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We all hate spots, be it blackheads, whiteheads, or red pimples. Understatement.

Most people find blackheads the trickiest spots to get rid of. I’ve suffered from acne of some form or other since my mid-teens (I’m now 30 btw). How do I manage blackheads? Read on.

What are blackheads?
Quick answer: Grease. Not dirt.
Longer answer: Wikipedia definition

blackhead (medically known as an open comedo, plural comedones) is a yellow or blackish bump or plug on the skin, and usually found on the cheeks, nose, lip area, and chin. Blackheads are one of the common findings in acne vulgarisContrary to the common belief that it is caused by poor hygiene, blackheads are caused by excess oils that have accumulated in the sebaceous gland‘s duct. The substance found in these bumps mostly consists of keratin and modified sebum (an oily secretion of the sebaceous gland), which darkens as it oxidizes. Clogged hair follicles, where blackheads often occur, reflect light irregularly to produce a blackhead’s “black” hue. For this reason, the blockage might not necessarily look black when extracted from the pore, but may have a more yellow-brown colour as a result of its melanin content.

How do I prevent blackheads?

As they’re caused  by excess oils on the skin, keep skin as oil-free as possible. Easy, right? /Endofblogpost]

Erm… no. Oil develops on your skin throughout the day, and no one wants to spend all day oil-fighting.

How to keep skin oil-free: 

Moisturise. Yes, moisturise. Properly. Even if you have oily skin.

If you haven’t used enough moisturiser, your skin will top-up and make more sebum itself. Best way to stop it doing so is to wear enough moisturiser to start with. Don’t wear too much, or you’ll clog the pores yourself. Use an oil-free face cream, or better yet, an oil-free serum.

Blot it outNo matter how hard you try, some oil  will be created by your skin throughout the day. Blot the oil using blotting papers. These are small, pocket-sized papers that absorb excess oils from skin when pressed onto shiny areas. They’re cheap and easy (that’s what she said!) and can be found in chemists, makeup stores, cosmetics departments in department stores, supermarket cosmetic counters… just everywhere.

Cleanse as soon as you get home. Get rid of the days grease, especially the ‘city grease’ – Londoners, you know what I’m talking about. What cleanser should you use? An oil-free cleanser is a must. One with BHA/ Salicyclic acid is helpful too, see Treating Blackheads below.

Speaking of cleansing, how you cleanse is as important as what cleanser you’re using.

Exfoliating as well as washing is important in keeping pores clean. Most people feel like they’ve had a good old scrub when using an exfoliating scrub with large beads/ granules. The truth is, they’ve probably done more harm than good. The larger and rougher the particles, the more you tear the skin and can irritate it, leading to a) redness and b) more sebum production to soothe the skin. Not good. Also you may just widen the pores, allowing yet more sebum to sit in them and cause more blackheads. Really not good.

So I’m telling you to avoid using rough exfoliating sponges, loofah sponges (unless you’re using them with a face cleanser, to soften the loofah), or large granule-scrubs. You may be thinking “Aaaaargh! What IS safe to use then?” If using an exfoliating scrub, use one with really fine particles. There are some great ones on the market and they are very affordable, Simple make a great gentle scrub with rice extracts. The particles are so small but they do the job without damaging the pores or the skin in general. The St Ives Apricot Gentle scrub for Sensitive skin is also very good.

Exfoliating too often can irritate the skin and cause tearing or widening of pores. Don’t exfoliate daily, even if the scrub says that you can. There’s no need. 2-3 times a week is enough.

You may also now be thinking “This woman has got me scared stiff of face scrubs… what other options are there?” The ideal way to exfoliate is the gentlest. We are ladies, and we like all things genteel. It also feels very luxurious and feels like a bit of a spa treat… wash face with your normal cleanser but use a muslin cloth to wipe off the cleanser or to rub cleanser into your pores. Aaaaah, I hear you sigh, Muslin cloth sounds so posh and expensive… I’m not talking about a muslin cloth with 1million thread count interwoven with silk, you can just use one of your baby’s muslin squares (preferably unused ¬_¬).

Treating Blackheads

Once you’ve cleansed the face of oils and cleared the pores, you’re ready to treat and clear the blackheads… yay! She’s finally got to the point… the prep is important though. Skip the prep and the blackheads will keep reappearing. Deep cleanse with a pH neutral (circa pH level 5-5.5) cleanser, to avoid drying out the skin, and containing salicyclic acid/Beta Hydroxy Acid, to exfoliate the surface and get deep into pores to loosen the greasy plug.

Summary

  • Keep skin free of oil/ sebum by using oil-free face creams or serum. Blot excess oil during the day.
  • Cleanse as soon as you get home to clear ‘city grease’ from skin.
  • For delicate skin DON’T use granular exfoliators. Wash face w/ warm, wet muslin cloth & your normal cleanser.
  • Once pores are clear, deep cleanse with a pH neutral (around pH5) cleanser w/ salicyclic acid or AHA’s.

Further info

  • Understanding blackheads: This article from Paula at Cosmetics Cop is a MUST-READ http://www.cosmeticscop.com/i-have-blackheads-what-caused-them.aspx
  • 5 Products NOT to use from Paula at Cosmetics Cop http://www.cosmeticscop.com/bulletin/082311-full.htm
  • Advice and tried & tested pH neutral products that work – YouTube vlog from Wayne Goss @gossmakeupartis http://youtu.be/Rs1PHQZu5q8
  • Facts about pH levels and your skin Skin pH levels
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