Meaning and formation
Blackheads are little or small black colored bumps, spots or dots that appear on the skin. They commonly affect the face (including the forehead, nose, lip line, chin, and cheeks) but they can also appear on your neck, chest, back, arms, thighs, legs, penile shaft, scalp, shoulders, breasts, among other parts body parts.
As noted in Medical News Today article titled ‘Blackheads: Facts, Causes, and Treatments’, they are a symptom of acne and they form when skin pores are blocked. They are called so because they appear black in color.
A little into a biology class to make everything crystal clear, your skin pores (the pilosebaceous units), is made up of a hair follicle and sebaceous glands. The sebaceous glands are responsible for producing sebum, an oily substance that protects your skin by making it hydrated and supple.
Imagine what would happen if you produce excessive sebum and it clumps together with the so-called epidermal cells, which the skin normally shed. A plug or comedo is formed.
If the plug is closed completely, then you get a whitehead or closed comedones. However, if the plug remains open, you get a blackhead. The reason why they (the open comedones) turns black is due to oxidization of sebum by air.
Concisely, this is what they are. Let us not look at other acne lesions to broaden your understanding before we look at the causes of blackheads and other factors that can trigger them.
According to Healthline’s blackheads article, common symptoms to help you spot them include a darkened, slightly raised non-painful non-inflamed bump. They are the non-inflammatory type of acne since the comedones have not yet been infected with bacteria, especially by Propionibacterium acne bacterium.
If they are infected they you have papules pustules, cysts, and nodules which we are going to discuss next.
In rare cases, there might be a little pain and irritation. However, these are symptoms of severe acne and not just blackheads.
Psychologically, they can reduce life quality, lower self-esteem, cause peer pressure, embarrassment, make someone to avoid activities, choose clothes that hide areas with blackheads. In addition, victims may be teased bullied, called names as well as other people avoiding them.
Other types of acne and lesions
As we have already mentioned, whiteheads are part of acne lesions. We thought it wise you know the other types acne lesion to make everything so clear.
1. Whiteheads – closed comedones
These are small raised pimple-like blemishes, which have a white colored head. Acne.com notes that they “result when the follicles get plugged with sebum and dead skin cells.” Blackheads and whiteheads are collectively known as comedones and they are a non-inflammatory type of acne.
These types of acne lesions represent a stage beyond whiteheads i.e. they are formed when bacteria, dead skin and sebum has led to skin inflammation characterized by redness and swelling. However, papules do not have pus and their size ranges from small to medium. Only soothe the area with papule and do not apply anything as this may worsen dryness.
They are acne lesions resembles papules but they have pus in them. Therefore, they will tend to appear whitish or yellowish due to the presence of pus. They will be painful to touch and they may be bigger in size.
Many people who have pustules will tend to get into the temptation of squeezing them. This is not encouraged since it will lead to acne scars. Just wait until you can see their whitehead before you carefully extract it.
4. Nodules, cysts and acne conglobata
These are common in people who have severe acne and they are characterized by red inflamed large blemishes that tend to be on your entire face which, last for several months. If untreated, they can lead to permanent face damage and scarring.
Where do they occur
The most common body parts affected by blackheads include the nose and chin. This is attributed to higher pore concentration in this area. However, people can get them on the face as a whole, cheeks, lips, back, inside ears, chest, legs, foreheads, arms, on penile shaft, nipples, neck, scalp, among other body parts.
It is clear what they are, and how they are formed. Most of the factors that trigger their formation have something to do with excessive sebum production and/or formation of a plug. So what are some of these causes?
1. Overproduction of sebum
Too much sebum production, as well as excessive dead skin shedding, is known to encourage the formation of blackheads. A number of factors that may influence excessive sebum production, which includes hormonal changes, genetics, etc.
Genetics may be the other cause. This is according to leaf.tv on Cause of Constant Facial Blackheads, where it is stated that “genetics regulate how your hormones will react in your body. In turn, your androgen hormones regulate how much sebum your body secretes.” This perhaps explains why some people are predisposed to developing acne than others.
3. Hormonal changes especially in teens, during menstruation
Blackheads and other acne lesions tend to have a higher prevalence in teenagers, those using birth control medications as well as during menstruation (periods). However, menstruation, pregnancy, and the use of birth control pills are less common causes. This can be attributed to hormonal changes during these periods, which have a role in increasing oil production.
Sebum secretion is triggered by a hormone known as androgen whose levels tend to surge during puberty in both girls and boys. Therefore, having excess androgen may trigger their formation in both teenagers as well as adult women.
In adult women, a surge in androgen levels will also trigger excessive hair growth (hirsutism), polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), as well as acne.
4. Cosmetics and skin care products
Some cosmetics and skincare products can trigger their formation and acne if they tend to block your skin pores. Natural oils such as coconut oil and cocoa butter, for instance, are known to clog pores and wreak havoc on people are prone to acne.
Instead, go for skin care and cosmetic products which are labeled noncomedogenic (they won’t clog your pores).
5. Some medications
There are some drugs, which have been found to worsen not only blackheads but also acne breakout as a whole. Common medications include corticosteroids, androgens or lithium.
6. Other causes
Besides the above, other possible triggers include the following:
- High humidity and excessive sweating
- propionibacterium acnes building up on the skin
- excessive pollution especially presence of dust and other particles capable of clogging pores
These are the common factors, which will them on your face, behind ears on your chest, and other places. Let us now look at some of the common myths about blackheads.
Many people have connected acne to another of factors which research has shown no link between connecting acne to them. Some common myths include the following:
- Poor hygiene, which includes inadequate body washing can lead to their formation
- Excessive body washing and scrubbing can worsen the appearance of these acne lesions
- Eating greasy foods, nuts or chocolates. However, in some people, eating foods with high glycemic index, dairy products, and foods with high content of the pro-inflammatory animal products.
- Sex and masturbation may cause them
Treatments or removal
Being a mild form of acne, you do not need to look for treatments desperately. In addition, avoid the over-marketed products, which are claimed to work magic. For those who insist on getting them treated, common treatments include the following:
1. Over the counter treatments
These may include pads, gels, creams, and lotions you apply on your skin and they may have ingredients such as resorcinol, benzoyl peroxide, and salicylic acid. Their working principles revolve around drying excess sebum, encouraging dead skin cell shedding as well as killing bacteria.
2. Prescription medications
There are more effective treatments, which doctors may recommend if the over the counter creams, gels, lotions or pads fail to show any results. They will be helpful for not only blackheads but also whiteheads, pimples and even severe acne cases.
Most of them contain vitamin A and they include products such as adapalene, tazarotene, and tretinoin, which, stops plug formation and promoted a faster skin cells turnover. If you are pregnant, talk to your doctor first since some of these products can have adverse effects on your pregnancy.
Some of these prescribed medications may also contain ingredients such as antibiotics (to kill bacteria) as well as benzoyl peroxide.
Besides topical, there are oral medications including hormonal therapy using oral contraceptives which can help manage the challenge of excessive sebum production.
3. Manual removal with a remover tool or extractor
Manually, dermatologists may use a specialized blackhead remover. This round looped extractor removes the plug that causes the formation of a blackhead.
This is top layer skin sanding using a special equipment with a rough surface. It does help in getting rid of clog that may be behind them.
5. Chemical peels
Mild chemical peels can be applied at home while strong ones need a dermatologist. They work by removing off the top skin layers, leaving the beneath smooth skill. By so doing, they will get rid of dead skin cells, which may be a contributing factor.
6. Light and Laser therapy
Tiny beams of light or laser are used in the two therapies to reduce sebum production as well as kill bacteria. The two therapies can reach underneath the skin to deal with blackheads without damaging any of the upper skin layers.
If home remedies for blackheads are your best treatment choice, then there are many remedies to go for. The effectiveness of these remedies has not been clinically proved. However, a number of people have reported improvements. Some of the common remedies include:
- Use of bentonite clay paste
- Egg white mask
- Honey + milk pore used with cotton strips
- Cinnamon and honey strips
- Baking soda + water
- Sugar Scrub
Myths on management at home
While trying to manage acne at home, do not fall a victim some of the common myths about these treatments, which include:
- Squeezing, picking or popping blackheads as well as any other acne lesion does not deal with the problem. You may get a temporary relief but it can trigger inflammation as well as raise changes in scarring.
- Abrasive scrubs – while someone sources claim they help, others note that they are not helpful an only raises the chances of skin irritation.
Most of the triggers such as excessive sebum products during puberty may be unavoidable. However, some of the ways you can prevent blackheads formation include the following:
- Avoid using skin care products and cosmetics that block your skin pores.
- Always wear breathable clothing
- Find ways to minimize excessive sweating and high humidity
- Use skin exfoliating products
- Regular washing especially your face before you go to bed to remove any oil that may build up. Use a gentle cleanser without irritants and antibacterial agents to kill bacteria. Do not overdo it since it can cause skin irritation.
- Ensure your hair is clean since oily hair can result in clogged pores especially in areas where your hair touches your skin such as forehead, neck or shoulders.