The technical name is “open comedone,” but a bout of blackheads never looks microscopic. Once these acne lesions develop, you’re not going to scrub them away. You can, however, help fight the development of new blackheads while giving your skin a chance to heal from a current outbreak. The right ingredients enlisted in this battle powerfully cleanse pores, add lightweight moisture and spot-treat problem areas.
1. Salicylic Acid: An Anti-Breakout Staple
Salicylic acid is a longtime skin care staple for its ability to unclog pores by cleaning out enlarged follicles that fill with sebum and become blackheads. It may be tempting to scrub at the affected area, but you could end up exacerbating the problem by washing too frequently or too hard. After all, the “black” in blackheads isn’t dirt that just needs some aggressive scrubbing, but rather the results of a pore clogged with oil and dead skin cells that’s open to the air and oxidation turns it black. Because the ingredient can irritate the skin if used too much, it’s best to use it as a targeted treatment instead of all over your face or body.
2. Benzoyl Peroxide: Bacteria Buster
Like salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide works as a keratolytic agent, which means it’s able to break down and loosen the dead skin cells on the surface of the skin and down in the pores. In addition to cleaning out pores, benzoyl peroxide fights the bacteria that lead to breakouts. The right concentration targets inflammation without irritating skin. While powerful benzoyl peroxide creams are marketed to teenagers, adult skin fares better with a 2.5 percent cream dabbed on the affected area twice daily.
3. Glycolic Acid: Multi-Tasking Tool
Glycolic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid derived from sugarcane, gives blackhead-prone skin a fresh start. It goes to work by exfoliating the top skin layer and cleaning out clogged follicles. The benefits of this gentle acid are twofold. By dissolving the upper skin layer, it also triggers the skin cells to repair themselves—therefore creating more collagen.
4. Witch Hazel: Calming Inflammation
Witch hazel, which naturally soothes blackhead-prone skin with anti-inflammatory properties, appears most commonly in toners. If your regimen begins with toner, pass on the drying alcohol–based formulas and opt for water-based products. Treatments that dry out and irritate the skin can lead to inflammation, and skin inflammation is a component in the formation of acne.
5. Retinoids and Dioic Acid: Spot-On Solutions
While cleansing routines and masks soothe facial skin and help create an environment inhospitable to blackheads, you also want to keep a targeted treatment in your arsenal. Topical retinoids, which are powerful vitamin A compounds, have the distinction of fighting wrinkles and breakouts. Dioic acid (dicarboxylic acid) works by slowing the production of the sebum that’s clogging your pores and battling bacteria.
If you have sensitive skin or prefer natural products, check out our top picks for natural blackhead fighters here.
This article has been reviewed by board-certified dermatologist Dr. Emmy Graber.