Whether they’re blackheads or another type of acne, “pimples have only one way to go, and that’s out,” says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
But—you knew this was coming—that doesn’t mean you should push them out with your fingers. “Most will come out eventually, and we can help them along using topical products,” he says. “Think of the face as having thousands of pipes connecting oil glands to the surface of the skin,” Dr. Zeichner says. “Acne happens when the pipes are blocked.” They fill up with oil and dead cells.
To open the pipes again, you don’t need to add a bunch of steps into your life. For the most part, you can switch to anti-blackhead products that already fit into your usual routine.
Try salicylic acid washes first
Switch from your usual face cleanser to one containing salicylic acid. It’s not complicated; you can find these in the drugstore—they often say “salicylic acid facial cleanser” right on the front label.
What most people don’t know: You need to leave them on your skin for a moment so they can do their thing, Dr. Zeichner says. “I usually tell people to put the wash on their face, lather it up for as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday, then rinse it off.”
Use a leave-on salicylic acid product next
If that’s not helping, use a salicylic acid product that’s designed to be left on your face. These are often spot treatments, but you can use them all over the affected area (Dr. Zeichner likes Kamedis Acne Spot Treatment). “It’s the same active ingredient that’s in the washes but in a higher concentration. Leave it on your skin before bed so it can work overnight,” Zeichner says.
Nose strips can work, too
There’s something satisfying about checking the nose strip to see what came out when you’ve applied it and zipped it off. Dr. Zeichner says they can be effective, “you just have to be cautious if you have sensitive skin, if you’re exfoliating, or if you’re using topical retinoids. These can make the outer skin layer more sensitive.”
See a doc
If nothing’s working and you’re really bothered by blackheads, see a dermatologist, who can prescribe topical retinoids. Prescription products contain higher amounts of the retinol products you can buy over the counter in grooming products, and they might be the ticket to clearing up your skin.
And if you totally can’t resist…
There’s a way to do “extractions” that’s has less potential for harm than the squeezing. Extract after a warm shower when the skin and the oil in your pores is soft. “Apply gentle downward pressure on either side of the pore. Ideally, with two Q-tips, not your fingernails,” Dr. Zeichner says. “If it’s ready to come out, it will.” If not, leave it alone! “Too much pressure can disrupt the outer skin layer and traumatize skin, leading to potential infections and scarring. The result is that it looks worse than if you’d left it alone.”
Or, just forget picking it yourself and get the joy of extractions vicariously, if that’s what you’re into, from Dr. Pimple Popper’s blackhead removal extravaganzas like this major one, and this classic.
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