Blackheads are a common skin problem and can occur on their own or in conjunction with other types of spots. Also known as an open comedo, a blackhead can develop for various reasons. Generally, a clogged pore or hair follicle is the main cause of a blackhead. As the spot isn’t closed, the oxygen in the air causes the blockage to darken and turn black.
Usually, blackheads can be treated with over-the-counter remedies or they may resolve without intervention. However, complications may occur if the blackhead becomes infected. When an individual has an infected blackhead, the spot is likely to be far more noticeable and the patient’s symptoms will be increased.
In most cases, blackheads aren’t particularly painful but they may become painful if the area is affected. In addition to experiencing pain, patients may experience a variety of other symptoms due to an infected blackhead. These may include:
Blackheads are usually fairly small but an infected blackhead can increase in size. Often, the infection causes the area to swell, so the skin may appear puffy around the site of the spot. In addition to this, patients may describe a feeling of warmth when a blackhead has become infected. If the area is touched, the skin around the blackhead may feel warmer than the rest of the skin. Itching and skin irritation can also become apparent when an individual has an infected blackhead.
Depending on the nature of the infection, the symptoms may be fairly localized and limited to the site of the blackhead. However, if the infection is severe or worsens over time, it may extend to other parts of the skin and the patient’s symptoms may spread to nearby areas.
When hair follicles or pores on the skin become clogged with sebum, bacteria and skin debris, a blackhead may form. As the spot is open, rather than closed, it becomes oxidized and, therefore, appears black in color.
If further bacteria is introduced to the area, the blackhead may become infected. This can happen due to numerous reasons, such as:
When patients develop an infected blackhead, it’s often because they have attempted to remove a blackhead at home. By squeezing the skin and trying to unclog the pore, patients are inadvertently introducing bacteria to the area. As a blackhead is an open spot, it’s easy for this additional bacteria to get caught in the pore and cause infection.
Similarly, touching the face can have the same effect. Although the patient may not actively be trying to remove the blackhead, the fact that they are touching their face regularly means that they are increasing the risk of developing an infected blackhead.
If the patient is attempting to use skincare tools to remove blackheads, treat acne or improve the appearance of their skin, it’s absolutely essential that the tools are sterilized prior to use. Generally, patients are not advised to use skincare tools as part of their skincare regime, as they may cause further damage to the skin. However, these products are widely sold and care should be taken if patients choose to use them.
Furthermore, patients should ensure they visit a reputable beauty salon, skincare clinic or dermatologist, if they choose to frequent these establishments. Whilst re-using skincare tools on the same person can lead to infection, re-using tools on different patients can spread infection and increase the risk of contamination.
Many patients with skin problems, such as blackheads, choose to wear concealer and/or foundation. As people can be self-conscious about acne and related issues, they often attempt to improve the appearance of their skin with make-up products. When applying make-up, however, patients risk introducing bacteria to the skin. If this happens, the patient may have an increased risk of developing an infected blackhead.
Treatment for an infected blackhead tends to depend on the severity of the infection itself and the patient’s symptoms. Various forms of treatment are available, such as:
Benzoyl Peroxide is present in many acne treatments and is effective because it has antibacterial properties and can dry out the skin. Although this can be harmful to patients with existing skin sensitivities, drying out a spot can help to speed up the recovery process. Available in different strengths, Benzoyl Peroxide lotions and creams may be effective in treating an infected blackhead and could help to reduce the patient’s symptoms.
Topical solutions may also contain Salicylic Acid as their active ingredient. When applied to an infected blackhead, the solution will damage the blackhead itself, allowing pus and blocked sebum to escape. Topical solutions containing Salicylic Acid may also be effective in killing the bacteria which has caused the blackhead to become infected.
Although topical solutions containing these chemicals can be effective in treating infected blackheads, they may not be suitable for all patients. Benzoyl Peroxide and Salicylic Acid can dry the skin and may cause irritation in some cases, particularly if high-strength formulations are used.
If necessary, oral or topical antibiotics can be prescribed by a physician or dermatologist. When an infected blackhead has not responded to other forms of treatment or has spread to other areas, stronger medications may be required in order to combat the infection.
Whilst these treatments are often effective in resolving an infected blackhead, they may not be necessary. In fact, the body’s immune system is often able to treat an infected blackhead, without the need for additional medications. Once the body registers an infection, it releases white blood cells to the affected area and pus will form. This is the body’s way of protecting itself and it allows the immune system to respond appropriately.
Although patients should always seek medical advice if an infected blackhead persists or spreads, leaving the body to treat itself may be the most effective form of treatment in some cases.
Many people are keen to avoid blackheads and they may use various skincare products in order to try and reduce the number of blackheads they experience. Although it can be difficult to prevent blackheads from developing, individuals can often prevent them from becoming infected by:
Although it can be tempting to pick at blackheads or pimples, individuals can prevent an infected blackhead from developing if they stop themselves from touching their skin. This ensures that bacteria is not transferred to the face and reduces the risk of infection occurring.
In addition to this, patients should follow medical advice in order to prevent blackheads from becoming infected. Whilst individuals may be using prescription-strength topical treatments to reduce blackheads, these should only be used in accordance with a physician’s instructions. Using this type of product too often could cause additional damage to the skin, which could increase the risk of an infection developing.
Exfoliating the skin can also be a viable way of preventing an infected blackhead from forming. By gently brushing the skin, patients can remove skin debris, bacteria and dirt from the skin, which reduces the risk of a blackhead becoming infected.
Whilst it may not always be possible to prevent a skin infection from forming, following a good skin hygiene regime can help to reduce the risk of further infections occurring and may help to prevent the patient from developing an infected blackhead.