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 grey in color.”
She goes on to note that antioxidant-rich skincare products can help keep blackheads at bay. “Antioxidants used in skincare 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 by Peach & Lily can help prevent the formation of blackheads while still being gentle and moisturizing on skin.
Manually Extract Blackheads
While your esthetician can extract blackheads with 10 points for style and swiftness, it's no secret that we often struggle for hours on end to achieve the same results. That said, Rouleau explains that if the affected skin is properly softened, it should be fairly easy to remove a blackhead. She adds that what could make quick, at-home blackhead removal difficult is unsoftened skin, small, super-tight pores, blackheads that are inset (versus protruding), and skin that’s dry and dehydrated.
While Rouleau tells us topical blackhead removal methods are largely ineffective, it is, indeed, possible to remove a blackhead overnight. However, you’ll have to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty, as manual extraction is truly the only way to effectively get rid of blackheads overnight.
How to perform the extraction:
1. After showering, apply a thin layer of the heaviest moisturizer you have over the area you’ll be extracting from. “By using a rich moisturizer. It will create a temporary occlusive seal to keep the heat trapped in the skin, which for extractions purposes is necessary,” Rouleau says.
2. Next, cover the area with clingfilm and apply a hot, damp washcloth for five minutes. Do like Rouleau and make sure to use two washcloths layered on top of one another, as the one on top will help the one underneath retain its heat for longer.
3. Grab your tissues, wrap a couple over each forefinger, and gently squeeze the skin to remove blackheads or clogged pores. According to Rouleau, the goal with squeezing is to avoid positioning the fingers too close, as this won’t allow the blackhead to come out. "Widen them out a bit so that the blackhead will be extracted easier from the deeper level within the skin," she says.
To avoid leaving marks on the skin, go easy and be sure to relocate the position of your fingers. For example, position fingers at 3 and 9 o’clock, then 5 and 10, then 2 and 7.
Rouleau’s rule: Three strikes and you’re out. If the blackhead is especially stubborn and still won’t come out after three tries, don’t continue with your attempted extraction. At this point, you might do more harm than good. (i.e., damage the skin or break a capillary).
4. When finished, clean off the skin with an alcohol-free toner and then apply a cooling gel mask to reduce any redness.
Use Salicylic Acid Products to Keep Pores Clear
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.
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, makes the surface cleaner for blackhead-free skin.
Apply Retinoids to Shrink 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.
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. This one by Overt features two and a half 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.
Activated charcoal is created from carbon-rich materials burned at high temperatures, like coal, coconut shells, and wood. In skincare, there are claims that it binds to and removes impurites from the skin, but more research is needed.
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.
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.
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 it useful for those with oily skin to begin with. And because sunscreen is something that should be worn daily (seriously—please protect your skin everyday), 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.
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