- Causes & Risk Factors
- Signs & Symptoms
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 several 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 that start the acne process.
Common causes of blackheads include the following:
- 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 of 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."
What are signs and symptoms of blackheads?
Blackheads rarely produce symptoms in themselves. Blackheads often are a sign of some of the previously listed skin conditions. Most of the time, these little black dots are of no significance aside from their cosmetic appearance, which is dramatically enhanced when using a magnifying mirror.
What types of specialists diagnose and treat blackheads?
You do not have to be a specialist to recognize a blackhead. Occasionally, a magnifying glass can be helpful. If they become a bothersome problem, a dermatologist may see you for treatment strategies. A dermatologist specializes in the treatment of acne and other skin diseases and conditions.
How do healthcare professionals diagnose blackheads?
A healthcare professional, most often a dermatologist, will likely be able to explain which skin condition is responsible for producing the blackheads.
What are the types of treatment options for blackhead removal?
If blackheads are a significant problem, it may be necessary to apply a prescription topical retinoid like tretinoin (Refissa, Atralin, Tretin-X) or tazarotene (Tazorac, Avage) to successfully get rid of the blackhead.
Occasionally physicians may remove a blackhead. Most often this procedure is performed by a trained esthetician, a skin care specialist, who ought to be able to get rid of the blackhead without damaging the adjacent skin.
Are there home remedies that get rid of blackheads?
Salicylic acid pads and/or 12% ammonium lactate lotion can be found in most pharmacies. They contain a chemical that exfoliates or loosens the blackhead so that it is possible to remove the blackhead when a person cleans his/her face.
Comedo extractors can be purchased in most pharmacies and from Internet retailers. These small metallic devices have a small opening in a spatula-like tip, which when pressed over the blackhead produces enough side pressure on the skin to get rid of the oil plug from the blocked pore. This might not be the best option because the untrained operator (the patient) may be too aggressive and produce more damage than benefit.
Other options for comedo removal include vacuum suction and pore strips. There is little compelling evidence that blackhead removal produces any lasting benefit.
Is it possible to prevent blackheads?
A person can prevent blackheads by treating the skin condition responsible for their presence. This is most effectively done by a dermatologist.
What is the prognosis for blackheads?
Since most blackheads are due to acne, which is limited to puberty in most people, it is likely that they ultimately will resolve spontaneously.
- CDC Warns of Potentially Fatal Bacterial Illness on U.S. Gulf Coast
- Helping Others as Volunteers Helps Kids 'Flourish': Study
- FDA Approves Pfizer's RSV Shot for Older Adults
- What to Do When Tough-to-Treat Lymphoma Strikes During Pregnancy
- Rate of Pregnant U.S. Women Who Have Diabetes Keeps Rising
- More Health News »
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Kim, S.J., et al. "The Effect of Physically Applied Alpha Hydroxyl Acid on the Skin Pore and Comedone." International Journal of Cosmetic Science 37 (2015): 519-525.
United States. MedlinePlus. "Acne." Oct. 23, 2019. <https://medlineplus.gov/acne.html>.
Top Blackheads Related Articles
AcneAcne is a localized skin inflammation as a result of the overactivity of oil glands at the base of hair follicles. This inflammation, depending on its location, can take the form of a superficial pustule (contains pus), a pimple, a deeper cyst, congested pores, whiteheads, or blackheads. Treatments vary depending on the severity of the acne.
Acne PictureExactly what causes acne? Acne develops when cells and natural oils begin to block up tiny hair follicles in the skin. See a picture of Acne and learn more about the health topic.
Acne QuizAcne is the most common skin disorder in the world. If you suffer from acne, you are not alone and many treatment options are available. Learn more about pimples, blackheads, and comedones with the Acne Quiz.
Dealing with Adult AcneAdult acne causes include hormones, medications, makeup, and other things. Adult acne is treated with medications, products, face washes, and home remedies. Use a skin care regimen provided by your dermatologist to treat adult acne.
Are Blackheads OK to Pop?Pesky zits are a bane for many throughout the teens, sometimes extending well into adulthood. Though a few zits here and there should not really be a cause for concern, regular breakouts often cause low self-esteem and depression in teens and adults alike.
Skin & Makeup QuizAre you doing right by your skin? Take the Skin and Makeup Quiz to learn how to make the most of your beauty regimen.
BirthmarkA birthmark is any abnormal mark, spot, or bump that is present in or around the time of birth on the skin of an infant. Types of birthmarks include cafe au lait marks, Mongolian spots, strawberry marks, and others. Depending on the birthmark type, birthmarks can be removed by scalpel surgery, lasers, and rarely radiation.
What Is the Difference Between Acne Blackheads and Whiteheads?Learn the difference between acne whiteheads and blackheads and how to treat each condition.
How Do You Get Rid of Blackheads?Blackheads are one of the most common forms of acne. Anyone can get them, but those with oily skin are more prone to getting blackheads. Blackheads form when pores get clogged with dead skin cells and excess oil (sebum) from the sebaceous glands in the skin. Blackheads are not the same whiteheads.
How Do You Remove Blackheads?Learn what medical treatments can help ease your blackheads and speed up your recovery.
How to Remove Blackheads on Nose at HomeAcne results when the tiny hair follicles present on the skin get blocked by oil or dead skin cells. They are not just a cosmetic concern, but also cause painful and inflamed bumps all over the face.
PubertyThe time when boys and girls begin the process of sexual maturation is called puberty. During this time, both sexes undergo a series of biological changes that include a rapid increase in height, bone growth, weight increase, the growth of pubic hair, breast development, and the onset of menstruation in girls, and testicle, penis, and muscle enlargement in boys.
Acne and FoodHow can you get rid of acne breakouts with nutrition? Does this food cause acne? Milk, chocolate, and seaweed are all considered by some to promote acne. Find healthy foods that promote acne treatment. What can diet changes do to improve acne care?
Skin Problems: Rosacea, Acne, Shingles, Covid-19 RashesLearn to spot and treat skin conditions commonly found in adults such as acne, Covid-19 rashes, eczema, shingles, psoriasis, rosacea, hives, cold sores, razor bumps, athlete's foot, and more dermatology details.
Skin QuizWhat's that all over you? Skin, of course! Test your knowledge of your most amazing organ with the Skin Quiz!
Skin Health: How to Get Clear SkinAcne, pimples, zits and blemishes often appear on the face, back, chest, neck, and shoulders where skin has the most amount of oil glands. Few of us are immune to breakouts, but treatments can minimize outbreaks. Follow these 15 tips for a clear complexion and skin.
Disease Prevention for TeensTeenagers recognize that they are developmentally between child and adult. Teen health prevention includes maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, preventing injuries and screening annually for potential health conditions that could adversely affect teenage health.
What Happens if You Don't Remove Blackheads?Everyone gets a blackhead once in a while. Learn the signs, what causes blackheads, and how a blackhead should be treated.