Before we break down how to get rid of blackheads, let’s clear up what they even are. Like more obvious pimples, they’re the result of pores getting clogged with oil and dead skin cells. But unlike the others, they’re not embedded beneath the skin. This explains the color—the clog reacts with oxygen and turns dark. Blackheads are pervasive, often across your nose, but they can pop up anywhere you’ve got pores and sebum. (So, basically everywhere.)
Getting rid of blackheads is a little less obvious than a poppable pimple (please pop those carefully, if you must), and maybe a little less satisfying. But if you build a blackhead-battling skincare regimen that satisfies all of your core skincare needs, by simply maintaining it, you get the benefit of clear skin and fewer other types of breakouts, too.
So, if you’re curious how do to get rid of blackheads, here is a four-step regimen that will disappear those pore-clogging pests, and prevent them from returning.
1. Use salicylic acid
Salicylic acid is a chemical exfoliant. It seeps into the pores to flush out excess oil and break down dead, trapped cells. It also helps assist other exfoliating ingredients in breaking down dead skin cells at the surface of the skin. Salicylic acid can also temper oil production in the skin, to prevent buildup.
You can get salicylic acid through daily cleansers, through exfoliating serums, as well as weekly or monthly peels. When battling blackheads, it is recommended to use one of the first types—something made for frequent, consistent, and gentle use—to steadily prevent blackheads and routinely break them down. It’s best to use these products in the evening (though gentle salicylic cleansers can be used morning and night). Because of their exfoliating powers, it’s good to let the skin rebound overnight after use.
2. Hydrate twice daily with oil-free moisturizers
Moisturizer is as much of a protective, preventative product as it is a nourishing, hydrating one. It traps moisture in the skin and prevents excess dryness, which itself can lead to breakouts. However, anything with oil can cause breakouts (especially in acne-prone skin), so it’s best to moisturize twice daily with oil-free products.
By moisturizing in the morning with an SPF-packed, nutrient-rich hydrator, you’ll keep your skin cells nourished and prevent pores from enlarging due to sun exposure. The skin stays firmer longer, pores stay smaller, and the moisturizer creates a thin barrier atop the skin to prevent excess grime and environmental threats from taking residence inside the pores. Then, in the evening, use a denser night cream to actively restore your skin and prevent excess drying while you sleep (especially in a dry environment, like an air-conditioned or heated room).
Just remember to pick oil-free formulas in both cases.
3. Add retinol to your regimen
When we talk about retinol, we are using an umbrella term that covers the various forms of this vitamin A-derivative—retinol, retinoid, tretinoin. These refer to different formulations of a dermatologist-favorite ingredient. In many forms, retinoids are the absolute best way to tighten pores, prevent acne, and reverse signs of aging and sun exposure. Consider your dermatologist for a heavy hitting, prescription-grade tretinoin if you’re serious about the skin-clearing benefits. It will sync with your body’s restorative cycle to give you tighter, firmer, blemish-free skin—and quickly make those blackheads a distant memory.
But also know that there are lots of low-concentration OTC retinol products available. Anyone should consider applying a lower-grade retinol before bed a few nights a week—you’ll still get similar benefits, and these lower concentrations are perhaps a better option for people with sensitive skin.
It’s generally advised not to mix retinol with chemical exfoliants, so don’t use your retinoid at the same time as a salicylic acid serum.
4. Do a weekly deep clean
Gunk-sucking face masks are the vacuum cleaners of the skin care world, absorbing all excess grime from the depths of your pores. For this reason, they shouldn’t be used more than once a week. But for the same reason, they should be used weekly, after cleansing and before any serums, retinols, and night cream. This cleansing mask will prevent any lingering threats of clogged pores, and thus future blemishes. Wear it for 10-20 minutes (or whatever it said on the bottle. After it tightens and the grime has been absorbed, you can rinse the face clean and proceed with the remainder of your bedtime regimen.