Blackheads — also known as comedones — are one of the most common skin annoyances. These little black dots can pop up anywhere on the face — usually on the nose, chin, and forehead — and they seem to proliferate at an alarming rate. But perhaps the most disconcerting thing about blackheads is that they’re seemingly impossible to get rid of at home. We tapped into a handful of dermatologists to solve the mystery of blackhead removal — and as it turns out, you can nix comedones without stepping foot into a derm’s office.
The first step in banishing blackheads is understanding your enemy — i.e. what actually causes the little devils in the first place. “Blackheads are technically a form of acne known as an open comedone,” explains explains Dr. Shari Marchbein, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at NYU School of MedicineTM. “They are caused by buildup of sebum — the oil produced by [your skin’s] sebaceous glands.” When there is too much sebum, the pore appears dilated and enlarged. Once exposed to the air, this mixture of excess sebum, dirt, and bacteria oxidizes — a process that is responsible for the black color of the blackhead.
Oxidation is more than just unflattering. According to Dr. Jamé Heskett, MD, “Oxidation is toxic to cells, especially collagen and elastin, because it generates inflammation.” Specifically, inflammation can lead to redness, broken blood vessels, and destruction of healthy bacterial balance, Heskett explains. “When there is inflammation around the pores, it can facilitate trapping bacteria and a pimple can ensue.”
Marchbein also notes that blackheads shouldn’t be confused with normal enlarged pores, which are typically prominent on the cheeks or nose. (These will just appear stretched, but not filled with any gunk.)
Dr. Marchbein and many of the other dermatologists we spoke to recommend prescription retinoids for advanced blackhead cases, but for mild to moderate conditions, over-the-counter products that can certainly help. From nose strips and face washes to tonics and face peels, nine skincare experts share some of their top blackhead-fighting picks, below.
HydroPeptide 5X Power PeelTM Face Exfoliator Pads
- GENTLE EXFOLIATION: These pads use five different kinds of chemical exfoliants to break down the bonds between dead skin cells and encourage cell turnover
- REDUCE IRRITATION: Aloe vera and chamomile extracts helps reduce irritation and inflammation. Sweep the pre-soaked towelette over the face and neck for instantly smoother, more radiant looking skin
According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Joyce Imahiyerobo-Ip, one of the most effective ingredients for unplugging pores is salicylic acid. And, it works most effectively if it’s left on your face, not washed off. “These HydroPeptide 5X Power Peel Daily Resurfacing Pads ($68) contain a blend of acids, including salicylic acid, that you wipe onto your skin after cleansing. You then apply your moisturizer right on top [without rinsing]. This [prolonged wear] helps fight breakouts all day long,” she says.
HydroPeptide Bambusa Blackhead BanisherTM Pore-Perfecting Nose Mask
No products found.
Heskett loves the HydroPeptide Blackhead Banisher Pore-Perfecting Nose Mask ($22 for 8) to help combat oxidation and inflammation in one go. These strips contain antioxidants like Bambusa to protect and lotus root for its ability to soothe sensitivity and redness. Additionally, they contain volcanic ash, which can draw out impurities from pollution. “Lotus flower helps control the actual production of sebum,” Heskett says, “and vitamin A is helpful for collagen regeneration and cellular turnover, which is key to minimizing pore size.”
Naturium BHA Liquid Exfoliant 2%
- CLINICALLY SHOWN RESULTS: Our leave-on BHA exfoliant 2% is clinically shown to reduce the appearance of pores, smooth and even skin tone, revealing more radiant looking skin. Based on an 8-week clinical study on 31 subjects
- POWERFUL, NON-IRRITATING FORMULA: This liquid exfoliator is formulated with an encapsulated salicylic acid for optimal stability, in an alcohol-free and oil-free system. Plus, bioactive fruit acids for a glowing facial complexion
We’ve tested the Naturium BHA Liquid Exfoliant 2% ($18) and it truly stands up to its claims. The product is a game-changer for skincare routines, with its powerful, non-irritating formula that’s suitable for most skin types. The encapsulated salicylic acid works magic on the skin, reducing the appearance of pores and evening out skin tone.
We also love that it’s vegan, cruelty-free, and dermatologist tested, making it an ethical choice. Its commitment to being pH level appropriate, paraben-free, and gluten-free is commendable. The product doesn’t just promise, it delivers!
Biore Deep-Cleansing Nose Strips
- INSTANTLY UNCLOG YOUR PORES - Biore Pore Strips instantly clean and unclog pores to purify your skin for the deepest clean in just 10 minutes.
- REDUCE BLACKHEADS - See instant results when you use Biore Pore Strips. With continual use, you can help reduce the appearance of blackheads and see a visible reduction in the size of your pores.
While Dr. Adarsh Vijay Mudgil, MD, celebrity dermatologist and medical director at Mudgil DermatologyTM, considers prescription tretinoin the gold standard when it comes to fighting blackheads, he says these nose strips from Biore ($6 for eight) can work wonders when used in conjunction with it.
“Tretinoin helps to soften the contents within the blackheads themselves, as well as to prevent their future formation,” Mudgil explains. Once the skin has been primed with the prescription retinoid (which can take a few weeks), it will be easier for the strips to work their magic. “Biore strips work amazingly well to pull all the schmutz out — it’s like a perfect blackhead-busting, one-two punch!” he enthuses.
COSRX Niacinamide 15% Face Serum
- Redness Relieving Serum: Refine Pores, Smoothen Skin, Relieve Redness. The Niacinamide and Zinc PCA instantly improves skin texture and radiance by reducing excess oil and minimizing pore sizes.
- Key Benefits: Based on real results from consumers' self assessments, the Niacinamide 15 Serum minimizes pore size, improves skin texture, and helps fade dark spots.
We’ve been using the COSRX Niacinamide 15% Face Serum ($19) for a while now and have seen significant improvements in our skin texture and radiance. The serum, with its key ingredient Niacinamide, does an excellent job of minimizing enlarged pores and refining uneven skin tone.
We love how it is formulated with skin-friendly, hypoallergenic ingredients, and is free from animal testing, parabens, sulfates, and phthalates.
Additionally, the inclusion of Zinc PCA to prevent potential breakouts is a thoughtful addition. We’ve also found it gentle enough for under-the-eye application. Remember to shake it well before use and follow up with SPF 30+ for daytime wear. Overall, we’re delighted with the results of this affordable, high-quality serum.
Neutrogena Body Clear Acne Body Wash
No products found.
When it comes to tackling body blackheads, Dr. Iris Rubin, dermatologist and co-founder of SEENTM Hair Care, recommends Neutrogena Body Clear Acne Body Wash ($19). “Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid,” she notes. “Its purpose is to keep pores clear by preventing dead skin cells from sticking together — and helping to dissolve the intercellular cement,” she says.
Dr. Rubin suggests using the product on the entire skin area that is prone to blackheads — not just where you have current breakouts — to prevent future blemishes (and seeing a dermatologist who can help for prescription medications if your blackheads persist).
Differin 0.1% Gel
No products found.
While Dr. Marchbein reiterates that blackheads are best treated with prescription retinoids, she suggests this over-the-counter gel from Differin ($28) for milder cases. Since even milder retinoids can cause redness and dryness, she recommends starting at three times weekly at night and then increasing to nightly as tolerated. “This is where your board-certified dermatologist can help guide you,” she says. You can expect to start seeing results in as little as a six weeks, with optimal results after about two months.
Dr. Jart+ Pore Master Patch
- A fun, innovative bubbling mask to cleanse, eliminate impurities, purify, and tighten enlarged pores.
- Get fresh, clear, glowing skin with this fun, innovative bubbling mask from Dr. Jart
The Dr. Jart+ Pore Master Patch ($14) has become a go-to for Dr. Julie Russak, dermatologist and founder of the Russak Dermatology ClinicTM, for its ability to both deep clean and unclog pores. Similar to how charcoal draws out impurities from pores, this product relies on coral powder to attract dirt. “As the product extracts, the sage and tea tree promote a decrease in inflammation in the cyst and comedones,” she adds.
PanOxyl Acne Wash
- Maximum strength formula contains 10% Benzoyl peroxide
- Highest over the counter Benzoyl peroxide wash available
PanOxyl Acne Wash ($10) contains benzoyl peroxide, which can help reduce blackheads by breaking down the buildup that blocks pores and by killing the bacteria that lives inside them, says Dr. Hal Weitzbuch, MD, MS, FAAD, medical director at the Calabasas Dermatology CenterTM.
“It should be used as a wash one to two times per day as tolerated and left on the skin for about five minutes before washing off,” Dr. Weitzbuch notes. “If it’s too irritating, let it sit for less time, and make sure to wash it off completely — or you might notice all of your towels have been bleached!” He recommends the product for those with milder to moderate conditions and adds that it can also help with pustular acne.