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Blackheads - Definition, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment


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Blackheads are the slightly different sibling of zits, and like zits, squeezing them can be addictive. Blackheads are caused by partially blocked pores. The presence of blackheads on the skin is a common problem for those in their teens and up. Teenagers and people in their early twenties suffer most from them, but even those who are in their thirties and forties can still have them too, especially those with oily skin. All forms of acne are considered disorders of the pilosebaceous units of the skin, which are made up of the sebaceous glands, the hair follicle, and the hair strand itself. And like all acne, the problem with blackheads and whiteheads starts deep down the sebaceous glands, or oil glands. Blackheads are also called open comedomes. Blackheads are typically caused by excessive oil and makeup, which can facilitate the multiplication of the bacterium propionibacterium acnes, the predominant anaerobe of the normal skin flora.

A blackhead is a comedone formed when the opening of the follicle becomes wider than normal. Blackheads is most common in teenagers, but it can happen at an age, even as an infant. Three out of four teenagers have acne to some extent, probably caused by hormonal changes that stimulate oil production. Because the follicle opening is wider, the sebum and the trapped dead skin cells there react chemically with the air, resulting in the oxidation of melanin, which in turn causes the dark coloration of the blackhead. A small amount of sun exposure may improve acne. However, excessive exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet rays is not recommended because it increases the risk of skin cancer. The best way to remove blackheads is to remove the cause of them -- excessive sebum (oil) and dead skin cells. Use only products made with natural ingredients that are not too astringent.

Causes of Blackheads

As previously stated, blackheads usually develop when the skin produces too much oil. A major factor contributing to excess oil production is the onset of puberty. It is most common in teenagers, but it can happen at an age, even as an infant. Three out of four teenagers have acne to some extent, probably caused by hormonal changes that stimulate oil production. Another common cause of the appearance of blackheads is that the skin is has not been cleaned thoroughly. When skin is not cleaned properly, dead skin cells accumulate within the pores. These dead cells then clog the pore opening which then results in oil build up, which we already know causes blackheads to form.

Common causes and risk factors of Blackheads:

  • Hormonal changes.
  • Greasy cosmetic and hair products.
  • Certain drugs (such as steroids, and phenytoin).
  • Use of too much makeup.
  • Excessive use of moisturizes, foundations or sun screens.

Signs and Symptoms of Blackheads

Acne typically appears on your face, neck, back and shoulders, which are the areas of your skin with the largest number of functional oil glands. Blackheads are open to the skin's surface and become darkened at the surface by exposure to oxygen.

Sign and symptoms may include the following :

  • Pustules.
  • Inflammation around the skin eruptions.
  • Scarring of the skin.
  • Redness around the skin eruptions.
  • Inflamed and infected nodules.

Treatment for Blackheads

Mild cases of acne can be self-treated with over-the-counter topical creams typically with benzoyl peroxide. There are also a variety of different medications that your family physician might prescribe that come as creams, ointments, and pills. It is preferable to use a flat blackhead remover, or a comedone extractor to remove blackheads. For moderate to severe acne, prescription oral antibiotics may be needed to reduce bacteria and fight inflammation.

Treatment may include:

  • Clean your skin gently with a mild, non-drying soap.
  • Try not to squeeze, scratch, pick, or rub the pimples. Although it might be tempting to do this, it can lead to scarring and skin infections.
  • Oral antibiotics, such as minocycline, doxycycline, and tetracycline may be used in some cases.
  • Prescription formulas of benzoyl peroxide, sulfur, resorcinol, salicylic acid.
  • Birth control pills can sometimes help clear up acne.
  • Herbs which could be applied to the skin would include dandelion root, echinacea, alfalfa, chaparral, and red clover.