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What is Causing Your Blackheads?

Blackheads cause a lot of skin angst. Those tiny black bumps that blemish the face are common, stubborn and frustrating! We take a look at why they happen and the best skincare ingredients to treat them.

What are blackheads? 

Before we share the best ways to treat blackheads on your skin, let's look at blackhead causes.

The scientific name for a blackhead is an ‘open comedone’. It’s essentially a pore clogged with a mix of dead skin, sebum (your skin’s oil) and dirt that has opened a little and been exposed to air.

This makes the pore an ideal environment for acne causing bacteria (P. Acnes) to flourish.

The air turns dirt, oil and dead skin trapped in the pore black; which is how a blackhead gets its name. If you have an oily skin type with large pores, you’re more likely to have blackheads.

What causes clogged pores?

To discover the root of blackhead causes, we need to take a look at why your pores become blocked up in the first place. Preventing blocked pores is the key to minimising or eliminating the appearance of blackheads.

Your skincare routine

Poor skincare habits like not cleansing your skin properly and sleeping with makeup on is a key culprit in blocking pores and causing blackheads. Thoroughly cleansing your skin on a daily basis is a must to keep pores free of the build up.

Even if you’re committed to your skincare routine, you could be using products with comedogenic ingredients. Essentially, comedogenic ingredients increase the chances of blackhead causing blocked pores.

Certainly not all comedogenic ingredients aren’t bad - many are extremely beneficial for skin in other ways - but the chances of your pores becoming clogged are higher.

On the other hand, non-comedogenic describes products or ingredients likely to help us avoid skin pore blockages.

Do your research into the different ingredients in your skincare products to discover how they rate on the comedogenic scale.

It’s important to know that everyone will experience blackheads using comedogenic ingredients. Those with naturally dry skin, and small pores may not be affected at all by comedogenic ingredients.


Wearing makeup, especially heavy makeup, can increase the chances of blackhead causing debris to build up in your pores.

Like skincare, makeup formulations can contain comedogenic ingredients that increase the chance of the pore becoming blocked.

If you wear makeup, one of the best ways to prevent blackheads is to choose non-comedogenic mineral cosmetics.

Mineral makeup is made up of tiny particles of naturally occurring minerals including iron oxide, zinc oxide, talc and titanium oxide. It’s free from ingredients that can cause blackheads like parabens, binders and fillers.

Mineral makeup is ideal for combination or oily skin as it helps absorb excess oil and cover breakouts without actually making them worse.

Excess oil production

Clogged pores and blackheads are very common around the nose and chin area.

For some skin types, especially oily skin, there is an increased production of oil in these areas, which attracts more dirt and debris to the area - increasing the chances of the pore becoming clogged.

Slow cellular turnover

As we age the rate of cellular turnover slows down. Basically, the skin takes longer to produce new, fresh cells in the deeper layers of skin and push them to the surface.

Slow cellular turnover can also trigger pores to become larger and increase the chance of blockage. Cellular turnover can also slow down due to certain lifestyle choices like spending too much time in the sun, poor diet, smoking and stress.

How to treat blackheads

Now you know what causes blackheads and how your pores become blocked, what’s the best way to get rid of blackheads?

Blackheads cause a lot more trouble for your skin if you squeeze them. Picking your pores to clear blockages is not a healthy long term solution for your skin!

Continually stressing your skin by squeezing the pores causes wear and tear and can even make them bigger - and more prone to becoming clogged - over time. There should be little to no pain when unclogging your pores.

Chemical exfoliants

Chemical exfoliants act in a different way to physical exfoliants - think face scrubs with particles that need you to manually scrub the skin. Instead, chemical exfoliant ingredients work to dissolve the excess oil and dead skin cells that block pores and cause blackheads.

There are two types of chemical exfoliants: alpha-hydroxy acids (AHA) and beta-hydroxy acids (BHA).

The two most popular AHAs in skincare are glycolic and lactic acids - lactic acid is the most gentle AHAs - and BHA refers to salicylic acid.

Don’t let the term ‘acid’ scare you. AHAs and BHA are naturally occurring acids derived fruits, milk, and sugarcane.

Some skin types may find salicylic acid can excessively irritate and dry the skin - glycolic and lactic acids can be a kinder choice for skin.

Used daily, a cleanser with gentle exfoliating acids will prevent the blackheads before they form and help clear existing pores. Blackheads cause your skin to take on an uneven, bumpy look so gentle exfoliation will promote a smoother looking complexion too.

We recommend: esmi Uncomplicated Cleanser With Anti-Redness

Bentonite clay

Bentonite soaks up extra oil from the skin, a little like a paper towel for sebum, and is known for its ability to draw out toxins, heavy metals, impurities, and chemicals from the skin too.

This is why bentonite is beneficial for skin types prone to blackheads as it keeps the skin clean and as oil-free as possible. When it comes to beating blackheads, using products aimed at regulating oil flow is key.

Bentonite can be quite drying, so you’ll want a product formulation containing bentonite clay to have a good balance of ingredients that help the skin retain moisture too.

We recommend: esmi Soft Skin Refining Charcoal Clay Booster Mask

Activated charcoal

Think of activated charcoal as a magnet to draw dirt out of pores; it’s great at adsorption. Adsorption (not absorption) occurs when molecules of one substance bind to the surface of another—in this case, activated charcoal.

The build-up blackheads cause inside the pore is drawn out of the skin by the activated charcoal and washed away when you rinse.

The types of products to get rid of blackheads containing activated charcoal ranges from soaps to serums and masks.

We recommend: Detoxifying Exfoliating Charcoal Serum

Blackheads cause skin stress and frustration but we’re here to help! Book a free consultation with an esmi Skin Minerals Consultant. The team at esmi are always here to support you on your skin journey.