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What are Blackheads?

Blackheads are small bumps that form when you get pimples due to clogged hair follicles. Blackheads are a type of mild acne that usually appear on your face, but may also appear on other areas such as your back, chest, neck, shoulders and arms.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, about 85% of people between the ages of 12 and 24 have acne problems. Acne problems can occur at all stages of life and continue into your 30s and 40s.

Acne can be treated, but not everyone fits the treatment. Blackheads and whiteheads are very common types of acne despite their different forms. They start with pimples which then develop into blackheads.

If you have blackheads, consult a skin specialist (dermatologist) through Smarter Health to find the most suitable treatment option for your skin condition.

Causes of Blackheads

Blackheads form due to blockages in the hair follicles that grow on your skin. Each follicle contains one hair strand and sebaceous glands that produce oil. This oil, called sebum, will help keep your skin soft. Dead skin cells and oil collect in the skin follicles, which can then produce blackheads.

If the skin over the bump remains closed, it is called whiteheads. However, when the skin over the bumps opens, they are exposed to air causing them to look black – thus, forming a blackhead.

There are several factors that increase the likelihood of acne and blackheads, including:

  • Overproduced oil. 
  • Buildup of Propionibacterium acnes bacteria on the skin.
  • Irritation of the hair follicles when dead skin cells do not come off properly.
  • Use of certain medications, such as corticosteroids, lithium, or androgens.
  • Hormonal changes that cause increased oil production during adolescence, menstruation, or while taking birth control pills.

When to See a Doctor for Blackheads

People who have blackheads rarely make visits to the doctor, unless severe acne problems have occured. Basically, blackheads are easy to recognize and diagnose simply from the shape alone. Ask your dermatologist to determine the type of treatment suitable for your condition.

Symptoms of Blackheads

The main symptom of blackheads is the appearance of small, dark (abnormal tissue) lesions. Blackheads are a symptom of acne, but they are different from other acne lesions as they have open pores.

Blackheads are non-inflammatory, which means they are not infected, and will not cause pain and discomfort unlike pimples and pustules.

Blackheads have a raised texture, but are flatter than pimples. In some patients, the appearance changes caused by blackheads can cause embarrassment, lack of self-confidence, and social or psychological problems. 

Sebaceous filaments look like blackheads, but they are different. Sebaceous filaments are glands that channel sebum flow through your pores. They can appear on the nose, tend to be smaller, appear in groups, and feel flat to the touch.

Treatment for Blackheads

You can treat blackheads at home, but if the condition gets worse you should consult a dermatologist. There are many myths and differences regarding how to treat blackheads.

Be sure to find a treatment that suits your skin condition, as each individual has different skin conditions and sensitivity levels.

1. Over-the-counter (OTC) Treatment

You can find many available options for acne medications at drugstores and grocery stores without a prescription. These medications come in creams and gels that can be applied directly to your skin. OTC contains ingredients such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and resorcinol. They function to kill bacteria, dry out excess oil, and stimulate the skin to shed dead skin cells.

2.  Doctor’s Prescription

If OTC treatments do not work on your acne, your doctor may recommend a stronger prescription medication. Medicines that contain vitamin A can prevent clogging in hair follicles and promote faster skin cell regeneration. These medications are applied directly to your skin and can include tretinoin, tazarotene, or adapalene.

Your doctor may also prescribe another type of topical medication that contains benzoyl peroxide and antibiotics. If you have pimples or acne cysts other than blackheads, this type of medication may be very helpful.

3. Manual Removal

Your doctor may use a special tool called a round loop extractor to remove the obstruction in the follicle that causes blackheads. After a small opening is made, your doctor will press it with an extractor to remove the blockage.

4. Microdermabrasion

During microdermabrasion, your doctor uses a special, rough-surface instrument to sand the top layer of your skin. Sanding the skin aims to remove the blockage that causes blackheads.

5. Laser and light therapy

Laser and light therapy use very small beams of light to reduce oil production or kill bacteria. Both lasers and light rays can penetrate the lower surface of the skin to treat blackheads and pimples without damaging the top layer of skin.

Treatment Cost for Blackheads

You may be able to visit a beauty clinic or a hospital to consult a dermatologist. Treatment cost for blackheads depends on consultation fees and treatment recommended by your doctor.

You can use Smarter Health’s free service to calculate the estimated cost of blackhead treatment at home and abroad.

Prevention of Blackheads

Follow some of the steps below to prevent blackheads:

  • Wash your face regularly. Wash your face when you wake up and before going to bed to remove oil buildup on your face. Doing so more than 2 times a day can irritate the skin and worsen acne. Use a gentle face wash to prevent irritation. Some facial cleansers contain antibacterial ingredients that kill the Propionibacterium acnes bacteria.
  • Wash your hair every day. Consider shampooing daily, especially if you have oily hair. The oils in the hair can clog the pores of the skin.
  • Use oil-free products. Any product that contains oil can form new blackheads. Choose oil-free makeup, lotion, and sunscreen to prevent blackheads from becoming worse.
  • Try exfoliating products. Scrubs and exfoliating masks will remove dead skin cells from your face and help reduce blackheads. Choose an exfoliating product that suits your skin type. 

Home Remedies for Blackheads

Blackheads can be treated at home without the need to see a doctor, but some activities may create or trigger more severe types of acne.

Have more questions about blackheads? Write them down in the comment section below or contact a dermatologist at home and abroad through Smarter Health.

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