Of all the skincare nuisances we experience on a day-to-day basis, blackheads carry a high rank. The urge to squeeze them is overpowering, and despite our best efforts to pinch the life out of our pores until nothing is left inside, those darn blackheads return, and the vicious cycle continues.
There's got to be something proven to nip blackheads in the bud (or rather, pore) better than any strips, cleanser, or mask we've used that hasn't delivered the results we need. To find a surefire solution, we turned to several top dermatologists, and their responses were unanimous: retinoids.
You may be thinking, "Aren't retinoids for wrinkles?" In short: yes. They prompt surface skin cells to turn over quickly while encouraging new cell growth. This helps pores be less susceptible to getting clogged. But in the same vein, this new cell turnover helps your skin produce collagen rendering it firmer and plumper, so while you're treating your blackheads, you can also benefit from anti-aging effects as well.
Says Dr. Karen Hammerman of Schweiger Dermatology Group, "The vitamin A derivative is the best way to clear clogged pores and prevent blackheads from forming. Prescription-strength formulations are the most effective, but there are several highly effective over-the-counter retinol formulations. These work on receptors in the skin to improve the way skin grows and sheds so that it is less likely to form acne. While the cells in the deepest layer of the epidermis start replicating faster, the outer layer of keratinocytes start shedding off efficiently, leaving the skin fresher, smoother and clearer. This efficient process makes the skin thicker. Sometimes there is noticeable peeling, but after using the product a few times a week, then every other night, then every night (over a period of six weeks or so), the side effects lessen and the skin appears more radiant and clear."
Dr. Jessica Weiser of New York Dermatology Group shares similar sentiments: "Retinol is the best way to clear clogged pores and treat blackheads. While prescription-strength retinoids are the most effective, using over-the-counter retinol can also be helpful to alleviate skin congestion. Retinol works on receptors in the skin to regulate skin turnover and increase the efficiency of dead skin removal."
Dr. Carl Thornfeldt, the founder of Epionce skincare, also swears by retinoids, but he says that you can up the blackhead-banishing power by adding a few more ingredients in the morning. "The best thing people can do to get rid of blackheads is a combo therapy: a product containing salicylic acid, azelaic acid, and zinc pyrithione in the morning if you have combination skin, and, if you have very oily skin, add a prescription 0.1% tretinoin at night."
Retinoids may be extremely effective at giving you a glowing, blackhead-free complexion, but they can be a bit strong and may irritate certain skin types. Do a patch test first, or speak with a dermatologist to see if it's the right treatment method for you.
Check out some of our favorite retinoid-infused skincare products.
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Zasada M, Budzisz E. Retinoids: active molecules influencing skin structure formation in cosmetic and dermatological treatments. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2019;36(4):392-397. doi:10.5114/ada.2019.87443