We've all been plagued by blackheads at some point in our lives. Those tiny black pinpricks that seem so small can actually ruin our overall complexion and lead to long-term skin problems like blackhead acne. So what are the causes of blackheads, and what tried and true methods are there to get rid of blackheads for good? Let's get down to the nitty-gritty of diet, skin care and pore maintenance, and find out the best way to clear blackheads.

What are blackheads exactly?

If you want to know precisely what are blackheads, then simply look to your skin. While they may look a tad ominous, blackheads are really just pools of excess sebum, an oily substance naturally produced by your skin, that builds up inside your pore, mixing with any bacteria and dead skin cells that may be lurking there. This more-or-less benign build-up then starts turning black when left exposed to the air. This is why you will often find blackheads on the nose or in other areas of your T-zone, where your skin is typically oilier. Yet, everyone gets blackheads at some point in their life, and not just those cursed with oily skin, as the causes of blackheads can originate from deep in your skin.

Is your skin overproducing sebum and oils?

Due to a number of different factors, your skin can start producing excessive amounts of its natural sebum and oil protection. These usually harmless secretions inevitably begin to clog up your pores, leading to blackheads. Before you go about squeezing and scrubbing though, think about what might be causing this build up and how you can prevent it happening in the first place.

Your skin is a fragile organ, susceptible to both what you eat and drink, as well as external factors. Is your diet particularly high in fat or lacking in fruit and veg? Do you drink enough water? Are you using too much makeup, or perhaps not cleaning it off properly? In general, if you have a healthy diet, avoid harmful toxins such as found in alcohol or tobacco smoke, and stay well hydrated. Your skin will not only revert to its natural sebum production but will look much better overall. Even the amount of sleep you get and stress you feel can affect your skin's sebum production, meaning you may have much greater control over your skin problems than you thought.

Now you know the answer to ‘what are blackheads?’, you are better equipped to clear blackheads for good.

How can I clear blackheads quickly in the short-term?

Blackhead removal can be tricky. Yes, you can sometimes gently squeeze the build-up out, but that doesn't necessarily mean you have fully cleansed the pore, and you should be wary of causing damage. If in doubt, never use your nails to squeeze, and if nothing happens on your first try, move on.

Blackhead pore strips are the next step, yet make sure you get your pores wide open first with a hot shower or simply draping a warm cloth over your face for a few minutes. Then, make sure you dry your skin thoroughly, press on the strip and leave on for at least 10 minutes before you pull it off gently. With a bit of luck, the strips will extract more of the blackheads this way.

What about some effective long-term ways to prevent blackheads?

Your best bet at blackhead treatment is to fight them at their source: the clogged pore. There are many products out there to help you do this, from blackhead removal face masks to face scrubs to get rid of troublesome blackheads, but only the best include salicylic acid. This is a fantastic cleanser, getting deep into the pore and clearing out all the impurities, and when used regularly it can prevent blackheads even forming. Exfoliation is also paramount, clearing away dead skin so it doesn't lurk and clog up your pores.

A new blackhead removal tool impressing experts with its effectiveness is activated charcoal because it has a great capacity for absorbing excess oils and impurities by lifting them out of your skin safely and gently. After a good cleanse, apply a face mask containing activated charcoal clay to your dried skin, for example, the Garnier's Pure Active Intensive Charcoal Mask, which you should leave on for a good few minutes, or until your skin starts to feel tight, before gently washing off. After just a few weeks of regular exfoliating and cleansing, plus one of these fantastic masks twice a week, you will no longer be plagued by blackheads and even your most stubborn blackheads will be gone.

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