But first, a little bit of blackhead 101. (Because yes, those tiny stubborn spots are actually very misunderstood!) Although an automatic assumption is that the sprinkling of black dots around our complexion is the visual proof of trapped dirt within our pores, that’s only partly accurate. According to celebrity esthetician Melanie Grant (who regularly works with Victoria Beckham), blackheads are caused when the opening of a hair follicle becomes clogged with sebum, dead skin cells, and other debris. Said trapped debris becomes oxidized by air, thus creating that dark, namesake appearance.
Another important thing to address? While there is a slew of strategic products, rituals, and treatments you can enhance your regimen with in order to decrease and prevent blackheads—like high-quality cleansers—the only way to truly expunge blackheads is to book an in-office appointment for professional extractions. “Typically with blackheads, they would need to be extracted,” celebrity esthetician Shani Darden tells us. “However, there are a few ingredients like AHAs, BHAs, and retinol that can help to decrease and prevent them.”
As the ultimate blackhead prevention prescription, our experts agreed using a chemical cleanser consisting of pore-purging acids (think glycolic, lactic, salicylic, etc.) three to four times a week is your best bet.
“I recommend incorporating a salicylic acid–based cleanser or serum to deep-clean the pores and reduce inflammation,” continues Grant. “Formulas with BHAs are best as they penetrate deep into the pore, cutting through oil and liquifying the sebum. Avoid heavy, occlusive creams and oils, and add a clay or charcoal-based masque two or three times per week to draw out impurities and mop up excess oil.” As a note, salicylic acid is the most commonly used BHA within the beauty industry, and since it’s oil-soluble, it’s an especially fantastic antidote for clogged pores.
Additionally, if you’re really oily or tend to wear a lot of makeup, Grant recommends opting for a double cleanse using a gentle, acid-based cleanser. (Avoid harsh scrubs, please!) The first cleanse will remove the top layer of makeup, dirt, and surface debris, while the second will be more efficiently able to deep-clean your pores by removing oil, dirt, pollution, and dead skin cells.
The Best Face Washes for Blackheads
We’ll start you off with a list of expert- and editor-approved face washes to help treat and prevent blackheads, but as a general rule of thumb, look for lightweight, water-based formulations enhanced with strategic ingredients like the aforementioned salicylic acid, AHAs (like glycolic and lactic acids), and retinol.
On the other side of the foot, be sure to avoid comedogenic products which can clog your pores and spike your chance for breakouts and congestion. Also, make sure you’re only using your exfoliating cleansers a few times a week and you’re choosing well-balanced, gentle, non-irritating options like the below. If you’re choosing overly aggressive formulas or using them too often, you can actually strip your skin, compromise your skin barrier and pH, and surge oil production.
“Overall, it’s really important to make sure you’re using a cleanser that doesn’t strip the skin,” Darden warns. “This can lead to an overproduction of oil, which can then lead to more blackheads. Also, beware of cleansers with alcohol, as those can overdry the skin.”
1. Senté Exfoliating Cleanser
Senté Exfoliating Cleanser ($46)
“My favorite exfoliating cleanser is the Senté Exfoliating Cleanser formulated with a proprietary blend of phytic acid, glycolic acid,” shares Caroline Godsick, the head medical esthetician at Facile Dermatology + Boutique. “It exfoliates the skin with minimal irritation.”
2. IS Clinical Cleansing Complex
IS Clinical Cleansing Complex ($44)
Godsick, Grant, and I all obsess over this cult-loved face wash from IS Clinical. It has the added benefit of being gentle and balances enough for daily use. Godsick says, “It incorporates a balance of bio-nutrients, antioxidants, and mild resurfacing ingredients that thoroughly cleanse the surface and pores of the skin without stripping essential natural oils, leaving skin soft and smooth.” Grant also adds that it’s great for soothing redness or inflammation.
3. Shani Darden Cleansing Serum
Shani Darden Cleansing Serum ($38)
“Typically, I use a gentle cleanser along with an acne treatment serum or retinol serum to help prevent and decrease blackheads,” says Darden. “This is a gentle cleanser that will effectively remove all makeup and impurities and is the first step to clear, glowing skin.”
4. Cosmedix Clarify Salicylic Acid Foaming Cleanser
Cosmedix Clarify Salicylic Acid Foaming Cleanser ($39)
“For those with more oily, acne-prone skin, Cosmedix Clarify Salicylic Acid Foaming Cleanser is a great option to gently exfoliate and to help reduce pore-clogging impurities,” Darden adds. “It features salicylic acid to help clear out the pores along with aloe to add moisture back into your complexion.”
5. Renée Rouleau AHA/BHA Blemish Control Cleanser
Renée Rouleau AHA/BHA Blemish Control Cleanser ($36)
A personal favorite, celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau’s strategic formula has been a staple in my acne-fighting routine for years now. It has great ingredients like salicylic acid, lactic acid, Hawaiian red marine algae, mangosteen peel, papaya fruit extract, and biodegradable jojoba beads that work together to reduce acne, bumps, blackheads, clogged pores, and stubborn scarring or discoloration leftover from past breakouts. I use it at night, two times per week.
6. La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Cleanser
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Cleanser ($15)
If you’re on a budget (or even if you’re not), this French drugstore formula is one of the best face washes I’ve come across in my years as an acne-battling beauty editor. You’ll notice an impressively immediate improvement in skin texture and clarity thanks to this fragrance- and oil-free cleanser which is boosted with a blackhead-busting dose of AHAs and BHAs from salicylic and glycolic acids.
7. Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser
Tata Harper Regenerating Cleanser ($84)
If you’re looking for a clean and organic face wash option for blackheads, this pretty green bottle from Tata Harper is a holy-grail option known and loved for its multitasking abilities to clarify, detoxify, and cleanse oil- and blackhead-prone skin. Despite its deep-exfoliating properties thanks to fresh enzymes, clays, and essential oils, the fact that it’s free of harsh soaps, alcohols, and other detergents means your skin will retain a healthy balance of hydration and moisture. (The post-wash glow is surreal.)
8. SkinMedica Exfoliating Cleanser
SkinMedica AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser ($47)
Celebrities like Hailey Bieber love SkinMedica (it’s truly one of the best skincare brands in the industry), and this exfoliating cleanser receives high praise via ratings on Dermstore’s website (five stars and 125 reviews). It blends AHAs and BHAs to slough away pore-clogging dead skin that can lead to blackheads while botanical extracts like bilberry and licorice help nix discoloration. Meanwhile, gentle astringents from citrus oils refine the look of pores for a super-radiant complexion.
9. DermaDoctor Ain’t Misbehavin’ Medicated AHA/BHA Acne Cleanser
DermaDoctor Ain’t Misbehavin’ Medicated AHA/BHA Acne Cleanser ($32)
Featuring AHAs, BHAs, witch hazel, and allantoin, this dynamic face wash is excellent for blackheads. It clears existing breakouts, staves of new blemishes, and is soap-free, oil-free, and carefully pH-balanced to prevent stripping, irritation, or complexion-compromising dehydration. Also, you get serious bang for your buck, as the brand states you’ll get 210 applications out of just one tube as long as you use as directed.
10. Dr. Barbara Sturm Enzyme Cleanser
Dr. Barbara Sturm Enzyme Cleanser ($75)
A true, two-in-one skin-clearing wonder, this fine-grained powder transforms into the most luxuriously soft foam once you add water. It’s ultra gentle but provides a super-deep cleanse and exfoliation thanks to enzymes, vitamin C, and more, which together lift away dry, rough skin; thoroughly remove makeup; and banish excess sebum from blackhead-susceptible pores.
What Else to Add
In addition to an acid-based face wash, our experts shared a few other key practices and products essential for preventing and treating blackheads. Godsick cites regular facials for extractions and in-office treatments like Dermal-Infusion, which basically uses vacuum pressure to suck up dirt and oil from your pores.
Alongside (or in place of) any in-office treatments, Darden recommends experimenting with retinol, gentle at-home peels, and/or a high-quality active serum a few times a week to keep blackheads at bay, pores clear, and skin radiant and glowing. See below for her specific product picks.
The Holy-Grail Retinol
Shani Darden Retinol Reform ($88)
“Retinol Reform combines lactic acid with retinol to increase cellular turnover and gently exfoliate the skin, which can help treat and prevent blackheads,” Darden explains.
The Holy-Grail Peel Pads
Dr. Dennis Gross Alph Beta Universal Daily Peel—30 Packets ($88)
“These pads combine AHAs like lime, lactic acid, and glycolic acid with BHAs like salicylic acid to remove the dead layer of skin on the surface and clear out pores,” adds Darden. “These are great to use one or two times a week depending on your skin type and the other products you’re using.”
The Holy-Grail Serum
iS Clinical Active Serum ($138)
Last but not least, Darden says this serum from IS Clinical features botanically sourced AHAs and BHAs to gently exfoliate and help keep skin blemish- and blackhead-free.
Up next: Can You Use Cleansing Oils If You Have Oily Skin? We Investigate
This article originally appeared on Who What Wear
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