Blackheads

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

There are many treatment options for blackhead removal.

Tips on Blackhead Removal & Prevention

Does eating greasy food or having poor hygiene cause blackheads? Are people with oily skin more prone to developing acne? Are acne masks, pore strips, and facial scrubs effective at removing blackheads? What cleansers are best for people with pimples or whiteheads? Get answers to your pressing pimple questions in our clear skin slideshow...

Blackhead facts

  • Blackheads are composed of dried sebum (oil) and dead skin cells.
  • Blackheads can be present in a number of skin diseases.
  • Blackheads are a prime component of teenage acne.
  • Blackhead removal, unless performed by a professional, can produce significant skin trauma.

What are blackheads?

When the opening of a pore (hair follicle orifice) becomes occluded with sebum (oil) and dead skin cells, which then solidifies, the surface color often darkens. This is what is commonly called a blackhead. There are a number of skin conditions in which blackheads are an important component. The medical name of this structure is a comedo (plural: comedones).

Blackheads vs. whiteheads (pimples)

The black color of the surface of the comedo is thought to be due to the oxidation of the fat molecules in the sebum. If the surface of the comedo is covered by skin, this oxidation does not occur and the structure might be called by some "a whitehead" or pimple. This terminology could be confused with a pustule, which may often occur at or near a follicular orifice.

What are causes and risk factors for blackheads?

Blackheads are most often recognized early in the course of acne vulgaris, the inflammatory skin disease that affects the face, back, and chest of almost all teens as they go through puberty. They are thought to be the first sign of teenage acne and contain inflammatory substances the start the acne process. Elastotic degeneration of the skin affects sun-exposed areas, mostly on the face. The yellowish bumpy deposits of degenerated collagen are often accompanied by numerous blackheads. Chloracne is a condition caused by the absorption of dioxins, which are well known toxins often encountered as a byproduct in the manufacture of herbicides and defoliants. Comedones are seen on the exposed skin in certain workers exposed to insoluble cutting oils in the metal machining industry. Certain topical hair products are known to induce blackheads on the adjacent skin, resulting in a condition called "pomade acne." Makeup cosmetics occasionally may contain comedogenic substances. Certain anti-seizure and antipsychotic medications are thought to induce comedones. Certain rare birthmarks called epithelial nevi may contain many blackheads. Sometimes a follicular orifice may become so dilated that after it becomes filled with dried sebum and skin it is termed a "giant pore of Winer."

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 5/4/2017

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