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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.
Best Overall: Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel
Contains both AHAs and BHAs
Includes deactivator pad to prevent over-exfoliation
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
Formulated with AHAs, BHAs, and PHAs
Contains soothing and calming ingredients
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
Proven to work
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
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
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. 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
Evens texture and tone
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
Contains AHAs and BHAs
Evens texture and tone
“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
Contains bacteria-fighting ingredients to prevent acne
Safe for sensitive skin
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
Contains benzoyl peroxide
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 Gel Acne Cleanser
Contains salicylic and lipo-hydroxy acids
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
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
Contains salicylic acid
Not very irritating
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
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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will evaluate the product ASAP.