A Face in the Shadows
Darkness falls across the nose, chin and forehead. Suddenly, what was once a glorious, glowing face, is now dull, holding the pallor of a ghost. A face that’s lost all its healthy glow. The nemesis to blame? Stubborn Blackheads – clogged, air-exposed, open pores. They’ve set up camp. Anywhere a hair follicle resides on the body: face, shoulders, back and arms, to name a few, can fall victim to blackheads.
In professional dermatological settings, a blackhead is referred to as an open comedo. It takes its meaning from the Latin word comedere; “to eat up or consume.” Keeping the face clean and free of these hungry, pervasive blemishes becomes challenging. Excess oil and dirt lies deep inside the pore. And pores that become blackheads fight hard to stay put.
Hormonal changes, over moisturizing, excessive use of oily sunscreens, and some medications account for surplus oil, or sebum build-up in the pores. Another culprit, birth control pills, can trick the body into a state of hyperandrogenism, high-level androgen production. This pseudo-increase in male testosterone can lead to excessive oil production and temporary blackhead breakouts. For whatever the reasons, stubborn blackheads choose to nestle deep down inside the pores, and they are hard to evict. The stigma blackheads create; and the lengths consumers will go to rid the face of them, is extreme to the point of obsessive.
The fight is real. When a shadow of blackheads descends across the face, all too often the urge to remove them is strong. But what happens when blackheads aren’t removed, and left to fester? Here are a few answers.
The Squeezing Syndrome
One favorite blackhead removal technique is to use tools attached to the human body: the fingernails. Pushing and squeezing with the fingernails is very satisfying. As the pore purges the evil blackness to the surface of the skin, there is a sense of extreme accomplishment. This simple form of extraction, however, is probably the worst way to eradicate blackheads. Squeezing becomes habitual and can lead to some serious skin issues.
An extracted blackhead leaves the fingers covered in gunk and bacteria. To continue squeezing is counter-intuitive. It allows dirt and sebum to re-enter freshly extracted pores and new pores. The average person touches their face up to 23 times a day. If pore squeezing is sporadic, between home and work life, imagine what’s been touched. Imagine a day’s worth of unwashed hands squeezing away at blackheads. Even worse, squeezing can lead to broken capillaries and scarring. Habitual squeezing can also cause hyperpigmentation; a permanent darkening of the skin. Extracting the blackhead potentially leaves permanent dark spots. Squeezing blackheads is a cycle of behavior that isn’t doing anything more than opening up a blackhead factory on the face.
Blackheads are Irritating
Once the blackhead extraction process starts, it’s hard to stop. However, the more squeezing, prodding and poking at the face, the more this can lead to very irritated skin. If the oil and dirt isn’t removed from the pore correctly, the pore can actually be made larger. The gunk is gone, leaving a nice big, round, dark open pore, filled with nothing, but looking like a bigger black head. Bigger pores welcoming extra sebum.
Picking at blackheads can also cause bleeding, scarring, dry skin, and intense pain around the edges of the pore. In extreme cases, too much fussing can turn the blackheads into whiteheads, or worse, inflammatory acne. At this stage the blackheads become pustules, nodules and cysts. Below are some facts on these skin infections.
- Pustules: An inflamed white or yellow pus-filled lesion. Popping pustules can lead to permanent scarring.
- Nodules: Severe acne lesions that harden and form deep under the skins layers. Usually about 1 – 2 cm wide, nodules can be treated with antibiotics, expensive laser treatment and chemical peels.
- Cysts: Extremely painful, inflamed acne, embedded deep in the skin. Cysts can spread infection to other areas of the skin. If left untreated by a professional, cysts can last for years and cause profound crater-like scars.
A clean, exfoliated, lightly moisturized face will typically keep the pores clean and healthy; and the blackheads at bay. A trip to the dermatologist to discuss treatment options and get an acne diagnosis is recommended for severe cases or for stubborn blackheads which reoccur when a regular cleansing routine fails to negate the bacteria and sebum. What not to do? Dig at blackheads.
In a perfect world, pores wouldn’t clog, and blackheads would cease to exist. Since this isn’t the case, prevention is key to erase blackheads and maintain healthy skin. Blackhead prevention isn’t rocket science, in fact, many daily cleansing regimens are already doing the trick. Take it up a notch. We recommend the following.
- Daily cleansing – A clean face is a dirt-free face. Water-soluble cleansers help keep the skin pH-balanced, control sebum production and remove toxic environmentally charged free-radicals.
- Exfoliation – Salicylic acid-based exfoliating scrubs gently wipe away dirt, grime, oil and penetrate the pores to remove dead skin cells.
- Bed Time – A freshly washed and exfoliated face right before bedtime leaves the pillowcases free of the daily build-up and makeup, which overtime, remains on the pillow and increases exposure to: BLACKHEADS
- Retinoid creams & chemical peels – Out with the old skin cells and in with the new. These treatments encourage fresh skin cell growth which help to push the excess sebum and dirt up and out of the pores naturally.
- Masks & Pore Strips – Read the labels and test on a small area of the skin. Some products tend to dry out the skin and throw pH out of balance. Other products clean and work to soften and moisturize, but don’t necessarily get into the pores and do anything significant to extract the blackheads.
The Basics About Blackheads
The great thing about blackheads, on the acne scale, is that they are the easiest blemishes to control. Cleanse and gently exfoliate the face daily. Stop squeezing and poking with the fingernails. Don’t risk turning blackheads into whiteheads. See a dermatologist for clinical treatments, or a professional aesthetician that can cleanse, soften and extract blackheads, virtually pain free.
Remember to keep skin as clean as possible. Don’t weigh it down with heavy greasy moisturizers, and don’t dry out the skin with alcohol or peroxide-based toners. A daily cleansing regimen should produce healthy skin cells; which will grow as the old ones are sloughed away. And in the process, the bacteria and grime and sebum trapped in the pores will naturally work its way to the surface, leaving skin bright and glowing. Eventually the mirror will reflect back a face no longer hiding in the sinister shadows of blackheads.