We've all been there before. A strange new freckle seems to have appeared on your face out of nowhere. But as you lean towards the mirror for further inspection, you realize you've made a misdiagnosis it's a blackhead: the notorious cousin of the standard red and white zits that plague nearly every upright mammal on earth.
This seems like a quick fix, so you squeeze that sucker like a stress ball. But alas, you’re left with inflamed skin and a half-unclogged pore. We understand how tempting it is to pick and pop the gunk out of your face. But before you embark on a blackhead busting binge session, you need the full, science-backed scoop on what these things are and how to banish them—for good.
Whether you have one pesky blackhead or a goldmine of clogged pores, this article is going to be your saving grace.
What are Blackheads?
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, a blackhead is a pore that has become clogged with oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria. Sounds a lot like a normal zit, but why does it turn black?
It turns black because [the clogged pore] is exposed to oxygen and it oxidizes," explains board-certified dermatologist Sandra "Dr. Pimple Popper" Lee, MD.
Blackheads are technically called “open comedones” (a whitehead is a closed comedone). The recipe for blackheads is a buildup of sebum, P. Acnes bacteria, and inflammation inside an open hair follicle, resulting in a sticky, earwax-like substance lodged in the depths of your skin. And if you’re wondering why blackheads always pop up on your face, back, neck, and shoulders, it’s because those areas of your body have more hair follicles.
What Causes Blackheads?
Blackheads are like termites: every time you exterminate a couple of them, they come back in droves. So, how can you get to the root of the problem, (or the root of your blackheads)?
Contrary to what your mom, girlfriend, or favorite beauty influencer told you, blackheads arenot usually caused by a filthy face. This is a common misconception since blackheads look like dirt lodged in your pores. If you’rescrubbing your face like a madman and not seeing any results, now you know why.
The source of blackheads is complicated—dermatologists can’t even agree on a definitive answer, but we do have some clues:
Hormones: Androgen, the male sexhormone, triggers excess sebum (oil) which settles in dudes’ pores, crystalizing into whiteheads and blackheads.
Environment: If you live somewhere humid and you’re constantly drenched in sweat, your pores get a steady dose of one blackheads’ main ingredients.
Excessive sweat: Been hitting the gym extra hard? Boss refuse to turn on the AC at the office? Constantly falling victim to the meat sweats? Even if you wash up regularly (which most guys don't), sweat saturates your pores over time, potentially causing blackheads.
Genetics: Some dudes are straight up bred to develop blackheads. Just like people’s heights and hair colors vary, so do their levels of oil and how their body processes it.