By now, we’ve all seen the video of girl who used a too-tight suction mask to get rid of her blackheads. (You know the one—with the screaming and cursing? If you haven’t get on that, because wow.) Now, while most of us (hopefully!) have never experienced something quite that dramatic, we’ve all made our fair share of slip-ups when it comes to trying to get gunk out of our pores.
Whether our own skin care fails have lead to pain or damaged skin, such a common concern should be easier to handle. So to help make your blackhead removal as smooth as possible, we talked to three experts to get their take on common mistakes women make when trying to remove blackheads. If you’re able to avoid doing the following, you’ll be able to keep your skin clear, pain-free! Just don’t expect your viral video career to take off…
Mistake #1: You’re over exfoliating.
Physical scrubs can really help keep pores clean while chemical exfoliants are a great way to remove excess oil. However, over-using either of these can actually do more damage than good. Think: red, irritated, dry skin. “Exfoliating particles in scrubs can cause skin inflammation,” explains New York City-based dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner. “Ingredients like salicylic acid may help exfoliate dead cells and remove excess oil from the skin, but if used too frequently or applied too roughly, can cause skin irritation.”
Along with the roughness on skin, over-exfoliation can actually worsen the problem. “Avoid scrubbing your face vigorously when exfoliating,” explains New York City celebrity aesthetician Christine Chin. “This can actually make acne and blackheads worse and can trigger more oil production.” So keep the pressure of physical exfoliations gentle and only exfoliate once or twice a week, even if it seems like your skin needs more. (PS: Here’s a quick primer on finding the right exfoliator for your skin type.)
Mistake #2: You’re picking at them.
“Don’t pick!” It’s a phrase everyone’s heard before either from a skin care professional or your mom. We get that it’s tempting to pick, but it bears repeating: Picking can seriously harm your skin. “Trying to pop a blackhead can cause skin trauma leading to open, raw skin, infection, or even scarring,” explains Chin. While the correct way to “pop” would be extractions (which we’ll get to), picking, especially mindlessly picking, is a huge no-no.
Mistake #3: You’re not prepping your skin before you extract.
So while “picking” is wrong, extracting is right, but only when done correctly. And properly prepping skin is always a good place to start. You’ll want to clean your face with a mild cleanser and use steam to help open and soften the hardened oil within your pores. Celebrity esthetician Renee Rouleau recommends doing extractions right after a shower. You’ll also want to apply a thin layer of a heavy moisturizer before starting. “By using a rich moisturizer, it will create a temporary occlusive seal to keep the heat trapped in the skin, which for extractions purposes is necessary,” explains Rouleau. So just jump out of the shower, smooth on some rich moisturizer, and you’re ready to get extracting.
Mistake #4: You don’t have the extraction technique down.
Extractions can be done either with a tool or your fingers. But there are proper techniques to using both of these that will leave little to (ideally) no damage. When extractions go wrong, skin can darken and get red spots due to the slight injury caused and overstimulation of melanin cells. “While they will go away, this can make the skin look uneven in its tone for anywhere from five days to an entire month,” explains Rouleau. So, in order to properly extract with a tool, Zeichner recommends a comedone extractor like the Revlon Blackhead Remover, $7, used with gentle pressure. Press in a downward manner and follow with a Q-tip.
If you’re a little hesitant to use a tool, fingers can work just as well—but, again, when you know what you’re doing. First off, don’t place your fingers too closely together surrounding the blackhead. “Widen them out a bit so that the blackhead will be extracted easier from the deeper level within the skin,” explains Rouleau. While squeezing, relocate fingers to make it easier and to avoid creating marks. “For example, position fingers at 3:00 and 9:00 and then 5:00 and then 10:00, 2:00 and 7:00.” And heaven forbid, do not use your nails, lest you risk puncturing your skin.
Mistake #5: You’re not letting go of the stubborn ones.
First off, you should really only be targeting the darkest, more obvious blackheads from the start. But if one of those dark blackheads doesn’t pop, move on. “My general rule is three strikes and you’re out,” explains Rouleau. “Meaning, if it doesn’t come out after three tries, don’t do it any longer or you’ll risk damaging your skin or potentially breaking a capillary.” So if it’s not coming out, that means it’s not the time to remove it. You can just come back to it another day. It’s better than causing damage.
Mistake #6: You’re not moisturizing enough.
This may seem strange, but keeping your skin’s oil levels balanced is key to minimizing blackheads. While heavy oils like avocado oil can clog pores, a lack of oil causes skin to produce more, which leads to, you guessed it, more breakouts. “Overly dry skin can start to produce excess blackhead-causing oil,” explains Chin. “Make sure you maintain a normal flow of oil from your pores by keeping your skin’s moisture level balanced.” (Check out a few of our favorite moisturizers, here.)
Mistake #7: You’re looking into a magnifying mirror too often.
While a magnifying mirror may seem like a good idea in theory, its super-close view can throw off your perception of what actually needs to be removed. “Everyone has blackheads on their noses and often on their chin since these areas have the highest concentration of oil glands in the body,” explains Dr. Zeichner. “If you have a magnifying mirror at home to look at your blackheads, then my best recommendation is to throw the magnifier away!” Now, of course there’s no need to be throwing away quality equipment, but just keep in mind that a magnifying mirror will only make the problem seem bigger than it is—literally.
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