I thought I’d be through with blackheads and whiteheads after my teenage years. Unfortunately they remained through my 30s and even now in my 40s I get the occasional pimple.
In highschool, I wanted the ground to swallow me when I got a whitehead on the top of my nose (I had a class with my crush the next day!). I can’t say that I felt much more confident when it happened 15 years later on the day of a corporate meeting.
However, instead of caking on the concealer like I did in highschool, now I’m armed with lots of scientifically-proven remedies to get rid of blackheads and whiteheads naturally. Phew!
Blackheads and whiteheads are very similar, hence treatment for both can be grouped together.
Your skin is covered in tiny holes called pores, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. These pores are usually associated with a sebaceous gland and a hair follicle.
The sebaceous gland releases an oily liquid called sebum. Sebum keeps your skin supple and protects it from bacteria.
What Are Blackheads?
Your sebaceous glands usually work quite well, however sometimes things go wrong. If too much oil is produced (we will explore the reasons in the next section), it can be difficult to remove dead skin cells.
These dead skin cells and hardened sebum get stuck in your pores. Sometimes bacteria get stuck there too. Bacteria can feed on the dead skin cells and reproduce.
The pore stretches out because it is full of all this junk. If the pore remains open to the surface, the contents become oxidised by the air and turn black.
This is called a blackhead or “open comedone”. Blackheads are flat and look like a small black dot on your skin. (source)
What Are Whiteheads?
Whiteheads are formed in the same manner as blackheads, however they form in pores with very tiny openings.
In this case, oxidation doesn’t occur and the pore contents remain white in colour. Whiteheads are also called “closed comedones”. They appear as small bumps with a white tip. (source)
What Causes Blackheads and Whiteheads?
We know what’s going on with blackheads and whiteheads on a microscopic scale, but what causes overproduction of oil? There are numerous factors which contribute.
How oily our skin is depends mainly on our hormones. One hormone in particular called dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is responsible.
If our levels of DHT are raised, it triggers our sebaceous glands to produce sebum. DHT is raised during puberty, pregnancy and various stages of the menstrual cycle. (source)
Genetics also play a part. Oily skin can run in a family. Whiteheads are more common in caucasians. (source)
Even if your skin is not usually oily, some of our habits can make it so. If you have bangs, oil will transfer from your hair onto your skin. Using oily makeup or moisturisers has the same effect.
Weather can have an effect on formation of blackheads and whiteheads. It’s said that sebum is more easily released in hot weather so you may find yourself breaking out in summer. (source)
As if you need another reason to stop smoking! Smoke deposits unhealthy particles on the skin that can block pores and lead to blackheads and whiteheads. (source)
Is It Acne?
Yes – whiteheads and blackheads are considered the most mild form of acne. The stages of acne are as follows:
- Comedones: These are blackheads and whiteheads. They don’t have any redness or inflammation.
- Inflammatory acne: When the whiteheads become red, painful and inflamed.
- Nodular acne: As the bumps get larger and more painful they are called nodules.
- Nodulocystic acne: Deep, fluid filled cysts form.
How to Treat Blackheads and Whiteheads
Now that you understand how blackheads and whiteheads are formed, it should be clear how to get rid of them. Here are the basics on preventing and treating comedones.
Remove Excess Oil
Step 1 is getting rid of excess sebum, this will allow us to properly clean the skin and remove dead skin build up.
Exfoliate Dead Skin
You must exfoliate at least 3 times a week if you can tolerate. This will remove the layer of dead skin cells and help to unclog pores. (source)
It’s not technically possible to change the size of your pores but there are a few techniques you can use to flush them out such as using steam or heat.
In addition to removing the layer of dead skin cells, you want to remove other pollutants from the skin such as makeup residue or dirt from the air. You can try to remove the sebum plugs from your pores using something sticky. Commercial pore strips act like glue, grabbing the tip of the blackhead and pulling it out. Many natural remedies can work in the same way.
Next we want to get rid of any nasty bacteria on the surface of your skin. Natural antiseptics and substances with an acidic pH will help with this.
Your skin’s pH is naturally acidic due to sweat and sebum. This acidic property stops bacterial growth. If your skin is too alkaline, you can be more at risk for developing acne. (source)
Natural Remedies for Blackheads and Whiteheads
1. Natural Sources of Alpha Hydroxy Acids
Have you heard of alpha hydroxy acids or AHAs? How about a chemical peel with glycolic acid?
Alpha hydroxy acids are mild, naturally occurring acids commonly used by dermatologists to treat acne and decrease signs of aging. (source)
This type of “chemical peel” makes your skin shed dead skin cells – causing them to peel off. Hence the name.
Since AHAs are found naturally in many foods, we can get some of the same results using homemade “chemical peels”. You must bear in mind that the home version is much weaker than what you’ll get at the salon so results will not be as pronounced.
The best natural sources of AHAs are: Lemon juice (citric acid), yoghurt and milk (lactic acid), cane sugar (glycolic acid), apple sauce (malic acid) and apple cider vinegar (acetic acid).
Homemade “Chemical Peel” for Blackheads and Whiteheads
- Take 2 tablespoons of finely-ground cane sugar and mix with the fresh juice of half a lemon.
- Apply this to the face, avoiding the eyes.
- Leave it on for 5-10 minutes and then wash off with warm water.
2. Naturally Occurring Sulfur
Products containing sulfur are popular for oil control. Sulfur is also an FDA-approved ingredient for over-the-counter acne treatments. Sulfur helps get rid of blackheads and whiteheads in a few different ways.
First of all, it’s a mild antiseptic. Secondly, it’s what’s called a “keratolytic”. Keratolytics dry the skin dries the skin and help skin shed more quickly, unblocking pores. (source)
Natural sources of sulfur include dairy products (yogurt, milk), egg whites, buckwheat flour and aloe vera.
One point of caution – sulfur may cause your skin to lighten or darken depending on your skin tone. (source)
Egg White and Honey Mask for Blackheads and Whiteheads
- Mix together 1 egg white and 1 teaspoon of honey (manuka honey is best as it is a strong antimicrobial).
- Wash your face with warm water.
- Apply the mask to your face with clean fingertips or a cotton ball, avoiding the areas close to your eyes.
- Leave the mask on for 10-15 minutes.
- Gently scrub the mask off with warm water.
3. Vitamin A
Retinoids are a class of drugs used to treat acne. They are a type of vitamin A.
When applied to the skin, retinoids unblock the pores, ease inflammation and help prevent comedone formation. (source)
Natural sources of vitamin A which can be applied to the skin include egg whites, milk and yoghurt. If you use a natural yoghurt, it will also deliver healthy bacteria to your skin in the form of “probiotics”.
Oatmeal Yogurt Mask for Blackheads and Acne
- Mix 1 tablespoon of natural yogurt with 1 teaspoon of finely ground rolled oats.
- Apply this to your face in a thick layer. If the oatmeal is not finely ground, it won’t adhere properly. Use a blender on the oatmeal if necessary.
- Leave the mask on for 10 minutes.
- Wash your face with warm water
4. Natural Sources of Salicylic Acid (Salicylates)
Salicylic acid is commonly found in creams to treat mild acne. It reduces the quantity of dead skin and helps unclog pores.
Salicylic acid must be used regularly as its effects stop when you stop using it. (source)
Salicylates can be found naturally in many foods, including tomato, Mint, tea, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, orange peel and aloe vera.
Orange Peel Mask for Blackheads and Whiteheads
- Add 2 teaspoons of orange zest to 1 tablespoon of honey. Mix thoroughly.
- Apply to the face and leave for 5-10 minutes.
- Rinse off with warm water.
5. Homemade Pore Strips
As I’ve already mentioned, pore strips work like glue, pulling the plugs out of your blocked pores.
Many natural substances have the same effect such as gelatin and milk, honey and egg whites.
DIY Gelatin and Milk Pore Strips
- Dissolve 1 tablespoon of gelatin powder in 1.5 tablespoons of warm milk. There should be no lumps remaining.
- Let it cool
- Use a brush to apply a thick layer to your nose, forehead, chin or wherever you want to remove blackheads. Warning – gelatin smells pretty bad so you may want to add a drop of essential oil to mask this.
- Wait until it has dried completely (10-15 minutes) and then peel off.
6. Natural Antiseptics
If you have a buildup of bacteria on your skin, this can block your pores, causing blackheads and whiteheads.
Kill these unfriendly fellows using a natural antiseptic such as tomato, tea tree oil, lemon or honey.
A study has shown that tea tree oil can be as effective as the conventional treatment benzoyl peroxide. (source)
Tea Tree Aloe Antiseptic for Blackheads and Whiteheads
- Add 2 drops of tea tree oil and mix with 2 tablespoons of aloe vera gel.
- Apply a thin layer to clean dry skin and leave on overnight
7. Clay or Mud Masks
There are no medical studies that prove how clay or mud masks help with blackheads and whiteheads. It is suggested that they can soak up oil and pull plugs from the pores.
The testimonials for these type of products are pretty convincing and it’s a great way to relax and treat yourself too. This brand is my favorite.
Exfoliating is very important when you suffer from blackheads or whiteheads. We have already mentioned using AHAs and sulfur to shed dead skin.
You can also remove dead skin simply by rubbing the area with small granules such as baking soda, sugar or buckwheat flour.
Buckwheat and Honey Scrub
- Mix 1 teaspoon of buckwheat flour with 1 teaspoon of honey. You may need to add some water to get the right consistency.
- Use your fingertips to massage this mixture into your face for about 5 minutes.
- Wash your face with warm water.
9. At-Home Facial Steam
Steam can help to clear out your pores by opening them and flushing them with water.
Peppermint Facial Steam
- Fill a large bowl with hot water and add 4 drops of peppermint oil. Peppermint oil has a natural antiseptic effect.
- Rest your face over the bowl
- Cover your head and the bowl with a towel to stop steam escaping
- Stay like this for at least 10 minutes
- Wash your face with warm water to remove sebum and oil plugs from your skin.
10. Clear Your Pores By Sweating
Sweating can help to flush your pores. You can achieve this by exercising, going to a sauna or applying a hot towel to your skin.
It’s extremely important to wash your face before and after sweating. If you don’t the sweat will carry dirt and oil back into your pores. (source)
Eucalyptus Compress for Blackheads and Whiteheads
- Add 3-4 drops of eucalyptus oil to a bowl of hot water. Eucalyptus oil is a natural antiseptic.
- Soak a small cloth in this mixture and squeeze out the excess liquid to make a hot compress.
- Clean your face and then apply the compress to the part where you have blackheads or whiteheads.
- Leave the compress on for 15 minutes.
- Cleanse your face with warm water.
11. Cleanse Twice a Day
When you are prone to blackheads or whiteheads, you need to cleanse not once but twice a day. This means morning and night.
If you are working out or spending time in a polluted environment (e.g. city) then you may want to cleanse more often.
12. Don’t Transfer Oil and Bacteria to Your Skin
Even if you take all of the above steps, you will still break out if you are transferring oil and bacteria from your hands, hair, glasses or pillowcase.
Take a look at your environment and consider items which come into regular contact with your face. You will need to keep them very clean. (source)
You must not pick at your blackheads or whiteheads as this will spread sebum and bacteria all over your face and will end up blocking other pores.
Although the above treatments are natural, they can cause skin irritation in sensitive people. Always do a patch test before applying something to your whole face and don’t overdo it.
I wish I had known how to get rid of blackheads and whiteheads naturally when I was a teen. I will definitely be passing these tips onto my kids when they need them.
I hope you get great results with these natural methods. If you have any other ideas or have an experience to share, please leave me a comment!