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How to remove blackheads without damaging your skin

Connecting the dots.

Blackheads are like buses. Just as one disappears off into the distance, three more come in at once. In fact, alongside spots, visible pores and pigmentation, they're one of the biggest bugbears in beauty.

If you've been struggling with the little critters for years, it may be that you've not got to the root of the cause. You might even be using products that exacerbate the problem.

And with myths advocating scrubbing harder and more often offered up on the internet as advice, it's hard to know what's what.

So, we've enlisted the help of top dermatologist, Dr Anjali Mahto, to share her insider knowledge on why we get blackheads and, more importantly, how to beat them. Here's how to see the suckers off.

What are blackheads and why do we get them?

Blackheads are a common issue we see all year round. During the winter, skin can lose its natural lipids and become dry and irritated.

To compensate, the skin goes into overdrive, producing excess oil, which can also cause breakouts. During warmer months, skin tends to become oilier and as a result, the build-up can lead to clogged hair follicles, resulting in blackheads.

Dead skin cells (the cells our skin naturally sheds during the skin cycle) can become trapped and lodged in follicles, causing plugs that lead to blackheads. Plus, the products we use on a regular basis: foundations, concealers, ultra rich face creams etc can build-up in pores and mix with the oil leading to congestion.

One myth however, is that blackheads are black because they're filled with dirt. "The reason blackheads look black is because all the oils in them become oxidised. It’s not the dirt that is black, it is just oxidised oil," explains Dr Anjali Mahto.

The nose tends to be most susceptible to blackheads since it has many hair follicles and produces more oil than other parts of the face. The nose also has crevices, while other parts of the face are flatter.

The skincare regime to follow

"There are loads of ways you can get rid of blackheads, however the underlying problem is the excess oil that is being produced," says Dr Anjali. "So whatever treatments you do, blackheads will always naturally reform every 20 to 40 days." It means consistency is key to keeping on top of the problem and no single treatment can see them off forever.

Make exfoliating a part of your regular routine (everyone's skin is different, but twice a week is a good place to start). "Exfoliation removes that upper layer of dead skin cells. So effectively, you're preventing everything including old skin cells, dirt and makeup, from getting blocked inside that top layer of pores," says Anjali.

Rather than scrubs, which can aggravate the skin, "you can use chemicals to dissolve the upper layer of dead skin cells," says Dr Anjali.

"For this, use AHAs (alpha-hydroxy-acids) which are really good for treating blackheads – look for glycolic acids and lactic acids," she adds. "Then you have BHAs (beta hydroxy acids), like salicylic acid," says Dr Anjali.

Not only can BHA help to shift the surface layer of cells, it has the ability to get into the pore and unclog it from the inside out, "it dissolves everything and that unblocks the pores," explains Dr Anjali.

It's also a good idea to put your feet up and use a purifying face mask once a week. Look for ingredients such as zinc oxide (which soothes), sulphur (which is anti-septic and kills bacteria) and charcoal (which draws out bacteria).

And, if you thought retinol was only good on wrinkles, it's ability to speed up cell renewal also makes it a hero ingredient for unclogging pores. Though it's best to use it on the evenings you've not also used an exfoliator to make sure you don't overdo it.

How the pros squeeze blackheads without causing damage

If you really want to beat the blackheads, have your dermatologist or medical professional use a comedone extractor (if you've ever spent hours transfixed by Dr Pimple Popper's videos, you'll know what we're talking about here).

These extractors use small metal loops on the end of a stick to add pressure around the blackhead and push the debris out.

The difference between them and you, is they know the best techniques to lift the blackhead away without causing scarring or damage to the surrounding skin. Often they'll steam your skin first to loosen things up. And, if using their fingers, they use a rolling method with the pad of their fingers to ease the blackhead out gently. Nails should never be used for squeezing.

The blackhead-busting foods to include in your diet

It's no secret that what's happening in your body can play out on your skin. Therefore it doesn't hurt to opt for anti-inflammatory foods which have a knock on effect on curbing excess oil, whiteheads and clogged pores.

Controlling your blood sugar and insulin levels can help, so try avoiding sugary, starchy foods that can trigger problem skin.

And cold water fish-like wild salmon, sardines, herring and anchovies (which are all high in Omega-3 essential fatty acids), act as natural anti-inflammatories and offer great benefits to the health and appearance of your skin.

They aid in the reduction of stress chemicals such as cortisol, which can worsen acne and its accompanying signs and symptoms.

Likewise, eating foods that are rich in Vitamin B2 will help to reduce stress – try spinach, almonds, eggs and mushrooms.

This story originally appeared on Glamour UK| Author: Elle Turner and Lottie Winter.

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