You lean into the mirror and what's right in the middle of your face? Your nose. But that's not all - what are those little black dots topping up each one of your pores? Argh!
What are they? Why do they keep coming back? How can you get rid of them for once and for all? Before you read the rest of this I want you to do some research. Google 'oxidised sebaceous filaments' (please feel free to add any good links that you find into the comments).
OK, done? Chances are you just discovered that you don't have blackheads but that what you're experiencing is a mis-fire of normal pore function that happens when the natural filament lining the pore becomes discoloured. I won't go into the technical details as you just reviewed this in your Google search, but the important thing to remember is that this waxy core (the filament) is your skin's way of regulating oil and sebum. Any intervention that you choose must take this into consideration that this is a by-product of normal skin function. If you discovered that your dots actually are Blackheads then they should be treated as blemishes or acne, and the information in this post might not apply.
Assess your situation. Are you sure that you have OSF (Oxidised Sebaceous Filaments)? If the answer is yes then you need a plan of action. You need to rid yourself of the black dots AND stop them from coming back!
Investigating the cause of OCF.
Certain products are notorious for causing this issue, LAA (pure Vitamin C) in particular, but oils, some serums, salves and other products can oxidise or can encourage the SF to oxidise. Air is always a factor in the oxidation process. Product can accumulate at the opening of pores and some products turn darker when exposed to air, water or other elements.
This doesn't mean that you can't use these products, just that you need to be smart about it.
Ideally, make sure to end your routine with an occlusive that will prevent light, air, pollutants, etc. from reaching the mouth of the pore. It can take time to do a thorough Trial and Error investigation on your routine to find the culprit and it may not be necessary if you can prevent the oxidation from occurring. In some cases you might be better off to eliminate the problem product entirely, especially if it's clear that one specific product is causing the issue. It's important to understand the cause of your OSF because once you extract them you don't want them to come back.
There are two main ways to eliminate your OSF: by physical or chemical means. You need to be smart about it: every time you play around with pores there's a risk of stretching and damaging the tissues, and even the risk of infection. Consider the options and choose a method, or the right combination, that's right for you.
PHYSICAL EXTRACTIONS - pore strips, extractor tools, fingers etc. can be used to extract your OSF. However the potential for damage is high. You might want to leave this up to a professional and find a facialist who specialises in extractions. Steaming might help.
CHEMICAL EXTRACTIONS - BHAs can penetrate oils and are useful for clearing pores. Salyclic acid can work its way through gunk or dead cells blocking the entrance and get into the pore to help clean it. What it can't do is push the gunk out of the pore so you may need to physically extract. AHAs and other resurfacers can help by keeping dead cells from accumulating on the surface of the skin and causing blockages that hold the OSF in place, although they won't do much for the actual OSF.
CLEANSING - Don't underestimate the importance of good cleansing when it comes to keeping your pores clear. Proper cleansing is essential for keeping your pores free from debris in the first place. Oils and oil cleansers in particular can help to soften skin and tissues in order to facilitate extraction. It's also important to consider that improper cleansing technique could also be making the problem worse if you're using a cleanser that doesn't suit your skin, that might oxidise or that isn't helping to clear dead skin.
YOUR PLAN OF ATTACK will probably be a combination of all of the above. You will have to test and track your efforts, and then figure out what works best for you.
Getting rid of OSF for good!
This is both the easiest and hardest part of the plan to put into place. As I mentioned above, you need to determine the cause of the oxidation. But it's not necessarily as easy as just switching C formulas as one particular product might not be the only cause. The best way to stop OSF is by finding the right routine for your skin.
Your best routine is your best defense. None of the efforts I've examined finally prevented my OSF for good; for that I needed to get my routine really working for me. A great routine is built, not bought. You'll need great BASICS that support and enhance your skin: a cleaning ritual you love, a cream or oil (or combination of the two) that protects your barrier and a sunscreen that you'll use every day. Once you're confident with your basics you'll want to look at HYDRATION and making sure that your skin is in BALANCE with the right amounts of both water and oils. And then you can look at enhancing your routine with exfoliation, actives, serums, treatments and other Advanced Skincare.
I hope that helps with some trouble-shooting on the question of *blackheads*.
Have you had success with eliminating OSF? What made the difference for you? Please comment and share your experience with others xx