“Dear beauty editor, I have a bad blackhead problem on my nose. I’ve been using pore strips even though I know it’s not good for your skin but it’s the only way I know how. What can I do? What even causes blackheads anyway?”
Blackheads are the skincare equivalent of that one Taylor Swift earworm: you can’t seem to avoid them no matter how much you try, and you’re dying to be rid of them. Trust me, I’ve been there. I am still there in the trenches of pore trouble, though my years of battling blackheads and their kind have led me to some fruitful conclusions I hope to share with you, dear readers.
In this edition of “Ask the Beauty Editor”, I’ll address your pressing pore-related problems and teach you how you can learn to manage them with tried-and-true methods I’ll take to my grave. So, put that pore strip down and hear me out.
Before we proceed, here’s a necessary disclaimer: I am not a dermatologist. Everyone’s skin is different. Your mileage may vary, etc. etc. Please don’t sue me if my methods don’t work on you, because skin and the care it needs is ultimately personal.
What are blackheads?
Before you enter the battle, you must heed the words of Sun Tzu and know your enemy. When you look in the mirror and examine your skin, take stock of the blemishes you have a problem with. If the pore is clogged and tinged black (I’m talking ebony), it’s a blackhead. If it’s the mottled mass of dots across your nose, cheeks and chin that are brown or grey on the surface, and release gunk when squeezed, surprise: these aren’t blackheads. They are sebaceous filaments.
The difference between both is crucial. Blackheads are clogged pores that have oxidised, hence the black tip. These can be extracted, like a pimple, and will not recur with proper skincare. Sebaceous filaments, however, are meant to be on your skin. Each of these pesky plugs is filled with sebum and dead skin cells, and while you can de-gunk them, you can’t necessarily banish these from your skin.
Sebaceous filaments are part and parcel of how your skin functions. If they are more visible on you, it is because you do have larger pores or a concentration of sebum in that area (think oily T-zone, hence pores in the region and not elsewhere).
Can you get rid of them?
Blackheads can be rid of, while sebaceous filaments, unfortunately, are here to stay. Good skincare habits and certain products can help minimise the appearance of and degunk your pores, but understand that sebaceous filaments are going to be a part of your skin no matter what.
Don’t despair. I share the same pains and can testify that even though I’m not 100 percent rid of sebaceous filaments or blackheads, introducing products that manage them have made a dramatic difference overall.
How do I clear my pores?
You really just need a couple of products, and the resolve to never touch a pore strip again, as those do far more harm than good (TL;DR: you are enlarging your pores every time you yank one of those strips off your nose).
First up, introduce chemical exfoliants into your routine. It’s 2020, everyone’s with the programme, and it’s time you get on too. I’ve written an entire guide to chemical exfoliants here, but if you need an elevator pitch, here goes. Chemical exfoliants decongest and renew your skin through natural acids, and these are less harsh than a physical exfoliant.
Your basic chemical exfoliants are AHAs and BHAs. The former sloughs the surface of your skin, while the second goes beneath the surface to deal with the sebum that dwells there, which is what we need. You want to introduce a product with a BHA into your daytime skincare regimen, preferably with a concentration between two to four percent.
I swear by Cosrx’s BHA Blackhead Power Liquid, Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant and Stridex’s Maximum Strength pads. Take your pick, and apply them after cleansing and toning your face. As these can be drying, be prudent. I have dry skin, so I use them only on my problem areas.
Next, a clay mask. Clay masks are the heavy-duty decongestants of the skincare world and have been used for eons to address pore trouble. Even Cleopatra was a fan.
Use a clay mask once or twice a week on your pain points and let it do the work. These will definitely shrink the appearance of your filaments with regular use as well. The Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay is my holy grail, and legions of other fans can testify. This 100 percent natural bentonite clay mask comes in a massive tub and can be used with water or apple cider vinegar to cleanse out your pores. The difference is immediate.
If there’s anything you should take away, it’s this: strips are bad. BHAs and clay masks are good. Pores are forever but their appearance is up to you.