright, alright. That’s not the solution most of us are looking for, but the point is those dots are tiny and go largely unnoticed until we put ourselves under our own microscope of nitpicking and unachievable perfection. It’s also true that most of them aren’t actually blackheads. Turns out, the internet and product marketing are full of myths when it comes to what blackheads are and how to treat them.
Before we bust those myths, let’s all get on the same page about what we’re dealing with here.
What Are Blackheads?
Blackheads are a mild form non-inflammatory acne (unless you’re trying to pop them before they’re ready. Stop that.) They form in hair follicles deep in the lining of your pores. Every hair follicle on your body has a sebaceous gland that produces sebum oil to help keep your skin soft. Sometimes dead skin cells get into the follicle, mix with the oil and form a plug, which becomes a bump, which is called a comedone.
If the skin remains intact over the bump, your comedone is a whitehead. But if the bump opens up, exposing the mix of oil and dead skin to the air, the melanin in the oil oxidizes and turns a darker color. Now you have a blackhead. With five million hair follicles on your body — hundreds of thousands of them concentrated on your face — the opportunities for blackheads are pretty endless.
Now let’s bust some myths.
Myth #1: All those dots on my T-Zone are blackheads.
Are they flat? Are they evenly scattered, especially over your nose? Can you really even see them if you step back another foot? Chances are you don’t have blackheads, you have oil glands. Congratulations! You’re just like the rest of us. Sebaceous filaments are oil glands that supply pores with oil — everyone has them and, yes, sometimes they’re visible...especially when your nose is touching the mirror.
Myth #2: Blackheads are trapped dirt. I should wash my face more.
There’s no dirt in your blackhead and over-washing your face will do more (inflammation-inducing) harm than good. The reason blackheads have a darker color than whiteheads is simply oxidation, the chemical reaction when melanin pigment in the sebum of a follicle comes into contact with oxygen at the top of an open pore. Blackheads aren’t always black, either. They can also be gray, yellow or brown.
Myth #3: If I just scrub harder, they’ll clear themselves out
While you’re at it, grind an actual ax against your bare skin and see what happens. Scrubbing your skin or even just applying undue pressure can cause trauma that will make things look and feel a lot worse as well as increase inflammation that leads to more pimples. Gentle is the name of the game when it comes to handling your skin. Always.
Myth #4: Blackheads are caused by oil, therefore only form in oily skin
No matter your skin type, your hair follicles still have oil glands. It’s true that skin moods that skew dry might experience fewer blackheads, but all the rules of how blackheads form still apply — and you still have all the required ingredients: oil and dead skin, especially around the nose where oil glands are most heavily concentrated.
Myth #5: I’ll outgrow blackheads on the other side of puberty
No one over 25 believes this for one obvious reason: we still get blackheads. This myth probably gets its sliver of truth from the fact that hormones stimulate your skin’s oil glands (part one of the blackhead cocktail mixing in your hair follicle) and hormones are at an all-time high during our teenage years. But other factors impact hormones that go far beyond teen spirit: sweating, shaving, stress, birth control, etc. Blackheads don’t discriminate by age.
Myth #6: Makeup clogs pores and that’s why women have blackheads
Blackheads are gender neutral. The universal and transgender cause of blackheads is the combination of sebum overproduction mixing with dead skin cells. Not makeup. Then again, if you leave your makeup sitting on your face for days without washing it, you’re probably not going to see the skin results you want. Just sayin’.
Myth #7: I’ll just shrink my pores to get rid of blackheads, thanks
Pores aren’t muscles that contract or expand. But you can diminish their appearance by exfoliating regularly (and gently) to reduce the buildup of dead skin cells plugging your pores. You can also make them look larger if that’s your endgame. Just keep using harsh pore strips, irritating ingredients and residue-building bar soaps that trigger more oil production. Or, don’t, maybe?
Myth #8: I’ll just sweat them out with the rest of my body’s toxins
Nope. Your body doesn’t detox through sweat, says science. The so-called toxins you’re trying to sweat out at the gym or in the sauna don’t mix well with water, the primary ingredient in your sweat. Besides, as we’ve already established, the blackheads you’re trying to empty aren’t filled with toxic waste, dirt or the incredibly vague “impurities” many skincare brands love to hate on. You’re not going to push out that dead skin lodged in your hair follicles with a high-intensity workout. In fact, excessive sweat might make them worse.
Myth #9: Junk food causes blackheads
Busted, Sort Of
It’s not a direct correlation, but in a roundabout way poor diet can be a contributing factor. That’s because, again, hormones play a huge role in sebum production and excess oil directly impacts the formation of blackheads. What in your diet could possibly be messing with your hormones? Refined sugar, carbs and dairy, duh.
How Should You Get Rid of Blackheads?
Don’t squeeze, scrub, prod or pick at your skin. That’s rule #1, for blackheads and everything else. Use a gentle cleanser morning and night, but avoid using bar soap — they tend to leave a residue that builds up and compounds the problem. Keep dead skin from getting into your hair follicles by exfoliating regularly, but always with a super-gentle leave-on exfoliant that goes deeper than scrubs or pore strips can go. And, the hardest step to follow, let it play out. Your skin is doing what your skin needs to do.
If your blackheads stubbornly refuse to go away with proper cleansing, exfoliating and patience, consider extraction. You can attempt this at home yourself, but depending on the severity of your blackhead and popping-without-squeezing skills, it might be worth going to a trained aesthetician to keep from damaging your skin further.