what are black heads
Excess production of sebum in hair follicles can lead to the production of blackheads

Having blackheads? It’s not just you; everyone gets blackheads at some point. That’s because blackheads are the result of natural, healthy processes that occur in everyone’s skin. But, that doesn’t mean you that you have to live with them (who does?).

What Is A Blackhead?

Blackhead, also known as open comedone, is a mild form of acne unless accompanied by more severe types of acne lesions. It is a skin condition in which pores of the skin gets clogged. Imagine your skin pores as units – the hair follicles and their accompanying sebaceous glands, which produce the oily substance sebum to help keep your skin soft. Sebum has a protective role in the skin, helping to keep it supple and hydrated. But when sebum is overproduced, it mixes with the dead skin cells inside the follicles and form plugs in the pores which push to the surface and form bumps called comedones – either black-headed comedones known as open comedones (as they are open to the air, they get oxidized and turn black); white-headed comedones (so-called whiteheads) are not open to the air, so known as closed comedones.

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Types Of Comedones

Comedones typically fall into one of three groups of acne lesion:

(i) Comedones – blackheads and whiteheads (non-inflammatory acne)

(ii) Pustules (inflamed pimples with pus) and papules or nodules (deeper inflamed lesions that may be hard and painful and can involve more than one hair follicle)

(iii) Cysts (large nodules).

What Causes Blackheads?

Blocking of the skin-pores leads to formation of blackheads. The pores become blocked through the following process:

(i) The sebaceous glands overproduce sebum (and skin cell overgrowth may also be a cause)

(ii) The excess sebum clomps together with dead skin cells and clogs the hair follicle (the base and canal in the skin from which a hair grows)

(iii) In case of open comedone, the plug of sebum remains exposed to the air, causing oxidation of the oily, waxy substance, turning it into a black color.

Although, we know the above process explains how do blackheads form, but the reasons for excess sebum production are less clear.

Hormonal change during puberty is the most common provocation for excess sebum production. Less common are changes due to menstrual periods, pregnancy and birth control pills.

The male sex hormone androgen set off increased secretion of sebum and greater turnover of skin cells, and its production rises in both boys and girls during adolescence.

A surplus of androgen hormones in adult women can enhance the risk of blackheads and other forms of acne.

Other factors linked to how blackheads form (knowing these can help you minimize breakouts) include:

(i) Cosmetics, cleansers and clothing that block or cover pores. Avoid using oil-based cosmetics or moisturizers – they can also trigger blackhead formation. Also, while buying cosmetics, always look for non-comedogenic products that don’t clog pores.

(ii) If you don’t clean your skin properly, dead skin cells can gather in the pores. The pores become clogged and the clogs lead to oil buildup.

(iii) Heavy sweating, high humidity, high pollution or grease in your work environment (for instance, if you work in a kitchen near a deep-fryer – these conditions may also result into formation of blackheads.

(iv) During puberty, you’re more likely to develop blackheads. It’s due to the reason that during the teen years there is a significant surge of hormones generation, and these hormones in turn provoke your skin’s oil glands.

Areas That Are Prone To Blackheads Development

The T-zone and chin are the areas where the blackheads usually appear. Sometimes they show up on the back, chest neck, arms and shoulders as well.

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Are You Really Having Blackheads?

The tiny dots that you are having may not be blackheads actually! Let’s focus for a minute on the tip of your nose. Most of us, when we look closely, can see tiny dots on our nose that look like blackheads. Such spots are sometimes even seen on the chin area just below your lower lip. If you’ve been treating these as blackheads and have seen no improvement, it’s possibly because they’re not blackheads at all!

Such dark dots you see are termed as sebaceous filaments or glands, natural hair-like formations that route the movement of oil along the lining of your pores. The dark dots you see are just the tips of the filaments that line your pores.

As a matter of fact, each adult’s nose has sebaceous filaments and they are not blackheads or a form of acne. So treating them with a blackhead or acne remedies will not provide you any positive result.

Blackhead Or Sebaceous Filament?

If you are having black dots on your face, particularly in the T-zone or on the chin, here are three tips for ascertaining whether they are blackheads or sebaceous filaments:

(i) Blackheads are not as common as sebaceous filaments. If the dots make a fairly even random pattern, they are probably sebaceous filaments. Blackheads tend to be solitary flare-ups.

(ii) A blackhead is typically larger and darker than a sebaceous filament which usually is more gray than black.

(iii) Blackheads usually have a raised rim around the plugged pore but sebaceous filaments typically feel smooth to the touch.

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