We can pick, squeeze, and extract without abandon, but days later, blackheads are back, taunting us in the bathroom mirror. When professional extractions aren't possible, the best way to get rid of blackheads is to treat with a topical formula that can decongest and unclog skin with powerful chemical exfoliants.
Blackheads are considered a form of acne that occurs when the pore becomes clogged with sebum and dead skin cells. Further, blackheads occur when the pore is open at the surface level, which causes the contents to become oxidized and become darker in color—thus, the name, blackhead.
Experts emphasize that picking or squeezing blackheads causes more harm than good, including the exacerbation of acne and potential scarring. Instead, dermatologists recommend using chemical exfoliants to unclog the pore without actually squeezing gunk out of your face. Because exfoliants work by loosening the cells of the epidermis, you don't have to resort to picking—which is tempting, but can scar.
We conducted hours of research and 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. We also put some of the top-rated products to the test, our testers using them for weeks at a time and rating how well they worked to decongest and clarify their skin. Our team evaluated dozens of products on their active ingredient list, potential for irritation, and value. We then combined these insights and results with our own research to compile our list of best in show.
Ahead, find the best blackhead treatments for a clear complexion.
Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel
Contains both AHAs and BHAs to dissolve sebum and prevent oil from building up inside pores
Lactic acid gently resurfaces pores
Includes deactivator pad to prevent over-exfoliation and irritation
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. Also included 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.
Price at time of publish: $20
Benefits: Clears congestion, fights dullness, smoothes | Skin Type: Combination, oily | Size: 30 treatments | Cruelty-Free: Yes
AHAs, BHAs dissolve oil and exfoliate skin
Niacinamide helps fade discoloration
Glycerin and aloe vera soothe and calm skin
This hard-working liquid from Glossier contains a cocktail of exfoliating acids, plus niacinamide, glycerin, and aloe vera to help fade discoloration, soothe, and calm the skin. Dermatologist Shyamalar Gunthatheesan, MD 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 and build up use.
Price at time of publish: $38
Benefits: Fades discoloration, smoothes, clears congestion | Skin Type: Combination, oily | Size: 4.4 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Congestion
Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment
Adapalene proven to work to dissolve oil and reduce pore size
Might be too harsh for sensitive skin
Gunthatheesan tells Byrdie that this treatment from Differin contains adapalene, a “type of retinoid that comes in 0.1% or 0.3% concentration and works to improve skin clarity, luminosity, and reduce 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.
Price at time of publish: $15
Benefits: Evens skin tone, reduces acne and blackheads | Skin Type: Combination, oily | Size: 0.5 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Dry or Dehydrated Skin
The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA
Lactic acid dissolves oil and unclogs pores
Tasmanian pepperberry and hyaluronic acid reduce inflammation
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.
Price at time of publish: $9
Benefits: Evens skin tone, clears congestion | Skin Type: Dry, mature | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Philosophy Purity Made Simple Pore Extractor
Salicylic acid dissolves oil and unclogs pores
Diatomaceous earth helps polish the skin
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. 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."
Price at time of publish: $37
Benefits: Smoothes and refines | Skin Type: Combination, oily | Size: 2.5 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: No
You should never pick a blackhead with your fingers. Although it's tempting, you may not remove the entire blackhead, but rather push the infection further down into the skin. Additionally, you can introduce oil, bacteria, and exacerbate the acne. Finally, nails can damage the surface of the skin, stretch out a pore, and cause potential scarring.
Fresh Umbrian Clay Pore Purifying Facial Mask
Mineral-rich Umbrian clay reduces shine and absorbs oil
Cinnamon bark has clarifying properties
Effects may not be long-term
This Umbrian clay mask promises to minimize pores and shine without stripping or dulling the skin. However, 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.”
Price at time of publish: $23
Benefits: Refines, reduces pore size | Skin Type: Combination, oily | Size: 3.3 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best Chemical Exfoliant
Rationale #5 The Serum
AHAs and BHAs dissolve oil inside pores
Lactic acid evens texture and tone
“This serum is excellent for comedones as it contains salicylic acid and lactic acids to regulate the skin renewal enzymes and improve desquamation,” says Gunthatheesan. We love the lightweight texture and the fact it works almost overnight to reduce the look of rough texture and uneven tone.
Price at time of publish: $144
Benefits: Evens skin tone, clarifies, reduces congestion | Skin Type: Combination, oily | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Once a pore is stretched, it can never return to its natural size—another reason to keep you from manual picking at blackheads.
Best for Sensitive Skin
Rationale #5 The Milk Concentrate
Contains bacteria-fighting piroctone olamine to prevent acne from congested pores
Safe for sensitive skin
Alternatively, if your skin is sensitive, 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.
Price at time of publish: $156
Benefits: Resurfaces, prevents acne-causing bacteria | Skin Type: Dry, sensitive | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo
Contains benzoyl peroxide and lipo-hydroxy acid to regulate sebum production
May be drying
This French pharmacy pick is recommended by dermatologist Jo-Ann See, MD 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.
Price at time of publish: $31
Benefits: Reduces breakouts, evens skin tone, refines pores | Skin Type: Combination, oily | Size: 0.6 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Cleanser
Contains salicylic and lipo-hydroxy acids
Not great for removing makeup
Another favorite pick of 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.”
Price at time of publish: $17
Benefits: Cleanses, refines, reduces shine | Skin Type: Oily, combination | Size: 6.76 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Runner-Up, Best Cleanser
Bioderma Sensibio Foaming Gel
Gentle, micelle technology removes dirt and makeup without clogging pores
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, 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.
Price at time of publish: $18
Benefits: Cleanses without stripping | Skin Type: Dry, combination | Size: 16.7 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Oily Skin
Paula's Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant
Salicylic acid dissolves oils inside pores
Concentration of BHAs will not irritate skin
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. 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.
Price at time of publish: $34
Benefits: Clarifies, reduces breakouts and blackheads | Skin Type: Combination, oily | Size: 4 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Blemish Prone Skin
ROSE Ingleton MD Blemish Control Booster
Antioxidants target post-breakout dark spots
AHAs dissolve oil inside pores
Green tea, turmeric, and neem extract calm inflammation
This dermatologist-developed formula contains ingredients that prevent new blemishes, like a concentration of AHAs, but also antioxidants to fade discoloration from old spots. Botanical extracts like green tea, turmeric, and neem extract bring down inflammation, and help soothe redness associated with active blemishes.
Price at time of publish: $70
Benefits: Clarifies, reduces breakouts and blackheads, fades discoloration | Skin Type: Combination, oily | Size: 1 fluid ounce | Cruelty-Free: Yes
ROSEN Skincare Tropics Toner
Fruit enzymes and kojic acid gently exfoliate and fade scars
Hyaluronic acid soothes skin and moisturizes without clogging pores
This formula hydrates with hyaluronic acid while exfoliating with pineapple extract and kojic acid, providing skin with the proper balance of oil to prevent breakouts. The antioxidants also help reduce the appearance of blemishes with gentle fading over time.
Price at time of publish: $18
Benefits: Clarifies, reduces breakouts and blackheads, fades discoloration, soothes skin | Skin Type: Combination, oily | Size: 4 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Our best overall pick is Dr. Dennis Gross' Universal Daily Peel which contains a blend of AHAs and salicylic acid to exfoliate the skin while improving its tone and texture. For a more affordable pick, consider La Roche-Posay's Effaclar Duo, which contains a concentration of benzoyl peroxide and lipo-hydroxy acid to regulate sebum production without drying skin.
Meet the Expert
- Shyamalar Gunthatheesan, MD is a dermatologist and founder of Ode Dermatology in Melbourne, Australia.
- Jo-Ann See, MD 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.
What to Look For in a Blackhead Remover
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.
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.
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.
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.
How We Researched & Tested
To compile this list, our team of editors and contributors spent hours researching the best products on the market in this category, evaluating their key features—like ingredients, shade range, or design—in addition to reviews from customers and other trusted sources. Our team also incorporated their own personal experiences testing products in their own lives. We then used these insights from our research and testing to assign a star rating from one to five (five being the best; one being the worst) to certain products on the list
Why Trust Byrdie
Byrdie contributor, Emily Algar is a journalist who specializes in beauty product reviews. She conducted hours of research and tapped a handful of dermatologists, evaluating products on their active ingredient list, potential for irritation, and value. We also put some of the top-rated products to the test, our testers using them for weeks at a time and rating how well they worked to decongest and clarify their skin. Emily took these insights into consideration for this roundup.
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