12 Effective Blackhead Treatments Recommended By Dermatologists

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Best Blackhead Treatments

Byrdie / Sabrina Jiang

Is it just us, or are blackheads the most persistent skincare issue of all time? We can pick, squeeze and extract without abandon, but days later, they’re back—taunting us in the bathroom mirror. 

According to Prudvi Mohan Kaka, the chief scientific officer at Deciem, blackheads are considered a form of acne that occurs when the pore becomes clogged with sebum and dead skin cells. He further adds that in the case of blackheads, the pore is “open at the surface level, which causes the contents to become oxidized and become darker in color, thus the name blackhead.”

Of course, acne and its symptoms can be complicated and difficult to treat via topical products alone, but skin experts and dermatologists agree that the right ingredients and formulations can absolutely work to unclog the pores, cleanse the skin, and reduce pesky blackheads—you just need some intel to help guide you in the right direction. 

Here, we’ve tapped a handful of dermatologists to help us round up the very best blackhead treatments, from quick-fix clay masks to powerful actives that will change your complexion long-term.

Keep scrolling to find your best match.

Our Top Picks
Formulated with both AHAs and BHAs, these two-step peel pads improve tone and texture while clearing congested pores.
A cocktail of acids and soothing ingredients make up this potent liquid exfoliator, which clears pores and evens skin tone.
Formulated with the retinoid adapalene, this potent acne-fighting gel works to clear skin congestion.
Best for Dry or Dehydrated Skin:
The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA at Sephora
This pick combines lactic acid with hyaluronic acid to help exfoliate and hydrate dry skin.
This mask provides both physical and chemical exfoliation, helping to address clogged pores around the nose, chin, and forehead.
This creamy clay mask is a solid quick fix for unclogging pores and reducing shine.
Best Chemical Exfoliant:
Rationale #5 The Serum at Rationale.com
This lightweight chemical exfoliant contains salicylic and lactic acids to target comedones, rough texture, and uneven tone.
This milky concentrate is powered by piroctone olamine instead of harsh exfoliating acids, making it great for sensitive skin.
Powered by benzoyl peroxide, this drugstore spot treatment regulates sebum and clears pores long term.
Formulated with salicylic and lipo-hydroxy acids, this cleanser reduces oil production while keeping the pores clear.

Best Overall: Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel

Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel
What We Like
  • Contains both AHAs and BHAs

  • Includes deactivator pad to prevent over-exfoliation

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

These iconic peel pads are soaked in a dual AHA and BHA exfoliating solution to slough off dull surface cells and improve the look of skin tone, clarity, and texture. The star ingredient is salicylic acid, which can dissolve oil within a pore, lessening the severity of acne and blackheads. Dermatologist and founder Dr. Dennis Gross told Byrdie that these peel pads are an “effective and easy treatment to target congestion and uneven skin tone without sensitizing the skin, thanks to the unique two-step peel process.” 

With thousands of positive reviews on Sephora, the Alpha Beta Universal Daily is a pretty safe bet for improving all skin conditions—especially blackheads. 

Benefits: Clears congestion, fights dullness, smoothes | Skin Type: Combination, oily | Size: 30 treatments | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Brightening: Glossier Solution

Solution
What We Like
  • Formulated with AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs

  • Contains soothing and calming ingredients

What We Don't Like
  • Contains fragrance

  • Not Byrdie clean

This hard-working liquid from Glossier contains a cocktail of exfoliating acids, plus niacinamide, glycerin, and aloe vera to help soothe and calm the skin. Dermatologist Dr. Shyamalar Gunthatheesan tells us that this solution is a great alternative to physical scrubs, but the 10% concentration of three acid groups "might be a bit too intense to use regularly," so be sure to start slow with this one.

Benefits: Fades discoloration, smoothes, clears congestion | Skin Type: Combination, oily | Size: 4.4 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best for Congestion: Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment

Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment
What We Like
  • Affordable

  • Proven to work

What We Don't Like
  • Might be too harsh for sensitive skin

Dr. Gunthatheesan tells Byrdie that this treatment from Differin contains adapalene, a “retinoid that comes in 0.1% or 0.3% concentration and works to improve skin clarity, luminosity, and reduced pores.” She further explains that adapalene has a more stable chemical structure than other retinoids (like tretinoin) and does not degrade when used alongside other acne treatments like benzoyl peroxide. So if you’re dealing with serious acne, you can use it in conjunction with other active ingredients to reduce breakouts and refine your pores. 

Benefits: Evens skin tone, reduces acne and blackheads | Skin Type: Combination, oily | Size: 0.5 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best for Dry or Dehydrated Skin: The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA
What We Like
  • Affordable

What We Don't Like
  • Doesn't contain BHAs

“Lactic Acid 10% + HA 2% is an exfoliating formula for those who are experienced users of direct acids,” says Kaka. “Lactic acid is a type of alpha-hydroxy acid, which are comedolytic and keratolytic in nature. This means that they function to promote exfoliation by loosening the topmost layer of dead skin, helping to even out skin tone and reducing textural irregularities,” he adds. 

There’s also the added benefit of hyaluronic acid, a humectant that increases skin moisture, resulting in a plumper, more supple complexion. Consider trying this pick if you’re prone to dehydration, fine lines, or tight, uncomfortable skin.

Benefits: Evens skin tone, clears congestion | Skin Type: Dry, mature | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Mask: Philosophy Purity Made Simple Pore Extractor

Philosophy Purity Made Simple Pore Extractor Exfoliating Clay Mask
What We Like
  • Works quickly

  • Helps polish the skin

What We Don't Like
  • Physical scrub element may irritate sensitive skin

Formulated with white clay, salicylic acid, and diatomaceous earth, this chemical and physical exfoliating treatment promises to refresh and smooth the skin while reducing the look of blackheads. Dr. Gunthatheesan says that while it's not a great long-term management solution, it would make for a "great weekly treatment to instantly improve the look and feel of skin, especially pores around the nose, chin, and forehead."

Benefits: Smoothes and refines | Skin Type: Combination, oily | Size: 2.5 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Clay: Fresh Umbrian Clay Pore Purifying Facial Toner

Fresh Umbrian Clay Purifying Facial Toner
What We Like
  • Evens texture and tone

  • Reduces shine

What We Don't Like
  • Effects may not be long-term

This creamy clay mask promises to minimize pores and shine without stripping or dulling the skin. However, Dr. Gunthatheesan says that it’s best to view this one as a quick-fix rather than a long-term skin solution, as the ingredient profile isn’t really able to permanently clear out the pores. “This is more of a temporary indulgence, and I don’t particularly see a don’t see a long-term benefit. The initial sebum removal might result in rebound sebum overproduction, so just be sure to follow up with lightweight moisture.” Sage advice. 

Benefits: Refines, reduces pore size | Skin Type: Combination, oily | Size: 3.3 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Chemical Exfoliant: Rationale #5 The Serum

What We Like
  • Contains AHAs and BHAs

  • Evens texture and tone

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

“This serum is excellent for comedones as it contains salicylic acid and lactic acids to upregulate the skin renewal enzymes and improve desquamation,” says Dr. Gunthatheesan. We love the lightweight texture and the fact it works almost overnight to reduce the look of rough texture and uneven tone. 

 Benefits: Evens skin tone, clarifies, reduces congestion | Skin Type: Combination, oily | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best for Sensitive Skin: Rationale #5 The Milk Concentrate

What We Like
  • Contains bacteria-fighting ingredients to prevent acne

  • Conditioning formula

  • Safe for sensitive skin

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

Alternatively, if your skin is sensitive, Dr. Gunthatheesan recommends this conditioning milk concentrate to exfoliate and resurface sans irritation. "This is perfect for sensitive skin that cannot handle any acids," she says. "It contains piroctone olamine, which prevents replication of bacteria on the skin's surface to combat acne, blackheads, and congestion."

Piroctone olamine is a compound often used in cosmetic products as an antifungal treatment and has been found to help balance the skin microbiome and reduce the incidence of acne-causing bacteria on the skin. Consider this an excellent alternative if you can't handle harsh exfoliants. 

Benefits: Resurfaces, prevents acne-causing bacteria | Skin Type: Dry, sensitive | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Drugstore: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Action Acne Treatment

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Action Acne Treatment
What We Like
  • Contains benzoyl peroxide

  • Affordable

What We Don't Like
  • May be drying

This French pharmacy pick is recommended by dermatologist Dr. Jo-Ann See due to its simple but proven formulation. "Benzoyl peroxide is very helpful when it comes to regulating sebum flow and clearing the pores long term, especially paired with an exfoliating acid," she says. "You can use this lotion all over the face, but I prefer it as a targeted treatment in congested areas." Try it for an evening on clean skin and follow up with a lightweight, oil-free moisturizer. 

Benefits: Reduces breakouts, evens skin tone, refines pores | Skin Type: Combination, oily | Size: 0.6 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best Cleanser: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Face Wash

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Face Wash
What We Like
  • Contains salicylic and lipo-hydroxy acids

  • Affordable

What We Don't Like
  • Not great for removing makeup

Another favorite of Dr. See is this cleanser, also from La Roche-Posay. “An exfoliating cleanser that contains alpha or beta hydroxy acids can be helpful when it comes to reducing the incidence of blackheads,” she says. “This cleanser is formulated with 2% salicylic and lipo-hydroxy acids to reduce oil flow and keep the pores clear—just be sure to work it into the skin for at least 30 seconds to enjoy the benefits.”

Benefits: Cleanses, refines, reduces shine | Skin Type: Oily, combination | Size: 6.76 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Runner-Up, Best Cleanser: Bioderma Sensibio Foaming Gel

Bioderma Sensibio Foaming Gel
What We Like
  • Gentle

  • Affordable

What We Don't Like
  • Not a dedicated blackhead treatment

If you're looking for a cleanser that's still going to tackle congestion but perhaps isn't as active, Dr. See also loves this simple option from Bioderma. "It's best to avoid moisturizing cleansers that have high levels of paraffin, mineral oil, or fragrant 'natural' oils because they can block pores, which can lead to acne," she says. "This product is suitable for congested skin, plus it's quite conditioning." Also nice: It also uses micelle technology, so it removes makeup, dirt, and oil efficiently. 

Benefits: Cleanses without stripping | Skin Type: Dry, combination | Size: 16.7 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best for Oily Skin: Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant

Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid
What We Like
  • Contains salicylic acid

  • Not very irritating

What We Don't Like
  • May be drying for some

You'd be hard-pressed to find a salicylic acid product with more of a fan following than Paula's Choice 2% BHA. With promises to sweep away dead skin cells, unclog pores, and visibly smooth wrinkles, the minimalist formula is simple, effective, and relatively affordable. Dr. See says that the concentration of salicylic acid is "just right," and the fact that it doesn't have many other irritants means it's an excellent choice for sensitive or reactive skin. Try it as a spot treatment, or sweep it all over a few times a week.

Benefits: Clarifies, reduces breakouts and blackheads | Skin Type: Combination, oily | Size: 4 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Final Verdict

While your skin type should definitely come into play here, based on professional recommendations and our own experience, team Byrdie is crowning both the Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel (view at Sephora) and Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment as the best blackhead treatments on the market. For mild to moderate skin concerns, the Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel is effective, easy, and comes with a multitude of additional benefits (like even, glowier skin). On the other hand, the Adapalene Gel is a proven-effective retinoid that has quite a bit of science to back it up. We also can’t fail to mention La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar Duo Spot Treatment (view at Ulta), as it’s an affordable option with a dermatologist tick of approval.

What to Look for in a Blackhead Remover

Chemical Exfoliants

Acids help dissolve dead skin cells and excess oil, both of which are components of the “gunk” that can end up clogging pores. (Once that gunk oxidizes, you end up with a blackhead.) Beta-hydroxy acids, like salicylic acid, are great for breaking down oil, while alpha-hydroxy acids (like glycolic and lactic acids) have the added benefit of evening out skin tone and texture.

Physical Exfoliants

You can also opt for physical exfoliants that scrub away dead cells and other pore-clogging debris. These ingredients, like clay, work like magnets, drawing out impurities that can get lodged deep in pores.

Retinoids

For those who want to steer clear of acids, retinoids speed up the rate at which skin cells turn over, which helps to push out blackheads. However, it's notorious for causing redness and irritation, so you may want to avoid it if you have sensitive skin or sandwich it between layers of moisturizer to help reduce the effects.

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA
Byrdie / Joline Buscemi
FAQ
  • Are blackhead removers safe?

    While those iconic pore strips of your youth can be admittedly satisfying to use, their mechanism of action—that sticking and then yanking—may pull out a few blackheads, but it also poses a risk of skin damage, which can ultimately end up making your pores appear bigger. Instead, dermatologists agree that using chemical exfoliants such as retinoids or beta-hydroxy acids is the safest and most effective way to go.

  • How do you use a blackhead remover?

    This largely depends on the product you’re using. Typically, exfoliating cleansers can be used once or even twice daily, while leave-on serums, masks, and peels can be used a few times per week.

  • How do you prep your face for removing a blackhead?

    For leave-on serums, masks, and peels, you’ll always want to apply these on clean skin, so prep by washing with a mild and gentle cleanser. Also, while it can be tempting to try and squeeze or push out blackheads, resist the urge, or else you could end up exacerbating the situation.

Why Trust Byrdie?

For this feature, we spoke to a handful of skin experts to gauge their thoughts and insights on blackheads, congestion, and the ingredients that actually work. We also cited relevant academic literature when necessary to back up our claims.

Meet the Expert

  • Dr. Shyamalar Gunthatheesan is a dermatologist and founder of Ode Dermatology in Melbourne, Australia.
  • Dr. Jo-Ann See is a dermatologist at Central Sydney Dermatology, the founder of not-for-profit health initiative All About Acne, and a member of the American Academy of Dermatology. 
  • Prudvi Mohan Kaka is the chief scientific officer at Deciem, the parent company of brands such as The Ordinary, NIOD, and more.
  • Dr. Dennis Gross is a dermatologist and the founder of his eponymous skincare brand Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare.

According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find any blackhead removers from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at contact@byrdie.com, and we will evaluate the product ASAP.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Kornhauser A, Coelho SG, Hearing VJ. Applications of hydroxy acids: classification, mechanisms, and photoactivityClin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2010;3:135-142. doi: 10.2147/CCID.S9042

  2. Arif T. Salicylic acid as a peeling agent: a comprehensive reviewClin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2015;8:455-461. doi: 10.2147/CCID.S84765

  3. Piskin S, Uzunali E. A review of the use of adapalene for the treatment of acne vulgarisTher Clin Risk Manag. 2007;3(4):621-624.

  4. Draelos ZD, Diaz I, Namkoong J, Wu J, Boyd T. Efficacy evaluation of a topical hyaluronic acid serum in facial photoagingDermatol Ther (Heidelb). 2021;11(4):1385-1394. doi: 10.1007/s13555-021-00566-0

  5. Dreno B, Martin R, Moyal D, Henley JB, Khammari A, Seité S. Skin microbiome and acne vulgaris : Staphylococcus, a new actor in acneExp Dermatol. 2017;26(9):798-803. doi: 10.1111/exd.13296

  6. Kong R, Cui Y, Fisher GJ, et al. A comparative study of the effects of retinol and retinoic acid on histological, molecular, and clinical properties of human skin. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2016;15(1):49-57. doi:10.1111/jocd.12193

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