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What do Blackheads Look Like & How to Tell if It's a Blackhead?


Are you sure you’re dealing with blackheads? Could it be another form of acne? Is it, maybe, a sebaceous filament? Or is it a whitehead? What do blackheads look like, what causes them, what can treat them and how to spot other skin conditions: we are onto them!

Table of Contents:

  • What do blackheads look like?
  • Is it acne?
  • What is inside a blackhead, and how are they formed?
  • Are those blackheads or whiteheads?
  • Is it a blackhead or a sebaceous filament?
  • Is it blackheads or pimples?
  • How can you tell if it's a blackhead?
  • What happens if you don't remove blackheads?
  • How do you get rid of blackheads?
  • Acne medications
  • Salicylic acid
  • Glycolic acid
  • Hydroxy acid
  • Natural topical medication
  • Preventing blackheads: what not to do when dealing with blackheads

What do blackheads look like?

Like black dots on your skin, blackheads can be annoying. As troublesome as you find them, aesthetically, your skin isn’t happy about them either! 

blackheads, face blackheads

Blackheads, just like whiteheads, are a type of acne. They form differently, but they have similar treatments.

Is it acne?

They develop from pimples, and they are also called open comedones. 

Comedones are skin-colored bumps that evolve from pimples. A follicle in the skin with a large opening or a pore can develop them due to excess oil, dead skin cells buildup, and bacteria. 

skin acne, woman with acne on skin

They are a form of acne present on specific patches of skin, mostly on oily skin on the face, back, and shoulders. 

What is inside a blackhead, and how are they formed?

Blackheads form when large pores become blocked due to excess sebum. Each follicle contains one hair and a sebaceous gland that secretes oil. That oil, aka sebum, keeps the skin soft and balanced. 

Comedones form when dead skin cells remain trapped in a large follicle. When the comedo remains closed, it’s white. When it’s open, it turns black. 

Inside the clogged pores, a chemical reaction turns melanin black. Since blackheads are open comedones, melanin will oxidize, becoming black. 

No, that is not dirt! 

Are those blackheads or whiteheads?

Whiteheads are closed comedones. They form when the follicle beneath the skin is filled with bacteria. Whiteheads have small openings on the surface of the skin, but the air cannot get in, hence no oxidation. That is why the color stays white. That is why the clogging remains trapped. 

Is it a blackhead or a sebaceous filament?

Many people don’t know the difference between filaments with blackheads. While they may look alike, sebaceous filaments are smaller, appear in groups, and are not bumpy when you touch them. 

Sebaceous filaments are glands that help the sebum flow through the pores. They are not acne, and they help the skin remain healthy. 

However, overproduction of sebum can make sebaceous filaments appear noticeable. If the issue is not stopped, they can turn into white and blackheads.

How can you tell what you’re dealing with? 

  • Sebaceous filaments are small, and you can’t see the pore dilated. 
  • Blackheads have dilated pores and appear bigger. 

Also, sebaceous filaments are gray, yellowish, or clear and not dark, black.

Is it blackheads or pimples?

Pimples are raised to the touch and inflamed. They are usually painful. 

They form when bacteria invade the blockage of dead skin cells and sebum buildup in the hair follicle. Usually, pimples are red, inflamed, and there are many types. 

Here is how to know them:

  • Papules are comedones that become inflamed. You can recognize them as small red or pink bumps on your skin. They are also painful or sensitive to touch. If you have more papules, you can have moderate to severe acne. 
  • Pustules are like whiteheads with a surrounding red ring. Pustules are bumps filled with pus and can cause scarring. 
  • Nodules are firm to the touch. You can spot them since they are large bumps under the skin. They are often painful.
  • Cysts are lesions filled with infected bacteria and pus. They are large, painful, and can cause severe scarring. They signal a severe form of acne.
  • If we’re talking about Acne Vulgaris, this skin condition reunites pimples, white, and blackheads. Breakouts are on the face, chest, back, and shoulders mostly. While white and blackheads every here and there are mild forms of acne, severe forms include serious breakouts.
  • Mild types of acne reunite white and blackheads, bumps, and lesions. It’s considered mild acne to have fewer than 20 whiteheads or blackheads and fewer than 15 inflamed bumps.
  • Moderate acne consists of over 30 of the aforementioned skin lesions.
  • Severe acne involves nodules and cysts that are in large numbers and highly inflamed.
  • Acne Conglobata is the most severe form where many inflamed nodules are connected under the skin to other nodules. 

How can you tell if it's a blackhead?

Sometimes, blackheads are mistaken for ingrown facial hair. While they both have bumps under the skin, when it comes to blackheads, you can see their opening on the surface of the skin. 

What happens if you don't remove blackheads?

Removal of blackheads is necessary. 

We recommend you go to a dermatologist so that you don’t scar the tissue. If you don’t remove them, the overproduction of sebum can make your acne even worse. 

Also, the continuum buildup of sebum can make your pores even larger. That can enhance the odds of severe bacterial infection. 

How do you get rid of blackheads?

To get rid of white and blackheads, since treatment is similar, you need to eliminate the dead skin buildup, balance the excess oil production, and keep bacteria away. 

Over-the-counter treatments can help. 

Acne medications

Acne medication contains benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, sulfur, and resorcinol. 

Sometimes retinoid creams are recommended to treat mild to moderate acne outbursts, including white and blackheads. 

In severe forms, treatments are systemic, including hormonal therapy, vitamin A, and antibiotics. 

Blackheads and whiteheads can be manually removed by dermatologists. They can also perform microdermabrasion to remove clogs. 

Sometimes, laser and light therapy can decrease oil secretion and destroy bacteria.

Salicylic acid

Over-the-counter medicine containing salicylic acid (gels, pads, scrubs) helps with blackhead removal. A hydroxy acid, salicylic acid, keeps the oil secretion in check and cleanses the pores.

Glycolic acid

This is yet another alpha hydroxy acid that can help treat blackheads. It is quite the de-gunker!

Hydroxy acid

Dermatologists may recommend chemical peels with hydroxy acids. They remove clogs, exfoliate dead skin cells, and prevent bacterial overgrowth. They shrink the pores, keeping them clean by dissolving the buildup and diminishing excess oil.

Natural topical medication

Although there are many acne treatments, most of them have side effects. Best-case scenario, they dry out the skin. 

Still, since cleansing is vital to prevent and treat blackheads, you need something else. 

If your blackheads are not severe, turn to natural ingredients. Look for fragrance-free cleansers and for cosmetics that contain natural ingredients.

Natural treatments are gentle and prevent other skin issues such as dehydration. 

  • One natural ingredient that helps sebum secretion and kills off bacteria is Tea Tree Essential Oil. According to research, Tea Tree Essential Oil helps oily skin. It removes bacteria, helps dissolve buildup, and removes excess oil. Make sure to test your skin first, to prevent allergic reactions and irritations. 
  • Aloe vera helps balance oil secretion and gently removes buildup, keeping the skin moisturized at the same time. 
  • Apple cider vinegar helps keep sebum secretion in check, and its content of alpha-hydroxy acids dissolves buildup. It’s exfoliative and keratolytic, and it may work in mild cases of acne.

wow tea tree oil, wow tea tree essential oil, essential oil, tea tree oil, tea tree essential oil

Preventing blackheads: what not to do when dealing with blackheads

  • Use oil-free products. Oils can enhance the chances of developing blackheads. Make sure to choose non-comedogenic skincare products. And do not skip washing and cleansing your face!

  • Don’t forget to exfoliate! Exfoliation boosts skin cell turnover. You can reduce skin lesions and many forms of acne with a proper exfoliant. Look for one that is gentle and doesn’t irritate the skin.

  • Don’t squeeze, and don’t bother blackheads because you can make them worse.

  • Avoid products that contain alcohol. While oil boosts excess sebum, alcohol can dehydrate the skin.

  • Pay attention to your sweating, the humidity and grease in the environment, and the clothes you wear. Acne can form even mechanically when clothes irritate the skin. 

  • Keep your health in check, and pay extra attention to your hormones.

So, there it is! 

No, your face is not dirty! Your pores are not huge if you’re dealing with a couple of blackheads or pimples here and there. 

But yes, your skin needs your TLC. Less harsh gestures like squeezing and more effective forms of treatment.

Iulia Claudia Dumitru

I feel happy when I get to tell meaningful stories. About people. About the world. About life. About what people need to feel good. Healthy food, a balanced lifestyle, a grateful approach to relationships with others and ourselves. That is how I keep myself grounded and purposeful. That is how I aim to contribute: striving to make ourselves the best we can. Creating life in the little things. Living every day with the joy, wonder, and curiosity of a child. Trying to #seeKbeauty. Inside and out.

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