At one point or another, you've thought about your pores. Whether you religiously stare into the mirror examining every inch of your T-zone or you get the occasional oil build up on your nose, pores plague us all. Unfortunately, some worse than others. If you fall under the category who calls blackheads a daily struggle, listen up. We tapped top dermatologist, pore expert, and founder of BeautyRx, Dr. Neal Schultz, to give you the 411 on all things blackheads.
What is a blackhead?: Simple, a blackhead is a non-inflamed acne lesion. "You have inflamed lesions like pimples or cysts. [And] you have non-inflamed lessons like blackheads or whiteheads," says Dr. Schultz. Specifically, a blackhead is a clog of oil and dead skin cells in the hair follicle, which because it's open to the air, oxidizes and turns black.
Dr. Schultz likes to call the gunk in a blackhead "sludge" because technically sludge is the combination of a liquid and a solid clumped or glued together. "The solid is dead skin cells, and the liquid is oil," he explains. When the "sludge" is in an open pore, it is called a blackhead, but when it is in a closed pore with a "roof" on top, it is called a whitehead.
Where do you get blackheads?: "You can them anywhere, but you’re more apt to get them where you have more oil glands," explains Dr. Schultz. "And the greatest concentration of oil glands is in the T-zone, which means forehead, nose, chin, upper lip, and over your sternum." Of course, most people see blackheads creep up on their face.
Can you shrink your pores?: You might have heard a lot of different opinions on this, but according to Dr. Schultz, you can shrink enlarged pores. "It’s a little bit like letting the air our of a balloon, and the balloon comes back to it’s normal size," he says. "But you need a hole and you need a product that will actually dissolve the oil, the dead cells, and the glue. And if you have a product like that, it will penetrate deeper into the pore until it gets to the bottom of the plug, and when that happens, all of the junk comes out." And just as you can’t see the air coming out of a deflated balloon, when the "sludge" is removed with product, the pore size decreases dramatically.
What products should you use?: To really breakup that pore "sludge," Dr. Schultz says you need a chemical exfoliant to get the job done. He recommends glycolic and salicylic acids to start. "It’s based on being able to get inside [the pore], and unfortunately, most physical exfoliants, whether they're microdermabrasion or the physical abrasives cleansers or an exfoliating brush, they just affect the surface and these things have some depth to them and you’ve got to get down to the bottom of it to get all the junk out."
So, you're not crazy, those pore strips might not actually be getting the job done.
Can you treat blackheads at home?: With the proper products and ingredients, yes. But, Dr. Schultz warns against performing DIY extractions at home. "It doesn’t take eight years of post graduate medical work to know how to get a blackhead out safely," he says. "But, it does take certain principles, and the principles are: you don’t squeeze [a blackhead] together because if you squeeze it together at the surface, you’re not giving the junk an avenue of egress, and if you squeeze hard enough and it ruptures and pops internally that’s how you get a scar." Or worse, an infection!
If you're really concerned about removing deep blackheads and chemical exfoliants aren't work, it's best to see a professional.
What to shop:
BeautyRX Dermstick For Pores ($29 at beautyrx.com)
Dr. Schultz himself recommends this for anyone fighting blackheads on the T-zone. The blend of glycolic acid, pumpkin seed extract, tea tree oil, is a fantastic mix for putting oil and "sludge" in they're place.
Drunk Elephant's glycolic-rich serum has gained a cult following and for good reasons—people see results.
This affordable toner boasts two percent glycolic acid and grapefruit extract together to exfoliate, refresh, and turnover dry skin.
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