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Blackheads are a common skin condition primarily affecting the face, neck, back, and chest. They can be caused by an excessive amount of oil and irritation of the hair follicles on the skin, and more. Blackheads commonly affect adolescents, though they can occur at any age. Find relief from your acne with specialized skin care treatments from our Gainesville dermatologists with Gainesville Dermatology & Skin Surgery. We are committed to helping you achieve healthy and beautiful skin throughout each life stage. 

Contact our office today to schedule a dermatologist appointment and to learn more about our available treatments for different skin conditions.

What Are Blackheads?

A blackhead is a type of acne, featuring open bumps or raised lesions on the skin filled with excess oil, dead skin cells, and other debris. These bumps are called “blackheads,” as their surface appears dark or black, but blackheads are not pimples. These acne lesions are extremely common, affecting nearly everyone at some point in their lives. 

What Causes Blackheads?

Blackheads form when a plug develops in the opening of hair follicles. Each hair follicle on the skin contains a sebaceous gland that produces oil, or sebum, which replenishes the skin’s moisture level and helps it maintain softness. Dead skin cells and oils combine and collect within the opening of the skin follicle, producing a skin bump known as a comedo. If the skin over the bump stays open, exposure of the contents to oxygen makes it appear dark, forming a blackhead. There are factors that may increase your chances of developing acne and blackheads, including the following.

  • An overproduction of sebum
  • The buildup of bacteria (Propionibacterium acnes) on the skin
  • Irritation of the hair follicles when dead skin cells fail to shed regularly
  • Hormonal changes that cause an increase in oil production
  • Taking certain medications, such as lithium, corticosteroids, androgens, or birth control pills

Blackheads Vs. Whiteheads

Whiteheads are a type of acne similar to comedones and just as frustrating to deal with. A whitehead features a little skin covering on top of the hair follicle on the skin. This layer of skin protects the follicle and prevents it from oxidizing, resulting in the appearance of a white, pink, or flesh-colored tip. For more information about the difference between whiteheads and blackheads, as well as information about other types of acne, including papular acne, pustular acne, milia, and inflammatory acne, contact Gainesville Dermatology & Skin Surgery.

Who Gets Blackheads?

Virtually anyone can develop acne and blackheads. However, blackheads primarily affect teenagers and young adults undergoing hormonal changes. Yet, many adults continue to experience acne. Some individuals even develop blackheads for the first time in adulthood. Blackheads are extremely common, and nearly everyone will experience one or more of these acne lesions at some point in their lifetime.

Where Do Blackheads Appear?

People are most likely to develop blackheads on their faces, particularly on their nose, chin, and cheeks, and their neck, back, and chest. Yet, sebaceous (oil) glands are all over the body, releasing sebum, an oily lubricant that keeps the skin and hair hydrated and shiny. Because skin contains sebaceous glands virtually everywhere on the body, blackheads may appear anywhere on the skin, including the buttocks, thighs, ears, and armpits.

Symptoms Of Blackheads

The primary symptom of blackheads is the small, dark-colored lesion giving these acne bumps their characteristic name. Blackheads are a symptom of acne, but since they are caused by open pores, they are distinguished from other acne lesions. Blackheads are a non-inflammatory form of acne, meaning they are not infected, and they will not typically cause pain and discomfort in the same way as pimples and pustules. Pimples form when bacteria invade the blockage in the hair follicle, which causes redness, inflammation, and pain. Additionally, blackheads feature a raised texture, though they are flatter than pimples. 

Sebaceous Filaments

Sebaceous filaments tend to look like blackheads, but they are not the same. Sebaceous filaments can appear on the nose, among other areas, and they tend to be smaller in size than blackheads. Additionally, sebaceous filaments appear in groups and feel flat to the tough. These are glands that channel the flow of sebum through the pores. Unlike blackheads, sebaceous filaments and not a type or form of acne.

How Are Blackheads Diagnosed?

Blackheads are generally easily recognizable and, as such, they are easily diagnosable.  If you have blackheads as well as other severe forms of acne, you should see a dermatologist for treatment. The type of acne a patient has is categorized based on the size and spread of the pustules. Your dermatologist may grade your acne as a mild, moderate, or severe case of acne. Contact Gainesville Dermatology & Skin Surgery for additional information and to schedule a dermatology appointment for acne treatment.

How Are Blackheads Treated?

There are multiple options for acne treatments available. The best options for your unique skin depends on several factors. Contact our dermatologist office for information about our available treatments for all forms of acne, including blackheads.

Nonprescription Acne Medication

Several nonprescription acne medications can treat blackheads, including topical treatments containing salicylic acid, azelaic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and vitamin A derivatives, such as retinoids.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is a keratolytic medication used to remove the topmost, outer layer of damaged skin. This ingredient is available over-the-counter for blackheads as a cleanser or topical lotion or cream. Salicylic acid dissolves dead skin cells to prevent hair follicles from clogging and producing blackheads and other acne lesions.

Azelaic Acid

Azelaic acid is naturally found in barley, wheat, rye, and other grains. This ingredient is a topical antiseptic used to treat conditions such as rosacea and acne. It kills microorganisms on the skin and reduces swelling, helping to promote clear, blackhead-free skin. This is available as an over-the-counter topical treatment.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is an over-the-counter leave-on topical medication or cleanser. This ingredient targets surface bacteria, which often contributes to the development of aggravated acne, such as blackheads. Irritation and dryness may occur after using benzoyl peroxide, but lower concentrations are less irritating.


Over-the-counter retinoids, such as retinol, are vitamin A derivatives that break up blackheads, whiteheads, and other acne lesions to help prevent the formation of clogged pores. Retinol-containing products can cause changes in skin tone and peeling. Using retinoids requires extra caution in protecting the skin from the sun.

Prescription Acne Medications

If your blackheads do not go away after using nonprescription or over-the-counter medications, your dermatologist may recommend the following clinical treatments. 

  • Prescription Retinoids. Prescription-strength retinoids contain higher concentrations of active ingredients.
  • Oral Antibiotics. Taking oral antibiotics can help reduce the bacteria causing blackheads on the skin.
  • Microdermabrasion. Microdermabrasion is a skin treatment used to remove the top layers of the skin, freeing it of clogs and reducing the likelihood of blackheads from appearing.
  • Chemical Peels. Chemical peels are a type of retexturizing skin treatment that uses chemical solutions to remove outer layers of skin, reducing blackheads. We offer multiple chemical peels, including glycolic acid peels, lactic acid peels, salicylic peels, VI Peel®, and custom facials, for all of our patient’s unique skin needs.
  • Laser Skin Resurfacing. Laser skin resurfacing uses short, concentrated pulsing beams of light on the skin. The light beams serve to reduce the amount of oil produced by your sebaceous glands, reducing blackheads as a result.

Do Blackheads Go Away On Their Own?

Blackheads can go away on their own, depending on how deep the blackheads are within the skin. If a blackhead is located close to the skin’s surface, it’s more likely to go away on its own. But, some blackheads may be deeply embedded in the skin, which are less likely to go away on their own. If you struggle with embedded blackheads, your dermatologist or medical aesthetician can safely extract them.

Should I Squeeze Out Blackheads?

Though it can be tempting to squeeze or pop your blackheads, doing so can result in several issues. If you squeeze out your blackheads, you may not remove the entire blackhead and you may even push the blackhead deeper into your skin, which can result in painful irritation and prolonged healing. Additionally, squeezing out blackheads may introduce additional bacteria and oil into the blackhead’s open surface, causing them to grow larger or even spread to other areas of skin. Your skin is sensitive, and putting significant amounts of pressure on it to try and remove a blackhead can result in skin inflammation, redness, and even scarring. When you use your nails to apply this pressure, you can seriously damage the skin, creating additional and lasting skin issues.

How To Remove Deep Blackheads

Blackheads embedded deep within the skin should be removed by a medical professional, such as a dermatologist. Our skin specialists use a small tool containing a rigid metal loop to apply even pressure to the blackheads, safely removing the entire blackhead without the risk of it returning, scarring, or causing further irritation and damage to the skin. 

How Do I Prevent Blackheads?

Preventing blackheads can be difficult, if not impossible, particularly during natural hormonal changes. However, some things can help, including the following.

  • Wash your face twice each day, or more after sweating, using a mild facial cleanser, and cool water
  • Consult your dermatologist about which specific skin care products best suit your needs
  • Routinely use moisturizer and a separate sun protection product with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30
  • Use only non comedogenic makeup products and thoroughly remove makeup and cleanse the skin at the end of each day
  • Keep your hands away from your skin, especially your face, and avoid picking at the skin