Blackheads are easily the most stubborn type of acne there is. Pimples, whiteheads, and cysts will come and go in their usual cycles, however blackheads will simply stay around forever if you don’t do anything.
Importantly, the ideal treatment regimen for blackheads is rather different to that of the other spots. The strategies you need to employ against blackheads will be effective for other acne, but a topical treatment that works on a whitehead, for instance, will probably have no effect on blackheads at all.
The good news is that blackheads are easily destroyed with a little expertise. Like other acne, they stand no chance against a clean diet that is packed full of nutritious foods, combined with a healthy lifestyle.
What are blackheads?
The technical name of a blackhead is an open comedo, the plural of which is comedones. Whiteheads are known as closed comedones. The blackhead itself is little more than a pore which is clogged with sebum and dead skin cells.
A typical blackhead forms like this. First, the acne patient produces far too much sebum, the oil that lubricates your face. This sebum is already bad for clogging up pores, but the real problems start when the sebum oxidises. That occurs when the sebum gets attacked by free radicals.
A component of the sebum called squalene will then morph into this substance called squalene peroxide. This is just about the best pore-blocking substance in the business; it first gets lodged in your pore itself, and then it triggers a process called hyperkeratinisation. Your pores begin to produce far too much keratin, a protein that binds your skin cells together.
That leads to huge clumps of dead skin cells, and when these combine with the sebum already filling your pores, it forms a perfect pore blocking recipe.
Regardless of whether acne develops from this, you now have a fully formed blackhead. The reason why a blackhead is black is not because dirt collects there; it’s not to do with anything hygiene related. Rather it is because your sebum contains melanin, the skin pigment that makes black people black.
The free radicals oxidise this as well, and when it ends up in the pore by the end of the whole process, all the sebum and skin cells blocking your pore have a black tinge to them.
The indirect causes of blackheads
If you were to boil down the birth of blackheads to two causes they would be 1) the oxidation of sebum, and 2) excessive keratin production, even prior to when squalene peroxide triggers it. A blackhead is really nothing more than a blocked pore that is given dark shading by melanin.
Those are the two problems that lead to blackheads and here’s how you can prevent them.
Eating more antioxidant rich foods – an antioxidant is exactly what its name suggests; it’s a compound that prevents free radicals from causing oxidative stress in tissues. Your body is smart enough to know that sebum is prone to oxidising, therefore all sebum that your glands produce comes with built in protective antioxidants.
The human body can manufacture some of these antioxidants on its own, with the most widely used being superoxide dismutase. However the lion’s share must be obtained from the diet. The importance of dietary antioxidants has been shown in countless studies, which find that the more you eat the lower your risk of diseases like cancer will be…
Acne is simply another of those diseases. The best foods to accomplish this with are generally fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices, but other selected foods like dark chocolate (hooray), coffee, and tea are excellent sources. As a general rule, foods that are colourful are rich in antioxidants as many of them provide natural pigments.
Increasing vitamin E intake – vitamin E has many functions in humans, but its most important by far is to act as the second most abundant antioxidant in your body. It’s not just any old antioxidant either; it’s especially important for preventing sebum oxidation because it’s the one your body preferentially uses to do so.
Vitamin E is the ideal antioxidant for protecting sebum because 1) it is fat soluble, and 2) it is particularly potent. Acne patients have been shown time and time again to be have lower levels of vitamin E in their skin, in all the studies done. Therefore you need to eat more foods like almonds and green vegetables. Supplementing with vitamin E is also a good idea because the human body can benefit greatly by going above the daily allowance by about 300%.
This vitamin E supplement is made from real foods and is manufactured by a company whose products I find to be excellent: Garden of Life Vitamin Code Vitamin E.
Reducing free radical exposure – free radicals are completely necessary for some purposes in the body, like breaking down tissues so that they can be rebuilt. However most people today get far too much and slip into a state where they cause a ton of damage. Environmental chemicals like air pollutants, cleaning additives, and BPA are huge sources. Smoking cigarettes pumps an enormous amount into your body and the billowing smoke can wreak havoc with your skin.
Eliminating exposure to free radicals will prevent blackheads by reducing the firepower of your body to cause sebum oxidation in the first place. Not to mention that when you avoid those things, you will experience a strong feeling of health throughout your entire body.
Decreasing sebum production – people with high sebum production often lose all hope, because they hear that it’s under genetic control and they’re doomed to have it. However these genes only partially affect the oiliness of your skin. You can easily decrease the activity of your sebaceous glands by lowering insulin levels, getting plenty of vitamin A, and making other healthy lifestyle choices. That will of course prevent sebum oxidation due to there not actually being any sebum in the first place.
However it’s important for you to know that having high sebum production doesn’t guarantee blackheads; if you consume enough antioxidants to protect that sebum, then oxidation will not occur. I still have moderately oily skin, yet my skin is mysteriously acne-free. The reason? I eat plenty of colourful fruits, vegetables, herbs, and especially large amounts of dark chocolate.
Those are the best methods for eliminating sebum oxidation. The strategies to erase hyperkeratosis from your skin include…
Getting more vitamin A – a classic side-effect of vitamin A deficiency is excessive keratin production. That’s one reason why overpowered vitamin A based formulas like Accutane reduce acne so strongly.
Increasing your zinc levels – this study found that zinc deficient rats were far more likely to suffer from hyperkeratosis. Zinc has also been linked to massively reduced acne in plenty of studies.
Avoid toxic chemicals – quite a few environmental chemicals have the power to induce hyperkeratosis. The classic one is arsenic which, thanks to being used as a pesticide about fifty years ago, can now be found in dangerous levels in a few foods. The most notable are apple juice and rice.
Those are only a few of the methods to bring your keratin production down to steady and acceptable levels. In the future I will explore this with a full and detailed post that will enable you to sort out hyperkeratosis for good.
For the time being though, following the steps to eliminate sebum oxidation should almost completely solve your blackhead problem.
Patience is the key
If you’ve read the rest of this website then plenty of this advice will seem familiar to you, and that illustrates a very important point. Almost all your blackheads can be cured by simply following the rest of the advice you would normally take to eliminate acne. Both the steps above are what all acne patients should be following.
What is true is that hygiene treatments, natural treatments which can often work well on regular acne, usually do not affect blackheads one iota. Blackheads are not the result of inflammation, and they don’t necessarily have to contain bacteria. Therefore a product like raw honey will have no effect on them, despite working wonders on regular pimples.
What you really have to do with blackheads is follow all the advice above, then simply be patient. Eventually the lack of oil and dead skin cells will begin to feed through to your face. There won’t be any additional blocking of your pores, and the blockages you do have will begin to heal. Your blackheads will slowly disappear just as the rest of your acne does.
Once again, eliminating sebum oxidation is the real key. Follow the four steps above and add in vitamin A and zinc, and you should notice an excellent difference after a few months or maybe weeks. When I finally managed to cure my acne, it took a couple of months longer for my blackheads to fully fade away as well.
Just be patient and stick to the steps above and good results will come in time. It’s absolutely vital that you don’t get tempted into advancing the death of your blackheads with any advanced treatments.
Two strategies that can really derail you are…
Washing your face with hot water – there’s an extremely widespread belief that you can cure blackheads by heating your face up. The idea is that hot water loosens the pores and allows you to extract the oil and dead skin that blocks them. However, from my experience this never gets close to working. It has a common sense logic to it but I’ve never noticed the slightest reduction in blackheads, despite trying it countless times.
What I did notice was that the strategy dramatically worsened my skin. That’s because applying hot water to your skin is one of the worst strategies there is for acne.
The problem is that it damages the protective layer of sebum on your face. Sebum is not just a menacing acne-causing oil; it is also vital for protecting your skin against harsh elements like bacteria, infections and environmental chemicals. If you wear it away with hot water, then your sebaceous glands will be automatically triggered to produce greater amounts of sebum to relubricate it.
Basically, by applying hot water to cure blackheads, you are not only not curing them, but you are also increasing the probability that new ones will be born. Warm water is just about acceptable, but hot water is something you should always avoid. Cold water is very nourishing and healthy for your skin.
Using harsh treatments like Benzoyl Peroxide – these topical treatments work by creating a burst of free radicals on your face that kills acne bacteria. That’s a good thing but it’s not good when the same free radicals cause your sebum to oxidise. Eating a ton of healthy antioxidants can easily be counteracted by using harsh treatments like BP.
Avoid those two treatments like the plague! The one hygiene treatment that is useful for blackheads is extremely basic; just give your face a good wash every day to remove excess sebum from it. That will help to keep some of the pore blockages down, and to accomplish this all you need is water, or perhaps a soap with natural ingredients.
There’s no need to scrub your face dry though. That will be almost as damaging as using hot water. Sweating may also be good for blackheads, since the legends claim that it can unblock pores.
The best part about blackheads is that treating them only requires the very same strategies you should be using for other acne anyway. There aren’t really any specific strategies you can use.
To recap, eliminate sebum oxidation and slow down the production of keratin, and you should get a good improvement if you wait patiently. Other acne-advice such as reducing inflammation in the body will cause indirect benefits for blackheads. For example, arsenic is an inflammatory heavy metal you need to avoid, and when you do so you will also tackle the problem of hyperkeratosis.
In summary, removing blackheads is not something I recommend you worry about greatly.
Thanks for reading!