As beauty editors, we get bombarded with a ton of new products every day (we know—tough life). Reviewed is a series where we report on some of the best products we’ve tried. Whether it’s a drugstore lipstick that lasted all day or a hand cream that saved us this winter, you’ll find all of our favorites in this column. Enjoy!
From time to time, I'll bring a few products back from the office for my roommate to try. We have very different skin types (mine is combination but often dehydrated and hers in acne-prone). So it's helpful to have her try offerings that wouldn't be right for my skin and report back. Such was the case with this particular product, Paula's Choice Resist Daily Pore-Refining Treatment 2% BHA ($33), a salicylic acid and peptide-enriched liquid formula meant for oily and acne-prone skin. Together, those ingredients penetrate your pores to delivery anti-inflammatory and antibacterial goodness. After a week of use, she could not stop raving about it. "It's the only thing that's made a difference with my breakouts," she gushed.
Later, once she had left, I grabbed the bottle and took a look at the description. It plainly stated that it's "meant to refine pores and improve your skin's overall health." That sounds pretty good, I thought, staring blankly at my blackheads in the mirror. While I don't suffer from breakouts all too often, I do have a chronic case of blackheads and congestion on my nose and chin. They're barely visible to anyone other than me but certainly annoying to look at. "One of the most effective ingredients for increasing skin cell turnover and for unplugging pores is salicylic acid," says Joyce Imahiyerobo-Ip, MD. "You can find this acid in a number of over-the-counter acne washes. However, the best way to treat blackheads is to leave the salicylic acid on your face."
Meet the Expert
Dr. Joyce Imahiyerobo-Ip is an award winning dermatologist who specializes in cosmetic, surgical, and medical dermatology. She graduated cum laude from Harvard University with a degree in health-policy, and later completed specialized training in dermatology at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
I washed my face and decided to apply the formula to my skin—perhaps it'd have a similar effect on my blackheads as it did on my roommate's breakouts. Sure enough, the morning sun rose in the sky and my blackheads were drastically improved. And I mean drastically. In place of thousands of tiny black dots lay bright, clear skin. My pores looked smaller, invisible even, and my skin's overall texture was soft, supple, and glowing. Everything was clarified and renewed, it seemed. But this could be a one-time thing, I thought. I decided to keep using the product for a few weeks to gauge the reality of those first-time results.
Now, we're four weeks in and my blackheads are all but gone. Sure, I'll have a clogged pore here or there, but the difference in the look and feel of my nose and chin is pretty astounding. That and the rest of my skin as well. It feels like I cashed in for an entirely new face. I still use my usual beloved products, only now I swap in this magical formula once or twice a week for good measure, using Eve Lom Muslin Cloths to gently exfoliate as I wash. It makes an unbelievable difference in the outcome. So here's the gist: cleanse, carefully pat on the Resist Daily Pore-Refining Treatment With 2% BHA, apply serums, add a moisturizer on top, and you're good to go.
Below, I included even more editor- and dermatologist-approved blackhead treatments for your scrolling pleasure.
"Made with Mediterranean rose clay, Canadian willow herb, and exfoliating jojoba bead, this mask gently gives a deep clean while boosting the skin's overall quality," board-certified plastic surgeon Joseph Cruise, MD, told our managing editor. "It leaves the skin smooth, refines pores, and gives skin a radiant glow."
"I've yet to meet a mask as hardworking as this one," Maya, our assistant editor, said. "Bold statement, I know, but it's true. This SuperMud Mask has a texture that you have to mentally prepare yourself for. It's far from gentle, but when you're dealing with blackheads, it's not time to play nice. This mask is full of activated charcoal and six acids. Whenever I need a heavy-duty skin overhaul to zap blemishes and unclog my pores, I reach for this. It might not be the most relaxing mask, but it gets the job done and my skin feels totally renewed afterward."
"I don't have blackheads, but if I were recommending a treatment to a friend or family member or patient, I'd say start with over-the-counter Differin Gel," says Heidi Waldorf, MD, of Waldorf Dermatology Aesthetics. "It's a retinoid, so regular use prevents and treats blackheads."
Kavita Mariwalla, MD, agrees: "No blackhead removal routine is complete without a retinol. Retinol will speed the rate at which the skin turns over and will push the blackheads out from the inside. The downside is that your skin purges for a few days when you first start using a formula with this ingredient. Always use it on the face at night and caution if pregnant. Examples I like include Redermic R and Differin OTC."
As mentioned above, I wash my face using these muslin clothes each morning and night—first applying cleansing balm to dry skin, working it in, and removing with a steamy cloth to really get everything off. The texture of the cloths, though, is where the magic lies. They're not fluffy or entirely soft, just structured enough to do a gentle exfoliation as I wash. I've noticed a significant reduction in the number and size of my blackheads as a result.
"I've been using it for decades," Kenneth Mark, MD, says of this drugstore wash. "It has 2% salicylic acid for exfoliation to unclog pores and anti-inflammatory effects."
"When my blackhead situation is out of control," Faith, our editorial director, explains, "I reach for these trusty pore strips. I've always had blackheads, and these guys have been by my side through some pretty dire times (read: middle school). I know that dermatologists can be pretty divided on them, but I swear there's nothing more satisfying than pulling one off and seeing all the gunk that was in my nose. So gross yet so satisfying."
According to Ted Lain, MD, "Exfoliation of the dead skin cells and debris and dislodging of the plugs that block the pores are the two priorities for clearing up blackheads. I focus on cleansers with either glycolic, lactic, or salicylic acid. The Ordinary Lactic Acid 5% + HA (which is more a peeling solution than a cleanser but can be used after a gentle cleanser). It works at the earliest stages of blackhead formation, meaning that it stops the development of these blemishes before they are even apparent."
"I truly can't stop kicking myself for not using this exfoliating, masking hybrid sooner," says Erin, Byrdie's assistant beauty editor. "I've been using it twice a week immediately after cleansing, and I notice my blackheads have significantly decreased. (I get lots of little tiny ones on the sides and tips of my nose.) The formula is incredibly lightweight, clear, and, thus, fuss-free, and you only need to leave it on one to five minutes for it to work its tingly magic."
"This mask features a purifying white clay mask that has salicylic acid and natural exfoliants to help draw out impurities, scrub away blackheads, and shrink pores," says Cruise. "This can be used for oily, combination, and sensitive skin types. It leaves the skin feeling deep-cleaned and looking refreshed. And most of all, pores look less visible and blackhead-free."