Blackheads are small, dark lesions that appear on the skin, often on the face and neck. They are a feature of mild acne, but they can appear without other signs of acne being present.
Fast facts about blackheads
Blackheads are made of oxidized melanin and not trapped dirt. Squeezing or scrubbing at blackheads can make them worse.
To reduce blackheads, avoid oil-based skin care products, humid environments, tight clothes, and skin products that contain alcohol.
They tend to appear when hormones lead to the increased production of sebum, an oily substance, by the glands under the skin.
What are blackheads?
Blackheads are a type of comedo. Comedones occur when the pores in the skin become plugged with dead skin cells and an oily, protective substance known as sebum.
Normally, hair grows from hair follicles in the pores, and the sebum-producing sebaceous glands lie underneath.
Age and hormonal changes are an important factor. Like other symptoms of acne, blackheads are most common during puberty, when the change in hormone levels triggers a spike in sebum production. However, they can appear at any age.
Androgen, the male sex hormone, triggers greater secretion of sebum and a higher turnover of skin cells around puberty. Both boys and girls experience higher levels of androgens during adolescence.
After puberty, hormonal changes related to menstruation, pregnancy, and the use of birth control pills can also bring on blackheads in women.