There’s nothing worse than looking in the mirror and seeing a blackhead standing sentinel on the plain of your well-groomed skin. No matter how good the rest of you looks, the knowledge of that unsightly blemish will ruin every time you confront your reflection for the rest of the day.
What Are Blackheads?
Blackheads happen when excess oil from your skin (known as sebum) and dead skin cells collect in your skin’s pores, the tiny holes that allow your skin to “breathe.” Blackheads are the result of clogged pores that have open surfaces, which allows for dark-colored oxidation that gives the blemish its name.
For most men, the battle with blackheads reaches its heady peak during teenage years, when wildly fluctuating hormones cause your skin to flush with excess oil. But they can show up from time to time even during your glory days, thanks to sweat, dirt, bacteria, poor diet and even stress.
How to Get Rid of Blackheads
- Try an oil-based cleanser. As crazy as it sounds, oil does dissolve oil, which is exactly what your blackhead-afflicted face needs. Jojoba oil in particular has a chemical makeup almost identical to that of sebum, which makes it a great option for cleansing your pores without drying your skin. Rub a tablespoon or so of the oil into your face, leaving it on for 5-10 minutes, then steam it off with a hot, wet washcloth. Try it for a week—you might be surprised by how effective it is.
- Exfoliate. But not too much. Together with excess sebum, dead skin cells are the principle cause of blocking your pores and creating the buildup that ends with a blackhead. However, don’t overdo the exfoliation — getting too zealous with the scrub or the skin brush will irritate your skin and (you guessed it) trigger an excess of sebum.
- Try a clay mask. French green clay is a time-honored standby for soothing irritated skin while drawing out impurities. If you’ve never tried it, you’re in for a treat. The cool sensation of the mud on your skin is instantly relaxing, and the steamy towel you use to wipe it off is a great chaser. Here are some of the best face masks for men.
- Rethink your diet. We didn’t want to have to say it, but … well, we’re saying it. Poor nutrition has been linked to dermatological breakouts, and we’re not just talking about greasy food, although that’s certainly a classic culprit. Processed foods, foods high in sugar or simple carbs, even overindulgence in delicious amazing foods like craft beer and pastured pork belly cause your blood sugar to spike, which starts a chain reaction that leads to overproduction of sebum. We’re not saying you can’t ever enjoy a plate of poutine or a heady slice of pizza again. Just ease off until your skin regulates.
- Balance your hormones. Teenagers aren’t the only ones with hormone problems — hormones are equally susceptible to imbalance if your diet is messed up, you’re not getting enough sleep, or if you’re just really stressed out. By treating the underlying cause through improving your overall health or taking a natural adaptogen (i.e., hormone balancer) such as maca root or reishi mushroom, you might see a matching improvement in your skin.
How to Prevent Blackheads
Keep your skin clean. This is your first line of defense against blackheads. Find yourself a good, gentle soap or cleanser and use it every day. You can use a mild toner or even apple cider vinegar (never mind the smell) to expel dirt and guard against bacteria.
Avoid products that “tighten” or “minimize” pores. Don’t give in to the temptation of trying to close off your pores. That’s actually counterproductive (not to mention a practical impossibility). Pores are how your skin breathes. Trying to close them off or dry them out with alcohol-based skin treatments or benzoyl peroxide will only over-activate your sebaceous glands, leading to even worse breakouts. Maintaining lightly moisturized skin is the best way to moderate its oil output and keep blackheads at bay.
If you take preventative measures and follow up with appropriate treatment, your blackheads should dissolve quickly, along with the embarrassment you might be feeling for having one.