Blackheads: What are the causes?

Blackheads: What are the causes?

Overview of blackheads

Blackheads are tiny bumps that pop up on your skin. They show up when your hair follicles are clogged. Why are these bumps referred to as blackheads? Well, it is because they have a black or dark surface. Blackheads are a mild form of acne. They are mostly formed on the face, but they can also show up on other parts of the body including:

  • Chest
  • Shoulders
  • Neck
  • Arms
  • And chest

A report by the American Academy of Dermatology says that no less than 50 million Americans are affected by blackheads. What’s more? It is the most common disorder of the skin among Americans.

Learn More: What causes acne?

blackheads and their causes

Why do I have blackheads?

Blackheads pop up when a plug or a clog develops in the hair follicles on your skin. Each follicle houses one hair and a sebaceous that is responsible for the production of oil. The oil, referred to as sebum, maintains the suppleness and softness of your skin. Oils and dead skin cells accumulate in the opening to the skin follicle, resulting in the formation of a bump known as comedo. If the skin on the bump area remains closed, the bump is known as a whitehead. On the other hand, when the skin on the bump area opens, it gets exposed to air, causing it to have the black appearance, and ultimately blackhead forms.

Certain factors can increase one’s risk of developing blackheads and acne. These include:

  • Production of excess oil in the body
  • Accumulation of Propionibacterium acnes on the skin
  • Certain medications such as androgens, lithium, and corticosteroids
  • Hormonal changes that result in high production of oil during menstruation, teenage years, and while taking birth control pills.
  • Irritation of the hair follicles when the dead skin cells do not shed regularly.

Sometimes what you drink or eat can affect acne. Foods that boost blood sugar levels (including carbohydrates), and dairy foods can trigger acne. However, there’s a need for further research on this subject.

Symptoms of blackheads

Because of their characteristic black color, it is easy to identify blackheads on the skin. They are raised slightly, although they are not painful because they are not inflamed like pimples. You have pimples when the blockage in your hair follicles are inflamed, resulting in inflammation and redness.

Treatment for blackheads

Over-the-counter treatment

Most acne medications are readily available at grocery and drug stores. You can also purchase online without a prescription. These acne medications are available as gels, creams, and pads are applied directly to the skin. Some of the ingredients contained in these medications include benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and resorcinol. They function by destroying bacteria, stimulating the shedding of dead skin cells, and drying excess oil.

Prescription medications

If there is no improvement with over-the-counter treatment, you may be given more potent prescription medications. Vitamin A medications prevent the formation of plugs in hair follicles and enhance the rapid turnover of skin cells. These are topical medications and can include tazarotene, adapalene, and tretinoin.

Benzoyl peroxide-containing medications and antibiotics may also be prescribed by your doctor. If you have acne cysts or pimples in addition to your blackheads, then these medications will help a great deal.

Removing it manually

Dermatologists and skin care professionals can remove the plugs that cause blackheads with a round loop extractor. After making a small opening in the plug, the doctor uses the extractor to apply pressure which then removes the clog.


A microdermabrasion session involves the use of a special instrument that has a rough surface. The rough surface is used to sand the top layers of your skin. Sanding will take off the clogs that cause the blackheads.

Chemical peels

Chemical peels take off the clogs and also rids your skin of dead cells that contribute to blackheads. Chemical peeling involves the application of a strong chemical solution to your skin. Over time, the superficial layers of the skin will peel off, leaving the smoother skin beneath. You can purchase mild peels over the counter. Stronger peels are prescribed and applied by dermatologists.

Laser therapy and light therapy

Laser therapies and light therapies kill bacteria or decrease the production of oil using tiny beams of light. Both light and laser beams penetrate the skin surface to treat acne and blackheads without causing damage to the top layers of the skin.  


The following tips can help to prevent blackheads:

Regular washing

Wash your face regularly, once you wake and before you go to bed. This will remove the oil that has accumulated. Washing more than two times daily can irritate your face and worsen your acne. Use a mild cleanser that doesn’t irritate or redden your skin. Some cleansers contain antibacterial ingredients that eradicate P. acnes bacteria.

Your hair should be washed daily, especially if it is oily. Hair oils cause clogging of pores. You should also wash your face after eating oily foods as the oil from these foods can clog your pores.

Use products that are oil-free

Oily products can cause the formation of new blackheads. You are better off with non-comedogenic lotions, sunscreens, and makeup.

Exfoliating products

Facial exfoliating scrubs and masks can take off dead skin cells from your face. Of course, this will reduce the blackheads. When purchasing, go for products that will not irritate your skin.

Learn More: How to treat stretch marks

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