Think about your cheeks for a second. When you talk on the phone, does your phone touch your face? When you’re bored in class or at work, do you ever rest your head (more specifically your cheek) on your hand? Due to their location on your face, cheeks gather lots of dirt and debris—making them a top spot for blackheads to pop up.
Blackheads are different from other forms of acne because they are clogged hair follicles filled with dead skin cells and oil. Use this guide to learn more about what causes blackheads on your cheeks, how to get rid of them, and how to prevent them from coming back.
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Blackheads are clogged hair follicles that are congested with a mixture of dead skin cells and sebum—an oily substance that is secreted by your skin for hydration and protection. A blackhead is medically known as an open comedo because the pore opening is not sealed (as opposed to a whitehead, or closed comedo, where the pore opening is obstructed). Blackheads can appear anywhere on your body (wherever you have hair follicles), but they are most noticeable on your face.
Open comedones are more commonly known as blackheads because they often look like a small dark spot on your skin. Blackheads differ from other types of acne because they are noninflammatory and not full of pus, like pimples.
Blackheads are caused by a few different factors. When blackheads form on our cheeks, Erica Palmer, head of Bioré Skincare R&D, explains that “the opening of the follicle (or pore) is blocked and dead skin cells or keratinocytes that are normally shed are collected in what now becomes a little container for them.” This container, which is full of dead skin cells and other debris, is known as an open comedo. “When the material in an open comedo is exposed to air, it becomes oxidized and turns black, thus creating blackheads,” adds Palmer.
Palmer notes that “The cheeks and nose, chin and glabella (the area between the brows) have larger, more productive pores,” which means that blackheads are more likely to form on these areas. The cheeks are a part of your face known as the ‘U-Zone’, which includes the area around your cheeks, jawline, and chin. The U-Zone is typically drier and less oily than the T-Zone, so blackheads in this area are most often caused by dry skin instead of excess oil. This zone is slightly different from the more well known, ‘T-Zone’, which is made up of your forehead, nose, and chin.
Since the T-Zone tends to produce more oil than the rest of your face, forehead blackheads, nose blackheads, and chin blackheads are also very common. Cheeks have a tendency to collect blackhead-causing material, so blackheads can sometimes appear in groups. Palmer tells us not to worry about multiple blackheads as they are not a more severe form of blackheads and are “simply adjacent (clustered) pores that became clogged.”
Now that we know how blackheads are caused, let’s look into what specific factors can contribute to blackheads.
Touching Your Face in Excess: Your hands can come into contact with millions of germs throughout the day. Avoid touching your face to prevent blackhead-causing material from making its way onto your skin. In addition to your hands, your hair can also contribute to excess dirt and oil on your skin, so tie your hair back to keep it out of your face.
Dirt and Oil on Your Phone: Our phones are dirty and can be covered with makeup, leftover food, and environmental debris—and yet we’re touching our face with it every single day! Wipe down your phone with an alcohol pad to prevent dirt and oil from making its way onto your face.
Consuming Alcohol: Alcohol dries out our skin and can lead to an excess of dry skin cells on your face. Flaky, dry skin can get into your pores and cause blackheads.
Smoking: A clinical study conducted by the San Gallicano Dermatological Institute found a direct correlation between smoking cigarettes and acne (more specifically non-inflammatory acne, like blackheads). In their study, researchers found that smoking increases the body’s production of sebum while also reducing its production of vitamin E, an important nutrient for your skin.
Makeup and Sunscreen: Depending on your makeup routine, you might put foundation, concealer, sunscreen, blush, highlighter, and bronzer on your cheeks. To prevent blackheads, choose non-comedogenic makeup (makeup designed not to clog your pores) and wash off all your makeup before going to bed.
Not Washing Your Pillowcase as Often as You Should: While you sleep, excess oils, dirt, and leftover products from your skin and hair can seep into your pillowcase and lead to future breakouts. Prevent breakouts while you sleep by washing your pillowcase weekly.
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Learning how to get rid of blackheads can be a challenge, so it's key to find a skincare routine that works best for your skin. A combination of regular cleansing and toning with salicylic acid, combined with gentle exfoliation can help you find relief for blackheads. Healthy lifestyle choices can also make a big difference in your skin’s condition.
Wash your face regularly: Ideally, cleanse your face in the morning and evening with a face wash that has salicylic acid to help treat and prevent blackheads. In regards to heat, it’s actually a myth that pores open and close. The truth: despite what your mother told you, you can’t steam your pores open. “Pores do not have muscles around their opening to allow them to open and close,” says Palmer. However, steaming the skin can help loosen up underlying debris, making blackheads easier to extract.
Use a toner: Follow cleansing, use a witch hazel toner to tighten pores and remove any leftover dirt and oil.
Exfoliate: Exfoliate your skin weekly with a gentle scrub to help keep pores clean. This will remove the outer layer of skin cells and help get rid of dead skin that may be contributing to blackheads on your cheeks. Palmer recommends to “look for products containing spherical, effective exfoliants which smooth skin without damaging or tearing. Salicylic acid and even some retinoids can help with skin cell turnover helping to minimize pore clogs.”
Facials: During medical facials, a skincare expert uses professional techniques to cleanse, extract, and moisturize your skin. These kinds of facials often use steam to remove blackheads and whiteheads without inflaming other parts of your skin.
Light Chemical Peels: Dermatologists and estheticians often offer chemical peels as part of a facial but you can also find budget-friendly chemical peels for at-home use. To unclog pores, look for light peels containing salicylic acid and lactic acid. Peels make your skin more vulnerable to UV damage, so make sure to wear sunscreen with a higher SPF for the week following your peel.
Professional Extractions: For extractions, we always recommend visiting a professional dermatologist or esthetician. When you go to a professional, they will use special tools and techniques to remove blackheads. They know how to do it, and we should let them! If you choose to get your blackheads extracted, keep your pores clean by cleansing daily and following with a toner. However, if seeing a professional is not an option, the safest and quickest way to remove blackheads on your cheeks is with a pore strip.
If you absolutely can’t resist doing your own pore extractions, make sure you take a long shower to soften your skin and the comedone. Protect your skin from damage by covering your fingernails with a piece of cloth before extracting your own blackheads. If the comedone does not come out easily, do NOT keep attacking it! Blackheads can easily become pimples when the keratin material is pushed through the lining of the follicle.
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“The same ways that we maintain our health in other areas are also smart for maintaining our skin, do avoid smoking, do avoid going out in the sun without UV protection and make healthier food choices,” says Palmer.
Preventing blackheads requires daily maintenance and finding the right products for your skin. For a deeper clean, try a charcoal face wash because it helps draw out excess dirt and oil that causes blackheads to begin with. Then, follow up with a witch hazel toner to tighten pores. We hope these tips from our Bioré R&D team help you keep your pores free from blackheads and put your best face forward.
The fine print: it does not contain chocolate chips, you cannot eat it, and there is no fresh out of the oven smell.