Everything you need to know about blackheads Blackheads are small lesions that often appear on the face or neck. They are a feature of mild acne, and handling blackheads in the right way can help to prevent the acne from becoming more severe. We look at ways to reduce and treat breakouts. Learn more about what causes blackheads and how to get rid of them here. Read now
The earliest pathologic change is the formation of a plug (a microcomedone), which is driven primarily by excessive growth, reproduction, and accumulation of skin cells in the hair follicle.[1] In normal skin, the skin cells that have died come up to the surface and exit the pore of the hair follicle.[10] However, increased production of oily sebum in those with acne causes the dead skin cells to stick together.[10] The accumulation of dead skin cell debris and oily sebum blocks the pore of the hair follicle, thus forming the microcomedone.[10] This is further exacerbated by the biofilm created by C. acnes within the hair follicle.[45] If the microcomedone is superficial within the hair follicle, the skin pigment melanin is exposed to air, resulting in its oxidation and dark appearance (known as a blackhead or open comedo).[1][10][20] In contrast, if the microcomedone occurs deep within the hair follicle, this causes the formation of a whitehead (known as a closed comedo).[1][10]

If your acne is severe, painful, or refusing to get lost, you may just be beyond what an over-the-counter treatment can do. Not only can a professional set you up with the really powerful stuff, but also Fitz Patrick explains that “working closely with an aesthetician or dermatologist means you can keep tweaking a routine to make it work best for you.”

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Warning: Sulfur smells like rotten eggs. But it is an effective ingredient at drying up pus-filled pimples and whiteheads (you’ve gotta take the good with the bad). It works by sucking up the oil. Sulfur is typically mixed with other active ingredients to get the most efficacy and fragrances to mask the strong scent. You can often find it in masks and spot treatments.
Complementary therapies have been investigated for treating people with acne.[151] Low-quality evidence suggests topical application of tea tree oil or bee venom may reduce the total number of skin lesions in those with acne.[151] Tea tree oil is thought to be approximately as effective as benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid, but has been associated with allergic contact dermatitis.[1] Proposed mechanisms for tea tree oil's anti-acne effects include antibacterial action against C. acnes, and anti-inflammatory properties.[65] Numerous other plant-derived therapies have been observed to have positive effects against acne (e.g., basil oil and oligosaccharides from seaweed); however, few studies have been performed, and most have been of lower methodological quality.[152] There is a lack of high-quality evidence for the use of acupuncture, herbal medicine, or cupping therapy for acne.[151]

Acne vulgaris is diagnosed based on a medical professional's clinical judgment.[15] The evaluation of a person with suspected acne should include taking a detailed medical history about a family history of acne, a review of medications taken, signs or symptoms of excessive production of androgen hormones, cortisol, and growth hormone.[15] Comedones (blackheads and whiteheads) must be present to diagnose acne. In their absence, an appearance similar to that of acne would suggest a different skin disorder.[28] Microcomedones (the precursor to blackheads and whiteheads) are not visible to the naked eye when inspecting the skin and can only be seen with a microscope.[28] There are many features that may indicate a person's acne vulgaris is sensitive to hormonal influences. Historical and physical clues that may suggest hormone-sensitive acne include onset between ages 20 and 30; worsening the week before a woman's period; acne lesions predominantly over the jawline and chin; and inflammatory/nodular acne lesions.[1]


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Cystic Acne: The most severe type of acne, cystic acne requires dermatological care and prescription acne medication to treat. Even the best acne products available over the counter are no match for this painful condition in which the area of the outbreak becomes inflamed, but not infected. Cystic acne can result in permanent scarring. However, it's important to know that all acne lesions can scar. Scarring is related to size, amount of inflammation, genetics and delay in therapy.
If your baby still has acne at 3- to 6-months-old, infantile acne may be the culprit. “These bumps tend to be more red and inflammatory,” says Dr. Kahn. “You’ll see more of the different types of acne than with baby acne, including pustules and cysts, not just whiteheads and blackheads.” And unlike baby acne, infantile acne is linked to family history: Your baby is more likely to get it if you or your partner had severe acne as a teen. Acne in older babies can also be an indication that your baby is more likely to have acne later in life. Like baby acne, infantile acne rarely needs treatment; if there’s a lot of redness and swelling, however, your doctor might want to treat it with a topical antibiotic.
That’s good news because the British Medical Journal reports that acne affects more than 80 percent of teenagers and continues in adult life in 3 percent of men and 12 percent of women. In fact, it seems to be increasing, which could be due to autoimmune disease, leaky gut syndrome or allergies, for example. Hormonal factors may play a role in breakouts as well. (1)
Oh, hello old friend. Salicylic acid is the go-to fix for pimply preteens. And cruising through the aisles at the drugstore, you’ll find it as the active ingredient on the majority of products labeled “acne wash” or “spot treatment.” Salicylic acid is a beta-hydroxy acid that works by dissolving excess oil and gently exfoliating away dead skin cells. Salicylic also has anti-inflammatory properties to help with inflamed cystic breakouts that can occur when blockages deep in the hair follicles rupture beneath the skin. It’s best to apply this ingredient as a toner, moisturizer, or leave-on spot treatment instead of a face wash to give it time to do its work. And keep in mind, salicylic acid can dry out the skin if over-applied, so maybe choose only one product with the ingredient to use every day.
No one knows exactly what causes acne. Hormone changes, such as those during the teenage years and pregnancy, probably play a role. There are many myths about what causes acne. Chocolate and greasy foods are often blamed, but there is little evidence that foods have much effect on acne in most people. Another common myth is that dirty skin causes acne; however, blackheads and pimples are not caused by dirt. Stress doesn't cause acne, but stress can make it worse.

Comedones associated with acne vulgaris are usually easy to clear using OTC products, but papules and pustules are a little tougher to treat. Since they arise from trapped, infected pores, the first step in their treatment is to remove the inflammation and reduce the swelling so the pore can heal and breathe. Nodules are one of the few acne conditions that actually demand treatment, as some risk the potential of becoming cancerous. Medical treatment with traditional antibiotic therapy will relieve the symptoms of your acne nodule and gradually decrease its size.
Baby acne almost always goes away on its own with no intervention. But bring it to your pediatrician's attention if the bumps look like they might be infected (for example, skin appears extra red, you notice swelling or discharge, or your child spikes a fever or has other symptoms) or if you suspect an allergic reaction or eczema (which may require a cream to keep the rash from spreading).

This content is strictly the opinion of the author, and is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of medical advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions.


Diet. Studies indicate that certain dietary factors, including skim milk and carbohydrate-rich foods — such as bread, bagels and chips — may worsen acne. Chocolate has long been suspected of making acne worse. A small study of 14 men with acne showed that eating chocolate was related to a worsening of symptoms. Further study is needed to examine why this happens and whether people with acne would benefit from following specific dietary restrictions.
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