How do you get rid of blackheads? Ask The Kit
“What do I do about blackheads? I remember being a teenager and trying those rip-off strips that are supposed to get the gunk out, but I don’t really remember them working. I’m long past high school, but the blackheads persist, especially on my nose. I spend so much time looking at my face on Zoom that getting rid of the blackheads has become an obsession. Where do I start?”
Ah, Bioré strips, the place where satisfying meets disgusting! We will get to those suckers a little later, but hey, what a great universal memory for most of us and for generations of oily teens to come. Blackheads are indeed an equal opportunity scourge and age is no obstacle to clogged pores, as I can personally attest, being also long past adolescence but still afflicted.
Luckily for you, I had the coolest treatment recently; it involved a magic wand that sucked all the gunk out of my pores. Apparently this is a decade-old, high-tech facial method, but I had never heard about it before. Before I get too deep into the nitty-gritty of this experience, I’m going to ask Jeremy Tebbutt to step in and explain the basics of both blackheads and their removal and prevention. Tebbutt is a 15-year medical esthetics veteran, having had spas in both Yorkville and Los Angeles. He recently set up a new shop in Toronto, called Skin6, on Dundas Street west of Bathurst.
Blackheads, Tebbutt says, are clogged hair follicles. Each pore contains a hair follicle and a sebaceous gland, which produces oil, a.k.a. sebum. The oil itself is good and necessary for keeping your skin soft. But excess oil combines with dirt, dead skin cells, yeast and other good stuff to become a plug, or a comedo, that turns black when it oxidizes.
“You can get rid of them with traditional extractions,” Tebbutt says, which is where the esthetician squeezes them out with finger pressure in a traditional facial. The other option is the HydraFacial, of which he is a big fan. “When I was in Los Angeles, it was everywhere,” he says. Here, the treatment is just taking off.
It isn’t cheap, at $175 a pop, but it’s highly effective. It’s a multi-step treatment, but here Tebbutt gives us the bottom line: “It uses ingredients to soften the sebum clogging your pores, then uses vacuum suction to pull it all out, clearing out black and whiteheads. Simultaneously, the wand replaces what it sucks out with ingredients to help regulate the skin and (prevent) future blackheads or whiteheads.”
The products used at Skin6 are a mix of HydraFacial-specific ones, such as a Skin Deep Professional glycolic acid product and an enzyme product to soften up the clogs, after the application of a hot towel and steam, which further softens things up. Then cult skin care favourite (my own favourite brand ever) SkinCeuticals products are applied at the same time as the clog removal vacuum process (specifically, the SkinCeuticals Gel Peel professional product).
“One of our favourite things to do with our clients once we are done the facial, is to show them the trap at the back of the machine that collects everything taken out. You see black and whiteheads, the gunky stuff; it is really satisfying,” says Tebbutt.
Yes, dear reader, I did look at what came out of my pores and it wasn’t pretty. It felt like I had accomplished something, though my participation was entirely passive.
And here’s a quick diversion on why we are fascinated with things like the Bioré strip (which Tebbutt says irritates the skin and does a somewhat scattershot job of removal), the Dr. Pimple Popper video phenomenon and the urge to look at the contents of the catch-all area of the HydraFacial wand. Scientists have studied brain imagery of people who are either disgusted or fascinated by things like extreme pimple popping: turns out our brains produce dopamine and some people experience something akin to ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) pleasure from the pore-purging process. A study last year published in the journal Behavioural Brain Research showed, through MRIs, that people who enjoy pimple popping are better able to regulate their disgust reactions because of an innate “morbid curiosity.” Sounds about right.
However we feel about viewing the gunk, we all have to deal with blackheads. So I also asked Tebbutt about prevention and treatment beyond the HydraFacial. First of all, he recommends SkinCeuticals Phyto Corrective Gel at home to soothe and reduce redness (it is green in colour, and contains botanicals like thyme and cucumber to calm, and mulberry to clarify) as inflammation can exacerbate the clogging situation.
His next recommendation is SkinCeuticals Daily Moisturizer, which, he says, is non-comedogenic (non-pore-clogging). These are good products to use at home to keep the blackheads from recurring as quickly. And yes, they will likely recur, sadly. But you can fight back, says Tebbutt, with retinols, a.k.a. vitamin A products. “Talk to your facialist, or your medical esthetician or your dermatologist,” he says, “to make sure you aren’t being too aggressive with treatments” that combine chemical and manual exfoliation.
The other product to use to keep blackheads down is salicylic acid, which can be found in a cleanser (usually at a concentration low enough to be used daily), or in serums or moisturizers (usually used less frequently). Salicylic acid is derived from willow bark and is a beta hydroxy acid. This means it is oil soluble and thus, BHAs can penetrate clogged pores to help unclog them and help shed dead skin cells, which can further clog those pores. “Again,” advises Tebbutt, “get advice as to the right combination of products to use on your skin.”
If you can afford it, Tebbutt says, a HydraFacial every four to six weeks or so would be a swell thing. But if like many of us, you are on a budget, you could treat it, he says, “like a seasonal deep cleaning, the way you see your dentist every six months.”
Shop the Advice
A mix of high-end and affordable products to support you in your journey to cleared-out pores.
SkinCeuticals Phyto Corrective Gel, $88, skinceuticals.ca SHOP HERE
A good basic, non-pore-clogging moisturizer.