Back to beauty basics: How to deal with blackheads

Every month, Laura Kennedy addresses fundamental skincare problems and queries

Beauty buys: Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, Skingredients Skin Protein, Summer Fridays Cloud Dew and bareMinerals Original Liquid Mineral Concealer

Beauty buys: Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, Skingredients Skin Protein, Summer Fridays Cloud Dew and bareMinerals Original Liquid Mineral Concealer

 

This has been a year of re-examining the fundamentals since the world has come to a type of halt. Am I happy in my career? Is now the right time for children? These questions are rather difficult, so let me present some easier ones: how do I manage breakouts in my 30s and 40s? What the hell is retinol and why won’t beauty columnists shut up about it? From now on, the first of my beauty columns each month will take us back to beauty basics, looking at a fundamental question or problem from the ground up. If you have a question or issue for the series, please email me, or get in touch with me via Instagram.

I thought it would be best to start with a classically inelegant issue – blackheads. Pharmacy shelves are groaning under the weight of products that promise to rip them out, make them disappear, hide them. But what actually helps?

According to aesthetic doctor Dr Ana Mansouri, blackheads are “a collection of debris and sebum blocking the sebaceous duct and hair follicle”. The surface oxidises and looks dark. Dr Mansouri says a tendency to get blackheads, especially common around the nose, forehead, chin and lip area, is “most likely down to a combination of genetics, lifestyle and hormonal factors”. 

Although blackheads can feel a touch embarrassing, they’re completely normal, and not a sign of bad hygiene, so ‘overwashing your face is likely to make it worse rather than better’

If you are acne-prone, hormonal treatments like the contraceptive pill can help. For most people with congested skin in the form of blackheads, Dr Mansouri says, it’s more a “case of controlling [rather than completely eradicating] the sebum production with topical treatments. The idea is to exfoliate regularly to avoid the collection within the pores. I have seen some very dramatic improvements with skincare alone; however, it requires consistency and patience.”

Although blackheads can feel a touch embarrassing, Dr Mansouri stresses that they’re completely normal, and not a sign of bad hygiene, so “overwashing your face is likely to make it worse rather than better”.

It’s best to avoid drying, alcohol-heavy products and sulphate-rich foaming cleansers, as stripping the skin just encourages excess sebum production. Dr Mansouri says one of the best ingredients for controlling oil production and the formation of blackheads is “the chemical exfoliant BHA [beta hydroxy acids] or, in other words, Salicylic acid… as it is oil soluble, it does a really good job at cleaning deeper into the pores. This can come in a cleanser, cream or toner solution form and should be applied two to three times per week.” I like Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant (€32 at cloud10beauty.com). It’s a gentle but effective decongester.

According to Dr Mansouri, retinoids are also great for controlling blackheads as they resurface the skin and diminish excess oil production. Skingredients Skin Protein (€42 at skingredients.com) is a dense serum with resurfacing and brightening vitamins A, C and E.

If you’re very congestion-prone, follow with an oil-free moisturiser like Summer Fridays Cloud Dew (€43 at spacenk.com) which is sheeny and whisper-light, but beautiful under make-up. Stick to mineral make-up formulas where possible as they tend to be less clogging, and limit use to just concealer where needed when you can.

The bareMinerals Original Liquid Mineral Concealer (€27 at bareminerals.co.uk) is very lightweight and available in 17 shades for a skin-mimicking finish.

Product of the week

Kjaer Weiss Nude, Naturally Lipsticks (€52, €32 for a refill at kjaerweis.com)

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