What Are Blackheads?

What are blackheads and what causes blackheads to form?

What Are Blackheads?

You know this story all too well…

Everyone around you seems to have flawless skin — and you have a T-zone dotted with ugly blackheads.

You look into the mirror, see all the dark specks and spots, and ask “Why me?” Well guess what…

It’s not just you. It may feel that way. But pretty much everyone gets blackheads at some point. That’s because blackheads are the result of natural, healthy processes that occur in everyone’s skin.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to like blackheads (who does?) or that you have to live with them. But before you worry about how to get rid of blackheads, it’s important to know more about what they are and what causes blackheads.

You have 5 million chances for blackheads!

What is a blackhead? Two very simple facts will help you understand what blackheads are and why they are almost impossible to avoid.

Fact 1: You have about 5 million hair follicles on your body, including hundreds of thousands of them on your face.

Fact 2: A blackhead is a plugged hair follicle.

When you think about it that way, you have to wonder why we don’t get many more blackheads than we do!

More specifically, here’s how that nasty blackhead forms:

Each of the 5 million follicles contains one hair and a sebaceous gland that produces sebum oil to help keep your skin soft. When your skin sheds dead skin cells, they get into the follicle, mix with the oil and form a plug that pushes to the surface and forms a bump called a comedone.

If the skin over the bump remains intact, the comedone is called a whitehead. But when the skin around the bump opens, air gets in. That causes the sebum oil to oxidize and turn black (or sometimes yellowish) in color.

Shazam! A new blackhead is born!

In addition to the T-zone and chin, blackheads can show up on the back, chest neck, arms and shoulders. Even though the blackheads look like specks of dirt embedded in your skin, you now understand that blackheads have little to do with your skin being dirty.

Blackheads love teen skin. Here’s why.

If you’re going through puberty, you’re a good candidate for blackheads. That’s because during the teen years your body is generating a significant surge of hormones, and these hormones in turn stimulate your skin’s oil glands. This is 100% normal and means your body is behaving how it’s supposed to behave. But blackheads are an unfortunate byproduct.

Look again. That blackhead may not be a blackhead!

Let’s focus for a minute on the tip of your nose.

Most of us, when we look closely, see tiny dots on our nose that resemble blackheads. The same spots are sometimes seen on the chin area just below the lower lip.

If you’ve been treating these as blackheads and have seen no improvement, it’s probably because they’re not blackheads at all!

The dark dots you see are called sebaceous filaments or glands, natural hair-like formations that channel the flow of oil along the lining of your pores. The dark dots you see are just the tips of the filaments that line your pores.

Every adult’s nose has sebaceous filaments and they are not a form of acne. So treating them with an acne medication will do nothing to clear them.

Blackhead or sebaceous filament? 3 ways to tell.

If you see black dots on your face, especially in the T-zone or on the chin, here are some tips for identifying whether they are blackheads or sebaceous filaments:

  1. Blackheads are not as common as sebaceous filaments. If the dots form a fairly even random pattern, they are probably sebaceous filaments. Blackheads tend to be solitary eruptions.
  2. A blackhead is usually larger and darker than a sebaceous filament which typically is more gray than black.
  3. Blackheads often have a raised rim around the plugged pore but sebaceous filaments usually feel smooth to the touch.

Other causes of blackheads.

While most of what causes blackheads is the result of natural functions taking place in your skin and body, there are additional contributing factors. Knowing these can help you minimize breakouts. For example:

  • If your skin isn’t cleaned properly, dead skin cells can accumulate in the pores. Your pores become clogged and the clogs lead to oil buildup.
  • If you use oil-based cosmetics or moisturizers, they can also stimulate blackhead development. Talk to your doctor about the cosmetics that will work best for your skin. Also, when choosing cosmetics, always look for non-comedogenic products that won’t clog pores.
  • If there is a lot of pollution, humidity and grease in your work environment (for example, if you work in a kitchen near a deep-fryer) these conditions can also promote breakouts.

Scrub away blackheads? Scrub that idea.

One last thing to keep in mind:

Many people wonder why they still get blackheads even though they scrub the affected areas. The reality is your skin is supposed to be naturally oily. Excessive scrubbing or harsh exfoliation can scrub away the oil your skin expects to be there. So the skin says, “Hey, I produce all this oil and I’m still dry. I better produce extra oil!”

That’s a big problem because the last thing you need is for your skin to produce more oil than it needs to stay soft. That will just create an environment where blackheads can thrive. So clean your skin thoroughly but gently to minimize your chances of forming blackheads.

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