Blackheads are equal parts gross and confounding — why do they always spring up in clusters, and on the most outwardly-facing parts of our bodies (our chests, our shoulders, our faces)? According to Skin FAQ, scientifically speaking, blackheads actually aren’t that disgusting. They typically occur as a result of clogged hair follicles. Dead skin and oil collect in the opening of a follicle, forming a bump called a comedo. When it opens and is exposed to the air, the oxidation makes it look black.
There are tons of reasons why these pesky little bumps appear (always at the worst time), including various medications, heavy moisturizers and sunscreen, as well as hormones and the birth control pill. There’s something inherently satisfying about popping the little brats, which goes some way towards explaining the popularity of Dr. Pimple Popper. But are we better off leaving them alone?
Plainly speaking, yes. According to Dr. Julia Carroll of Compass Dermatology, who spoke to Global News, squeezing them is not a good idea. “Many people get obsessed with their blackheads and overdo it. This can cause acne in the short-term but later on, I see significant scarring from manipulating the pores over the years,” she explained.
Likewise, celebrity aesthetician Olga Lorencin told Insider, “First and foremost, you’re not an aesthetician… You will not be able to determine how deep your blackhead is, how tight pores are, or how you should prep your skin in order to extract your blackheads.” And, according to dermatologist Dr. Michael Freeman, “It’s important to never squeeze a blackhead too much because you might cause the oil glands to rupture back into the skin, causing an even worse reaction.”
Anna Guanche, board-certified dermatologist and beauty expert, echoed Dr. Freeman’s statement, explaining to Insider, “[Picking your blackheads] can push some of the keratin out through the thin lining of the pore and cause inflammation. So then, instead of a blackhead, [in many cases], there will be an inflamed pimple.”
However, Healthline warns, “If left untreated, blackheads might turn into inflammatory acne. This is because oil and bacteria are allowed to build up.” Dr. Carroll notes that blackheads can resolve on their own as a result of our skin naturally exfoliating, but cautions that sometimes they can turn into pimples. So, what’s the answer?
If you’re looking to treat blackheads without making the problem worse, definitely don’t pick them. “Instead, use products to control the congestion in your skin and make a monthly appointment to see an experienced aesthetician,” Lorencin said. “Not only can she perform extractions, but she will also provide you with the advice and direction on the products and steps you should take to help prevent them in the first place.”