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Blackhead basics: removal tools vs. acne-fighting ingredients

When it comes to removing blackheads, it's commonly believed that pore strips and blackhead extractors are the most effective methods. Is this true? Or, are there less invasive ways of eliminating blackheads? Here's what you need to know.

Blackhead basics: removal tools vs. acne-fighting ingredients

What are blackheads and why do they develop?

Blackheads are the result of a build-up of skin cells and sebum. Unlike whiteheads however, they become exposed to the air – known as oxidisation – and turn a dark colour. They can occur on any skin type, but are most likely to appear on naturally oily skin in places where there are high concentrations of sebaceous glands. The environment[1], such as pollution or
sun exposure, can also be responsible for blackheads.

any time you push or pull at your skin, you risk spreading bacteria and/or damaging the fragile epidermis

Traditional ways of removing blackheads include squeezing with the fingers, pore strips, blackhead extractors, and dermatological procedures such as microdermabrasion.

However, it's important to know that any time you push or pull at your skin, you risk spreading bacteria and/or damaging the fragile epidermis.

How salicylic and glycolic acids can effectively remove blackheads

Skincare ingredients such as salicylic acid and glycolic acid have been proven to "exfoliate and penetrate deep into the pores and aid in the removal[2] [of blackheads]." Salicylic acid has properties that enable it to break up the skin’s follicular keratotic plugs - in other words, the oily components of a blackhead[3]. This means that they can be washed right off instead of forcing them out. Glycolic acid[4], meanwhile, acts as an exfoliator and promotes profound cell turnover so that pores do not become blocked. These two ingredients are a great way to remove imperfections linked to acne safely, without spreading bacteria.

You can find salicylic acid in targeted treatments such as Vichy's Normaderm Hyaluspot and face washes like the Normaderm 3-in-1 cleanser, which can be used not just as an everyday gel wash, but also as a scrub and mask.

[1] J.S. English, R.S. Dawe and J. Ferguson, ‘Environmental effects and skin disease’ in British Medical Bulletin (2003) 68.1, pp. 129-42 [Accessed at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14757713]
[2] L. Mitchell, ‘Vacuum your pores?’ in Health: University of Utah. Published June 26, 2017 [Accessible at: https://healthcare.utah.edu/healthfeed/postings/2017/06/pore-vacuum.php]
[3] H. Liu, H. Yu, J. Xia, L. Liu, G. J Liu and H. Sang, ‘Topical azelaic acid, salicylic acid, nicotinamide, and sulphur for acne (Protocol)’ in Cochrane Database of Systematic (2014), issue 11. [Accessible at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD011368/full]
[4] http://www.acne.org/glycolic-acid.html

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