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How to treat acne and blackheads like a pro

Spoiler alert: Prevention is key!

Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 6 min read
Medically reviewed by Kristen Jokela, NP-C
Acne Blackheads Pro
Curology Team Avatar
by Curology Team
Updated on Jul 6, 2023 • 6 min read
Medically reviewed by Kristen Jokela, NP-C
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Blackheads are a common type of acne that often appears on the nose, chin, and cheeks. The good news? They’re very treatable, with many options available over the counter. The even better news? You can also help to prevent them. 

In this article, we’ll show you how to treat acne and blackheads to leave your skin blemish-free. 

All about blackheads

Blackheads form when your pores become clogged with dead skin cells and excess oil. The contents of the pore are “open” to the air, hence the name “open comedones”.¹  

Blackheads form inside your pores. How to remove deep blackheads may depend on where they are on your body. As a quick fix, you might be tempted to try an over-the-counter pore strip. The thing about pore strips is that they can irritate your skin, especially if your skin is sensitive or if you’re using certain topical ingredients (like retinoids). If you aren’t careful, peeling off that pore strip could result in redness and irritation. In some cases, a professional will use a specialized tool with a stainless steel loop to remove them (but don’t try this at home!).

Cosmetician cleaning face

Regardless of where blackheads appear, it’s important to resist picking, pinching, or squeezing them. Doing so can cause permanent scars, and with the regular use of certain topical products, most blackheads will go away.  

Who gets blackheads?

It doesn’t matter how old you are—no one wants blackheads. For many, blackheads are more common during adolescence, but adults can get them too. Some people don’t even get their first blackhead until adulthood. 

We understand that blackheads, while not a medical emergency, can take an emotional toll—as can any skin condition.² That’s why we do what we do—your mental well-being is important!  

Whiteheads vs. blackheads: What’s the difference?

Clogged pores are also known as comedones. An open comedone is a blackhead. Because it’s open to the air, it’s contents oxidize and turn a dark color.³ Closed comedones are covered by a thin layer of skin. They’re also known as whiteheads.

Blackheads vs. Whiteheads

Inflammatory acne and blackheads: What’s the difference?

Inflammatory acne forms inside your pores the same way as blackheads. The big difference is that inflammatory acne lesions occur when bacteria get into the mix. They thrive in the excess oil and trigger an inflammatory response. Inflammatory acne includes these types of blemishes:

  • Papules: Small inflamed bumps that are red or pink.

  • Pustules: Similar to papules but filled with pus.

  • Nodules: Solid bumps under the skin’s surface.

  • Cysts: Fluid-filled bumps deep under the skin’s surface.⁴ 

If you suspect you have inflammatory acne, it’s best to seek professional treatment. Your dermatology provider may recommend prescription medications, like topical antibiotics or retinoids, along with regular cleansing and moisturizing. Common medications include tretinoin and clindamycin.⁵   

How do you treat blackheads?

Before we tell you how to get rid of blackheads at home, we want to remind you that your first line of defense is a regular skincare routine that includes washing and moisturizing your face and applying sunscreen daily. Remember, blackheads form when dead skin cells and sebum build up in your pores. So, the easiest way to clear your face of oil and debris is to prevent that from happening in the first place…by washing your face regularly! You can also use a treatment containing one of these ingredients to help minimize blackheads and keep fewer from returning:

  • Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid (BHA), which works by going deep into the pores to clear out dead skin cells and excess sebum. That’s why it’s commonly used to treat acne. Salicylic acid often works well for people with combination or oily skin types. You can find salicylic acid in some cleansers, lotions, creams, and gels. 

  • Glycolic acid is a common alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA). AHAs are similar to BHAs, but they don’t penetrate quite as deep. They’re chemical exfoliants that treat the superficial skin layer. Glycolic acid, lactic acid, and citric acid are all AHAs. 

  • Topical retinoids are available over the counter and by prescription. Tretinoin is a common prescription retinoid, a vitamin A derivative that promotes skin cell turnover. Retinoids may leave your skin sun-sensitive, so use products containing them only at night. 

  • Azelaic acid works to increase your skin’s cell turnover rate, and it’s shown to help reduce the appearance of dark spots. It also can help improve blackheads. It’s available at some strengths over the counter, but you’ll need a prescription for more potent doses.

There are some mechanical removal methods, like blackhead tweezers, vacuums, and pore strips, that you may want to try. We don’t typically recommend them here at Curology, but if you want to try them, go slowly and be gentle. Whatever you do, don’t wait to start treatment. Treating acne early reduces acne scars, helps prevent severe acne, avoids prolonging acne, and decreases the likelihood of needing stronger acne medicine.⁶ 

How do you help prevent blackheads from appearing?

The best acne treatment is prevention. These common-sense tips will help keep your skin pimple-free:

  • Don’t sleep with your makeup on, especially if you use comedogenic (or pore-clogging) products—which we don’t recommend! Let’s be honest. After dancing ‘til 2 am, removing your makeup, cleansing, treating, and moisturizing is often the last thing on your mind. But it’s still important to do so. Pro tip: Micellar water is a quick and simple way to remove makeup before hitting the sack.

  • Wash your face when you wake up and before going to bed. You’ll also want to rinse if you’re sweating.  

  • Clean your pillowcases often—ideally once weekly. There’s no scientific proof this works, but it certainly won’t hurt. Plus, doesn’t a freshly washed pillowcase just invite sleep?

  • Use alcohol-free skincare products to minimize irritation. While we’re on it—avoid any ingredients that might irritate or dry out your skin, like products that contain added fragrance and astringents.

If your blackheads seem to continue reappearing despite all your efforts, you might be experiencing something else, like sebaceous filaments. These aren’t clogged pores. They’re a natural lining inside pores, and many of us have them. But with oily skin, they may be more noticeable. 

No matter the type, pimple treatment follows the golden rule of skincare: dedicating yourself to a consistent skincare routine. You can also use many of the same remedies listed above. And remember, no picking! 

Help beat blackheads with Curology

If you’re feeling unsure about what your skin needs to beat breakouts, talking to a dermatology provider can help. At Curology, we take the time to listen to our members to provide them with the best products for their skincare concerns and the best advice to help them achieve their skincare goals. 

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

Get your personalized skincare routine with Curology

curology bottle
curology bottle

Curology’s licensed dermatology providers prescribe proven effective ingredients to create a personalized prescription formula that works to treat acne, anti-aging, and rosacea concerns. And any time you have questions, just ask! We’re here for you. 

Try Curology for 30 days and pay just $4.95 (plus tax) for shipping and handling.* During your trial month, we’ll include a few of our other dermatologist-designed products that go hand-in-hand with your prescription formula.  

• • •

P.S. We did the homework so you don’t have to:

  1. American Academy of Dermatology. How to treat different types of acne. (n.d.)

  2. American Academy of Dermatology. 5 Way to help your teenager survive acne. (n.d.).

  3. Institute for Quality and Efficacy in Health Care. Acne: Overview. (2019, September 26). 

  4. American Academy of Dermatology. Acne: Signs and symptoms. (n.d.)

  5. Zaenglein, A.L., et al. Guidelines of care of the management of acne vulgaris.Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. (2016).

  6. American Academy of Dermatology. 7 Reason to treat acne early. (n.d.). 

* Subject to consultation. Subscription is required. Results may vary. 

• • •
Our medical review process:We’re here to tell you what we know. That’s why our information is evidence-based and fact-checked by medical experts. Still, everyone’s skin is unique—the best way to get advice is to talk to your healthcare provider.
Curology Team Avatar

Curology Team

Kristen Jokela, NP-C

Kristen Jokela, NP-C

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