How to get rid of blackheads is a question that spans your lifetime after adolescence. You never entirely outgrow the ability to make blackheads and unless you specifically treat them with your skin care routine, they won’t go away on their own. Nope, they will stay there blocking the pore getting harder and harder over time. And not all acne skin care products will get rid of blackheads. They may target the other skin problems caused by acne, including pimples or excessive production of oil.
How to Get Rid of Blackheads
To get rid of blackheads, you need to use acne treatment skin care products called keratolytics that loosen and soften the dead skin cells to get the blackheads out of your pores
What is a keratolytic that loosens and dissolves blackheads?
Skin cells are called keratinocytes and the suffix « lytic » means to decompose or disintegrate, hence kerato+lytic. These keratolytic ingredients loosen the dead skin cells both on the surface of your skin and down in your pores to help you get rid of blackheads.
The 4 best non-prescription creams and cleansers with keratolytics used to treat comedonal acne (blackheads) are:
- salicylic acid (which is especially effective at penetrating oily clogged pores)
- benzoyl peroxide (which also kills the acne causing bacteria called P. acnes/C. acnes)
- glycolic acid (which fights the signs of skin aging)
- retinol (which, like glycolic acid, fights the signs of skin aging)
The best products for blackheads
Combine the best treatment cleanser and cream with the ingredients that I just listed to get rid of blackheads quickly. For example, I’ve done the work for you with my Ultimate Acne Solutions Kit. I combine a full 2% of medicated salicylic acid and 5% benzoyl peroxide with glycolic acid and the perfect moisturizer to treat pimples and blackheads. Watch your pores improve with this medical-grade skin care routine that’s straight from my dermatology office.
What Causes Blackheads?
Blackheads, called open comedones, are plugs of dead skin cells, oil, skin germs, and debris that get stuck in your pores. This is normally material present in pores and is supposed to pass to the surface of your skin where you can wash it off. The problem in comedonal acne is that the pore contents become sticky and form a clump that then gets lodged in the pore to form a microcomedone. This clump gets bigger and harder as it grows into a visible blackhead. Larger blackheads will take longer to treat.
Some skin care products can actually increase this clumping together of pore contents and are called comedogenic. You definitely want to avoid these. Comedogenicity varies from one complexion to another; products that are comedogenic for one person may not be for another person. The products in my Ultimate Acne Solutions kit are generally well tolerated by blackhead-prone complexions.
Interestingly, as common as blackheads are, we still don’t know exactly why they happen on your skin in the first place. The good news is that even if we don’t know why they happen, we have great ingredients and products to treat and prevent blackheads.
How do you get rid of blackheads and what are the best products to treat blackheads?
Everybody’s skin is different which is why there are so many different acne skin-care products. Plus, all the keratolytic ingredients I mentioned above can be irritating if you have sensitive skin. You may even be allergic to benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid.
It means that to pick the best blackhead treatment products to fit your skin, you need to know something about your skin type and just how much of the keratolytic ingredients it will take to clear up your skin.
You need to know if your skin is:
- oily and tolerant, meaning that you can’t remember the last time it got dried-out or irritated from a product;
- normal to dry, meaning it’s not hard to « over-treat » it, causing dryness and chapping; and
- allergic to salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide.
You also need to decide:
- if you want a one-step treatment with just a medicated cleanser that will leave behind some amount of active ingredient; and
- if you also need to apply a blackhead treatment cream or lotion after washing for an even higher « dose » of the active ingredient.
Dermatologist’s tips for treating blackheads
For treating blackheads, I usually recommend both 1) a cleanser, and 2) a product applied after washing the skin for my patients struggling with blackheads. This is why my acne kits have them both. For areas of your skin with really stubborn blackheads, the more keratolytics you use the better results you will have. Build a Complete Skin Care Routine with acne treatment products, a non-comedogenic moisturizer and sunscreen and get the best results fighting blackheads while avoiding skin irritation. – Dermatologist Dr. Cynthia Bailey
Dermatologist’s recommendations for the best products to prevent and treat blackheads for your skin type?
Select your skin type and needs, then click on the links to build yourself a customized skin-care regimen that treats your blackheads fast.
Salicylic acid for blackheads
Salicylic acid has the unique ability to penetrate through oily pores really well to breakup blackheads. It is one of the best treatments for blackheads, especially if you have oily skin. It’s easiest to use salicylic acid in a cleanser. Know that salicylic acid will be left behind to treat blackheads after you rinse the lather off of your skin. The Foaming Acne Treatment Cleanser in my Ultimate Acne Solutions Kit contains the maximal allowed (2%) amount of medicated and pharmaceutical U.S.P. grade salicylic acid.
Normal to Oily Skin with Blackheads
My Ultimate Acne Solutions Skin Care Kit has a combination of 10% glycolic acid, 2% salicylic acid and 5% benzoyl peroxide at concentrations that are also tolerated by mildly sensitive skin. Using all 3 keratolytics will help get rid of blackheads faster than using just one active ingredient. The Foaming Acne Treatment Cleanser will remove excess oil, dirt and debris so that all of the ingredients will penetrate deeply into pores where blackheads start. Glycolic acid will help to reduce any acne marks and brighten your complexion texture.
Add a retinoid cream for blackheads for the fastest results
For even faster results use the Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Cream during the day and Retinol Night Cream at night. Retinol cream also fights the signs of skin aging and can soften the appearance of acne scars and uneven skin pigmentation.
How to Treat Blackheads if Your Skin is Allergic to Salicylic Acid
If using products with salicylic acid makes your skin dry and chapped, then you can still get rid of your blackheads by using products with either 1) benzoyl peroxide, 2) glycolic acid, 3) retinol – or all three. Great options include:
My Glycolic Acid Face Kit that comes with my Glycolic Acid Face Wash, Glycolic Acid Face Cream and an Exfoliation Sponge. The Glycolic Acid Face Cream is a good facial moisturizer and has 15% glycolic acid which also fights the signs of skin aging so you get a two-fer benefit with this routine.
« Really enjoy using this product (Glycolic Acid Face Cream), it clears dark spots and blemishes, makes the skin look great! Russell F on May 22, 2019 »
If you wanted to incorporate benzoyl peroxide and retinol you could apply the Benzoyl Peroxide 5% Acne Treatment Cream during the day after washing and the Retinol Night Cream followed by Glycolic Acid Face Cream at night.
« This (Retinol Night Cream) was a great addition to my anti-aging regime. I love the fact that it contains green tea! » Julie C. on Dec 19, 2018
The best benzoyl peroxide cleanser to get rid of blackheads.
One of the easiest ways to treat acne using just a single product is with a strong 10% benzoyl peroxide cleanser. – Dr. Bailey
If your skin care routine is really low maintenance and were to pick only one product to treat acne and blackheads, a strong benzoyl peroxide cleanser is the best way to go. My Foaming Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Cleanser has the highest allowed 10% medicated pharmaceutical U.S.P. grade benzoyl peroxide to cleanse your skin once or twice a day. It leaves behind benzoyl peroxide to treat the acne causing bacteria and blackheads.
« I have had so much better results with the Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Cleanser. I love Dr Baileys products and her generous educational support for the issues of skin care. My favorite is the Benzoyl Peroxide Acne Treatment Cleanser which I use with a Facial Exfoliation Sponge. This has replaced the Rx that I used for many years but was expensive and was discontinued. Before I found this product I tried many products with little beads which on occasion actually caused a pore blockage and in the end has been found to be bad for the environment. I have had so much better results with the Acne Treatment Cleanser. » Virginia B June 13, 2014
How to Treat Blackheads if Your Skin is Allergic to Benzoyl Peroxide
If you’ve had trouble with benzoyl peroxide in the past, then I recommend using salicylic acid, glycolic acid and retinol.
Options include my Glycolic Acid Face Kit that comes with my Glycolic Acid Face Wash, Glycolic Acid Face Cream and an Exfoliation Sponge.
Alternatively, if you want a face wash scrub to brighten your complexion, you could use my Triple Action Scrub which contains 0.5% salicylic acid, 10% glycolic acid and eco-friendly exfoliating beads.
This is THE BEST facial cleaner I’ve ever used. I’ve used Obaji, I’ve used ZO, I’ve used skinceuticals and Dr. Bailey Skin Care’s Triple Action Exfoliating cleaner is the final stop in my cleansing journey. I have acne prone + aging skin, so this glycolic + salicylic + exfoliating cleanser is just what the doctor ordered. It provides the perfect amount of foam during cleaning, and leaves my skin feeling clean and exfoliated after use. There’s nothing better than having a clean, smooth and soft feeling face! I HIGHLY recommend! Lori on Apr 25, 2019
Follow this with Retinol Night Cream at night and Glycolic Acid Face Cream in the morning. This is a powerful routine to fight blackheads and the signs of skin aging all at the same time!
One more option for treating blackheads if you have really oily skin
You could combine my Foaming Acne Treatment Cleanser followed by the Acne Treatment Pads to remove any stubborn oil residue in the morning and apply Retinol Night Cream at bedtime after washing.
What are the best moisturizers and sunscreens to use if you have blackheads?
Be sure to use non-comedogenic and light textured products. My top choice for a moisturizer for complexions struggling with blackheads is my Daily Face Cream. The best sunscreen for oily skin with blackheads is Sheer Strength Matte Tinted SPF 30+ because the matte base absorbs oil throughout the day and the tinting subtly reduces the appearance of blemishes. It’s also a great primer for makeup.
The best makeup to use if you have blackheads.
Mineral makeup powder is the best makeup for blackheads. Loose Mineral Powder that contains kaolin clay will absorb oil during the day to prevent shine. Avoid foundations with comedogenic ingredients that can be a problem with some makeup foundations.
What additional treatments for blackheads can you use to increase the results from your daily skin care treatment products?
When it comes to how to get rid of blackheads, the steady use of your at-home skin care is the most important thing you can do.
But you can also boost your treatment with a few really great « hands-on » tricks. These include:
- Deep pore-cleansing facials with extractions. This is a great way to jump start treatment of large blackheads and maintain results.
- A series of light chemical peels done by a doctor or aesthetician will help to dissolve your blackheads/ Peels are typically done using stronger amounts of keratolytics than what you can get in your daily acne treatment skin care products.
- Add a sonic skin cleansing system such as the Foreo to your skin cleansing step to help the cleanser penetrate deeper into the pores. Know that ultra-clean skin absorbs medicated treatment ingredients better (which is why it is important to wash your face twice a day when treating acne!).
- Biore strips can pull blackheads and sebaceous filaments out of the pores on your nose. Be careful, though. I’ve seen patients pull off a little skin with these strips, too.
- Clay masks help draw oil out of your pores and refine your pore size. The results are temporary, but hey, temporarily smooth pores are better than nothing. However, you can’t use them every day because they can be too drying.
Prescription retinoids are really powerful keratolytics for treating blackheads.
You could ask your doctor to prescribe a retinoid instead of using retinol. These medicines have been used for years to treat blackheads. They include products like Retin A (tretinoin) and Tazorac, which require a trip to the doctor. They’re tricky to combine with the other non-prescription products so you’ll need medical supervision to add them to your skin care regimen.
Author: Dr. Cynthia Bailey M.D. is a Board Certified dermatologist practicing dermatology since 1987. She has done well over 200,000 skin exams during her career and authors the longest running physician written skin health blog in the world.
Zaenglein, Andrea L. et al., Guidelines of care for the management of acne vulgaris, Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Volume 74, Issue 5, 945 – 973.e33