This article looks at what causes blackheads, how they can be treated and what you can do to prevent them occurring.
Blackheads are often one of the features of mild acne, although they can also appear in people who do not suffer from acne. Blackheads contain an oxidized version of the dark pigment called melanin. Melanin is created in the skin cells on exposure to sunlight.
Blackheads are not caused by poor hygiene and dirt collecting in the pores. Blackheads are comedones. A comedone occurs when the skin’s pores are blocked with a cocktail of sebum, an oily substance that is produced by your skin, and dead skin cells. The top of the comedone that appears on the surface of the skin is dark in color, hence the name “blackhead”.
Usually, each hair follicle in the skin contains a hair, under which lies the sebaceous gland that produces the oily sebum. When the pores become plugged, the dead skin cells that are trapped there react with the oxygen in the air, turning black and forming a typical darkened area called a blackhead.
There are some factors that can increase your chances of developing a blackhead on your lip. These are:
• Hormonal changes during puberty can cause a spike in the production of sebum, leading to the development of blackheads in both boys and girls.
• In adulthood, hormonal changes related to pregnancy, birth control pills and menstruation can lead to the formation of blackheads in women.
• Excess production of skin cells can cause blackheads.
• Blocking the pores with cosmetics can cause blackheads to form on the lips.
• Heavy sweating can encourage the retention of dead skin cells in the pores, leading to the formation of blackheads.
• Shaving and exfoliation can open the hair follicles, allowing dead skin cells to accumulate inside and forming a plug when the combine with sebum.
• Spending time in an environment where the humidity is high and the air contains grease, for example working in a restaurant kitchen, can lead to blocked pores and blackheads.
• Some drugs including certain forms of corticosteroids can cause blackheads to form.
Blackheads are different from pimples and spots in that they are non-inflammatory. As there is no infection present, blackheads are not painful, there is no swelling or redness and they do not contain pus.
Blackheads are slightly raised from the lip edge, but not swollen like a pimple. The top of the blackhead is dark in color.
You will usually not need to see your doctor if you have a blackhead on your lip. Blackheads on your lips can usually be treated successfully at home.
Gentle exfoliation of the face and lip area using a special fragrance-free acne skin scrub can help, as long as the skin does not become excessively dry. If your skin becomes very dry, your body will react by producing more sebum and other skin oils, potentially causing more blackheads to form. Exfoliation can help by removing excessive amounts of dead skin cells and a build-up of sebum. After exfoliation, be sure to apply a light moisturizer to your skin so that it does not become dehydrated.
When choosing cosmetics and make-up, use non-comedogenic products to make sure that your pores stay clear and open. Try to give your skin a “rest” by not wearing make-up every day.
Some topical drug treatments are available for the treatment of blackheads, both over-the-counter and from your doctor. These treatments include salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and azelaic acid. Other prescription drugs including tazarotene, tretinoin, and adapalene are also useful in preventing plugs of debris from forming in the hair follicles and promoting the rapid turnover of skin cells.
Stress can cause an overproduction of sebum. Try to get plenty of rest and exercise regularly to reduce stress.
Eating a healthy diet that is rich in fruit and vegetables and avoiding large amounts of greasy foods can help to reduce the production of sebum and keep blackheads at bay.
If you suffer from other skin conditions including rosacea or eczema, you may find treating your blackheads more difficult.
Before you can tackle the blackheads, you will need to seek effective treatment for the other conditions. Once these problems improve, you may see an immediate improvement in the blackheads.
There are a number of commonly used methods of blackhead treatment that can make the problem worse. The following should be avoided:
• Squeezing blackheads: This can irritate the skin and make the problem worse or cause an infection to develop.
• Steaming: Contrary to popular belief, steaming does not open the pores and can make blackheads worse by drying out the skin.
• Scrubbing: Excessive scrubbing of the skin removes sebum, stimulating the sebaceous glands to produce even more. This can cause more blockages and more blackheads.
• Removal products: Removal masks, vacuums and strips should be avoided, as these can cause irritation to the skin.
• Make-up: Do not use oil-based make-up and skin products.
Plant-based, natural treatments can be effective in the treatment of acne. It is thought that thyme, aloe vera, tea tree and rose oils can all provide antibacterial benefits, helping to prevent the blackheads from becoming infected.
Blackheads often resolve by themselves once the body’s hormones have stabilized after puberty. However, in some cases, it can take many years for the problem to go away completely.
• Blackheads on the lips are not caused by poor personal hygiene or dirty skin.
• Blackheads are a form of mild acne that are caused when the hair follicles in the skin become blocked with dead skin cells and sebum.
• Blackheads often occur during puberty or times of hormonal imbalance when the body produces excess amounts of sebaceous fluid.
• You can treat blackheads at home by gently exfoliating your skin to remove dead skin cells and sebum build-up.
• There are a number of prescription and non-prescription treatments available for the treatment of blackheads.
• You should not squeeze or scrub blackheads on your lips, as doing so could cause the skin to sustain damage or become infected.