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Dr. Pimple Popper shares her best advice for getting rid of blackheads

TODAY logo TODAY 2019-11-22 Audrey Noble
Sandra Lee looking at the camera: Blackheads © TODAY Blackheads

If you've ever struggled with blackheads, you know how annoying they can be.

The acne type forms when pores are clogged with oils and sebum that oxidize and turn dark in color once exposed to air. And if you have blackheads, you're probably guilty of picking at them every now and then. No judgment — they’re super tempting to try and squeeze out. But is that doing more harm than good? Or is that another one of those beauty myths we need to stop believing?

TODAY Style spoke with Dr. Paul M. Friedman, director of the Dermatology & Laser Surgery Center in Houston, and Dr. Diane S. Berson, a New York City-based dermatologist and former president of The Women’s Dermatologic Society, about how to safely and effectively remove pesky blackheads.

The safest way to remove a blackhead is by seeing your dermatologist.

Both Berson and Friedman say not to remove a blackhead yourself as you can cause more harm than good. “Picking your acne just pushes the inflammation deeper and causes the follicle to rupture, turning simple clogged follicles into inflamed, red and angry acne,” said Friedman.

They both agree that the best solution is to go to a dermatologist who will properly remove it through chemical peels, microdermabrasion and/or extractions. “We commonly perform chemical peels with salicylic acid, glycolic acid or lactic acid in addition to microdermabrasion to remove sticky skin cells and unblock pores, thus reducing acne formation,” he said.

If you do squeeze a blackhead yourself, remember to gently push, cleanse and wear sunscreen.

We’re only human and sometimes the temptation to take matters into our own hands gets the better of us. So if you do decide to remove a blackhead yourself, Berson stresses the importance of doing it gently and not squeezing. Afterward, she says to clean the area with a mild cleanser — maybe even one that contains salicylic acid — and pat the area dry. Apply a retinoid on it during your nighttime skin care routine to help it heal. She also recommends using a mask with sulfur to calm any irritation.

Friedman strongly urges using a sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher to prevent hyperpigmentation.

Make salicylic acid, retinoids and noncomedogenic ingredients your best friend.

To prevent blackheads from forming in the future, it’s important to look for skin care ingredients that will help keep pores clear of sebum or debris. Both Berson and Friedman agree that salicylic acid and retinoids are key to doing that.

“The foundation of any acne treatment regimen involves a topical retinoid,” Friedman said. “Salicylic acid decreases bacterial counts, removes surface skin cells and decreases comedone formation by exfoliating the skin.”

Berson adds that it's best to avoid noncomedogenic ingredients (topicals that will clog pores) and heavy or greasy products that can worsen blackheads. Opt for products that are labeled “oil-free,” especially if you have oily skin, she said.

Friedman and Berson shared their favorite products for blackhead-plagued skin along with a few recommendations from TODAY Style contributor Bobbie Thomas.

Best products for blackhead removal and blackhead extraction

1. Clarisonic Mia Smart Bluetooth Sonic Cleansing Face Brush

Clarisonic Mia Smart Bluetooth Sonic Cleansing Face Brush

Clarisonic NEW Mia Smart Bluetooth, App-Enhanced, Sonic Cleansing Face Brush with Customizable Routines (Amazon) © Provided by NBCU News Group, a division of NBCUniversal Media LLC Clarisonic NEW Mia Smart Bluetooth, App-Enhanced, Sonic Cleansing Face Brush with Customizable Routines (Amazon)

Clarisonic Mia Smart Bluetooth Sonic Cleansing Face Brush, $169.00, Shop now

Friedman recommends cleansing brushes like the Clarisonic because they remove makeup, pollution, dirt and sebum better than your hands.

2. SkinMedica Purifying Foaming Wash

SkinMedica Purifying Foaming Wash

SkinMedica Purifying Foaming Wash © Provided by NBCU News Group, a division of NBCUniversal Media LLC SkinMedica Purifying Foaming Wash

SkinMedica Purifying Foaming Wash, $44.00, Shop now

This is one of the gentle cleansers Friedman recommends to patients with oily and acne-prone skin. It contains salicylic acid and salix nigra bark extract to exfoliate and reduce the number of acne blemishes.

3. EltaMD UV Clear Facial Sunscreen

EltaMD UV Clear Facial Sunscreen

a close up of a bottle: EltaMD UV Clear Facial Sunscreen © Provided by NBCU News Group, a division of NBCUniversal Media LLC EltaMD UV Clear Facial Sunscreen

EltaMD UV Clear Facial Sunscreen, $35.00, Shop now

Friedman suggests those with acne-prone skin use this sunscreen. It contains niacinamide and both hyaluronic and lactic acid to hydrate skin and keep pores unclogged.

4. Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1 percent Acne Treatment

Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment

a close up of a device: Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment, 15 gram (Walmart) © Provided by NBCU News Group, a division of NBCUniversal Media LLC Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment, 15 gram (Walmart)

Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment, $13.99, Shop now

This topical retinoid dramatically decreases acne almost immediately. You’ll want this in your beauty arsenal when fighting blackheads, according to both doctors.

5. Dermalogica Clear Start Blackhead Clearing Fizz Mask

Dermalogica Clear Start Blackhead Clearing Fizz Mask

Dermalogica Clear Start Blackhead Clearing Fizz Mask, 1.7 Fluid Ounce (Amazon) © Provided by NBCU News Group, a division of NBCUniversal Media LLC Dermalogica Clear Start Blackhead Clearing Fizz Mask, 1.7 Fluid Ounce (Amazon)

Dermalogica Clear Start Blackhead Clearing Fizz Mask, $21.00, Shop now

Made with sulfur, kaolin clay and apple extract, this mask decongests skin and helps facilitate blackhead extractions. Its fizzing formula will keep skin clear while also hydrating it.

6. Mighty Patch Original Spot Treatment

Mighty Patch Original Spot Treatment

a screenshot of a cell phone: Mighty Patch Original Spot Treatment © Provided by NBCU News Group, a division of NBCUniversal Media LLC Mighty Patch Original Spot Treatment

Mighty Patch Original Spot Treatment, $12.50, Shop now

TODAY Style contributor Bobbie Thomas recommended this spot treatment set. Free of harsh chemicals and drying formulas, it's comfortable on skin while absorbing any fluids and helping reduce blemishes.

7. PEACE OUT Pore Treatment Strips

Pore Treatment Strips

a close up of a piece of paper: Pore Treatment Strips © Provided by NBCU News Group, a division of NBCUniversal Media LLC Pore Treatment Strips

Pore Treatment Strips, $19.00, Shop now

Thomas also recommends these oil-absorbing strips. Designed to prevent blackheads and minimize the appearance of enlarged pores, these detoxifying strips also work to refine skin texture and give you overall smoother, healthier skin.

8. PEACE OUT Acne Healing Dots

PEACE OUT Acne Healing Dots

a close up of a logo: PEACE OUT Acne Healing Dots © Provided by NBCU News Group, a division of NBCUniversal Media LLC PEACE OUT Acne Healing Dots

PEACE OUT Acne Healing Dots, $19.00, Shop now

These breakthrough blemish-healing dots, recommended by Thomas, minimize breakouts overnight. With healing hydrocolloid technology and active anti-acne ingredients, you'll wake up with healthier skin than you fell asleep with.

9. Dr. Jart+ Focuspot Blemish Micro Tip Patch

Focuspot™ Blemish Micro Tip Patch

a close up of a piece of paper: Focuspot(TM) Blemish Micro Tip Patch © Provided by NBCU News Group, a division of NBCUniversal Media LLC Focuspot(TM) Blemish Micro Tip Patch

Focuspot™ Blemish Micro Tip Patch, $18.00, Shop now

These self-dissolving microtips melt deep into the skin to target blemishes and clear them up. Similar procedures use needles, but Thomas recommended this mask-like option, which can be done at home with great results.

10. ULTA Skin Clearing Tool

ULTA Skin Clearing Tool

a close up of a device: Blackheads © Provided by NBCU News Group, a division of NBCUniversal Media LLC Blackheads

ULTA Skin Clearing Tool, $10.00, Shop now

This double-ended tool is used by beauty professionals around the world. Thomas recommended this one and also liked a similar tool designed by Dr. Sandra Lee (aka Dr. Pimple Popper). With a small loop opening for pressing out blackheads, and a larger opening to remove whiteheads, this precision tool makes it easy to get a blemish-free complexion.

This story was originally published on March 4, 2019, on TODAY.

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