Why do we get blackheads?

The general cause of spot formation is when the sebaceous glands that produce sebum (the natural oil produced by our skin) become blocked, either by dead skin cells, dirt or excess oil. The basic acne lesion is called a comedone and if it stays beneath the skin and produces a white bump, it is referred to closed comedone (a whitehead to us). If it reaches the skins surface it is called an open comedone (a blackhead) as it is not covered by a layer of skin, like all other spots. A common myth is that blackheads are dark due to the accumulation of dirt and it’s not. It’s the oxidation of the sebum in the blocked pore by the air that causes it to turn from white to a darker colour.

For more information about how and why blackheads form, we have a full article written by an acne expert here.

 The Best Way to Treat Blackheads:


For the treatment of mild comedones, topical retinoids are the dermatologist’s weapon of choice. Retinol (a derivative of Vitamin A) works really well to clear up existing blackheads as they can increase the speed cells in the follicle divide, to try and help unplug the pore, as well as reducing the formation of new blackheads! However, it’s important to note that topical retinoids may be irritating to sensitive skin, so a patch test is a good idea before trying a new product!

Below are some products containing Retinol that the Geeks have investigated and would recommend for blackheads:


AHA’s (usually called glycolic acid) and BHA’s (salicylic acid) are chemical exfoliants and are really great preventative measures for blackheads as they can loosen the connections between cells, allowing us to easily shed the top layer of dead skin cells so they can’t block our pores and lead to unwanted spots!

Below are some products containing AHA’s and BHA’s that the Geeks recommend:

All the AHA/BHA products we’ve listed above are leave-on products as these ingredients work best when left on the skin, rather than cleansers where they are washed off quickly.

Clay Masks

Clay masks (kaolin/green clay) can be used as a great preventative measure as the clay helps to absorb excess oils and once dried, lightly exfoliates the skin as the mask is washed off. Good masks are also packed full of other ingredients that help condition the skin.

Below are some clay masks that the Geeks recommend:

– Glam Glow Youthmud Tinglexfoliate Treatment (ON SALE HERE)

– Super facialist Salicylic Acid Anti Blemish Clay Mask 

– Lush’s Cosmetic Warrior 

REN Clarimatte Invisible Pore Detox Mask

A last bit of advice on blackheads…

 For the treatment of blackheads, creams and gels aimed at killing bacteria and reducing inflammation e.g. benzoyl peroxide are not very useful as blackheads don’t have a bacterial origin. Also, avoid trying to squeeze or pop blackheads, as this could make them worse and even lead to scarring.