Blackheads—the ever-elusive enemy. Although barely detectable, they’re one of those maddeningly minuscule things (like a stray brow hair or a chipped nail) that we’re painfully aware of but that may not be all that noticeable to an innocent bystander.
However, unlike an uneven nail or brow, blackheads are complicated. They’re difficult to get rid of, and most experts agree that the best way to remove blackheads is to visit a professional. But what happens when we’re short on time (or funds) and need a pesky blackhead banished stat? Though there’s no shortage of blackhead-busting products on the market (namely masks, pore strips, and cleansers), is it even possible to get rid of blackheads overnight? To be honest, we’ve never had much luck with quick, over-the-counter fixes, so we decided to ask celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau and board-certified dermatologist Shari Sperling straight up: Is it possible? And if so, how do we do it?
Meet the Expert
Keep reading for a step-by-step guide on how to remove blackheads overnight.
Use Antioxidant-Rich Products to Prevent Blackheads
Contrary to popular belief, those teensy dark spots (which tend to show up on the areas of the face most prone to oil—nose, chin, T-zone, etc.), aren’t actually the dirt-clogged pores we always assumed them to be. According to Rouleau, “Blackheads are large, open pores containing hardened sebum, or oil, that has oxidized from the air causing it to turn dark gray in color.”
She goes on to note that antioxidant-rich skincare products can help keep blackheads at bay. “Antioxidants used in skin care products have many benefits such as encouraging collagen production, lightening discoloration, and slowing down the production of skin-damaging free radicals, but one surprising benefit is their ability to prevent oil from oxidizing, hence the name ‘antioxidants.’”
A powerful matcha-infused face cream like this one from Byrdie fave brand Peach & Lily can help prevent the formation of blackheads while still being gentle and moisturizing on skin.
Use Salicylic Acid Products to Keep Pores Clear
We know and love salicylic acid for treating acne, but the wonder ingredient can also help with blackheads (and whiteheads, too!). To keep blackheads at bay, both Sperling and Rouleau suggest using products with salicylic acid to keep pores clear, as it works to fend off dead skin cells and oil, both of which can be contributing factors to the onset of blackheads. “Once the pores are clean, it’s important to use products in your routine that use acids, such as AHA’s and BHA’s, to absorb directly into the pores and keep them cleaned out, as well as preventing the oil from filling back up so quickly," she says. Sperling adds that the benefits of salicylic acid are to help unclog pores and overall, make the surface cleaner for blackhead-free skin.
Alpha-hydroxy acids are a group of acid compounds, most often derived from plant-based sources. There are a variety of different ones out there, some of which include glycolic (derived from sugarcane) and lactic (derived from sour milk). While they all act on the surface of the skin as chemical exfoliants, they differ in size, and subsequently penetration and potency.
Get the best of both worlds (AHA's and BHA's) with this peeling solution. Fair warning though, it's strong, and should only be used by experienced users.
Apply Retinoids to Shrink Pores
While there’s no magical cure to get rid of blackheads completely, if you're dealing with severe acne in addition to blackheads, retinoids may be the answer. Rouleau says that the use of retinol or prescription retinoids can tighten the pores so they appear smaller, which in turn, keeps blackheads virtually invisible. Sperling adds that "retinols work to increase the turnover of cells and promote new cell growth and collagen production," not to mention they can make the other products in your skincare regimen more effective since they will be able to penetrate deeper without being blocked by clogged pores.
Retinol is derived from Vitamin A. Once it is absorbed into the skin, it is converted to the active form, retinoic acid, which encourages faster turnover of skin cells, increased collagen production, and lightening of hyperpigmentation.
We recommend this serum from Overt, which contains 2.5 percent retinol to even out the skin tone and increase cell turnover for smooth, blackhead-free skin.
Clear Out Pores With a Mask
If you have oily skin, you're likely a user of clay masks (PSA: if you're not, you may want to look into them). Though clay masks are meant to draw out dirt, oil, and other impurities from the skin, some formulas can also work to clear out and unclog pores. Opt for a kaolin clay-based one meant to balance oils and give pores a major detox.
Like clay masks, charcoal-based face masks are meant to rid the skin of toxins, dirt, and oil. Because these types of masks can make the skin feel parched, Sperling recommends using them about once a week to avoid excess dryness. And always be sure to follow up with a heavy-duty moisturizer post-masking.
Activated charcoal is created from carbon-rich materials burned at high temperatures, like coal, coconut shells, and wood. In skin care, there are claims that it binds to and removes impurities from the skin, but more research is needed.
A favorite in the Byrdie office, you'll definitely feel the glow after using this mask from GlamGlow, which contains six exfoliating acids and activated charcoal to give you the cleanest pores.
Exfoliate Regularly To Maintain Clean Pores
"Blackheads are caused by clogged pores from oils in the skin, makeup or moisturizers used on the skin, and bacteria," says Sperling. "AHA's, such as glycolic acid, and BHA's, such as salicylic acid, work well to exfoliate the skin. BHAs penetrate deeper into the skin and have both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties so they are good for treating blemishes in acne-prone skin." Exfoliants can help rid the skin of blackhead-causing sebum and product build-up, but because they can also strip the skin of moisture, Sperling recommends using them once a week.
Not only does this scrub from Tula smell delicious, but it also fights off blackheads, minimizes pores, and gives you smooth skin.
Use a Non-Comedogenic SPF to Avoid Clogging Pores
When dead skin cells mix with excess oil on the skin, a clogged pore can rear its ugly head, and cause a comedo (aka a blackhead). That's why choosing non-comedogenic products (meaning, products that don't contain pore-clogging ingredients) is essential for everyday wear, especially if you're a heavy makeup wearer or prone to breakouts. Generally speaking, most non-comedogenic products will also be oil-free, making them useful for those with oily skin to begin with. And because sunscreen is something that should be worn daily (seriously—please protect your skin every day), it's crucial to opt for a non-comedogenic formula for the sake of your pores.
When choosing makeup and skincare products, steer clear from ingredients that may cause clogged pores like coconut oil, beeswax, avocado oil, and glycerin.
We like this SPF 30 from Everyday Humans because it won't clog your pores and works great for those with sensitive skin.
Do blackheads go away on their own?
Just like other acne, blackheads can eventually go away on their own. Using products to help treat blackheads can make the process go faster.
Why am I suddenly getting blackheads?
There are many reasons why blackheads may suddenly make an appearance in your life including hormone changes, stress, or taking certain medications.
Do blackheads leave holes in your face?
If you've successfully removed a blackhead from your skin, you may notice a hole left in its place. There's nothing to worry about, that is just your pore that is enlarged, which should return to normal.
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