This Is How To Use An Extraction Tool Without Messing Up Your Skin

You can't hide anything from an aesthetician. Every single time I go for a facial, they wash my makeup off, examine my bare face, and they know. There's no point in lying: They know I'm not really "prone to ingrowns" between my brows (I just pick the skin). They can tell the dark circles under my eyes are exacerbated by my wine consumption. And they always, always call out the clogged pores I've tried to extract myself.

That was the case last weekend, when I went for a facial at the Erno Laszlo Institute. (P.S.: If you ever get the chance, GO. It was the most thorough, relaxing treatment of my life.) Eliana Restrepo, the aesthetician tending to my skin, immediately zeroed in on a small whitehead on the bridge of my nose. "You tried to get this," she said matter-of-factly.

"No, I mean, I just barely squeezed..." I trailed off. I had thought the evidence of my aggressive late-night surgery on the thing with an extraction tool had disappeared, but Restrepo said that since I had ripped the skin, but hadn't succeeded in getting all the sebum out, she'd now have to make it worse to make it better. Oops.

In the grand scheme of understanding extractions, Restrepo explained that the first thing to know is that our pores are actually hair follicles. While we don't think of the ones on our face as being the same as the ones on our scalp or legs, since the hair is soft and often imperceptible, they actually are. "Hair grows in all different directions, but when you squeeze a clogged pore yourself in front of the mirror, you only squeeze horizontally. When a professional does it, they can tell what angle to go at it from," she said. Makes total sense.

In my defense, I've had plenty of derms and facialists tell me it's never a good idea to do my own extractions — I get it, I do — but I'm being realistic here: If something pops up, I'm going to pick it. Blackhead extraction tools, I figured, are a better alternative to my fingers, right? "Maybe," says Restrepo, "but no one uses them correctly."

So, what are we doing wrong? "People have a tendency to be too aggressive in trying to remove debris and end up causing a lot of inflammation, which makes acne look worse," says dermatologist Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, and founder and director of Capital Laser & Skin Care. "The key is to not put too much pressure on the skin by dragging the tool across the surface of the skin, which can cause tearing of the skin."

Instead, gently press down around the clogged pore using the smallest loop. If the blackhead or whitehead doesn't budge, Dr. Tanzi recommends leaving it alone and using a product with retinol to help loosen it.

Now, back to the smallest loop detail. That's the only end you should be using if you insist on using the tool, says Restrepo. "The larger one is for bigger areas, like the back." (Which you shouldn't attempt, because you don't know which direction, and how far back, the blockage is starting from.) As for that sharp lance, meant to pierce whiteheads, we can't emphasize it enough: Stay away! You should never do anything that will break the skin.

Facialist Joanna Vargas, founder of Joanna Vargas Salon and Skincare, isn't a big fan of the tool, either. Instead, she recommends showering to soften blackheads and whiteheads, and then applying gentle pressure around the pore using two cotton swabs. Vargas' other tip: "Baking soda is awesome for getting rid of blackheads when mixed with water. You can put the mixture on the nose after the shower and all the blackheads come right out!"

The moral of the story is: By all means, get a blackhead extractor, but be damn confident in your impulse control and pressure gauge beforehand — and never use the lance!

More from Skin Care

As beauty editors, one of the top questions we're asked on the regular is actually pretty basic: "What should my skin-care routine look like?" And it makes...
Forget freaks and vampires: When it comes to beauty rituals, it’s our inner princesses who come out at night. It’s then that we languidly soak in tubs of ...
You always want what you can’t have — especially when it comes to beauty products. That’s why we’re getting the inside scoop from your favorite retailers ...
(Paid Content) Finding a skin-care regimen that keeps skin clear without drying it out isn't easy. Don’t you worry — we’ve got you on this one. Together ...
We know that our cell phones aren’t always good for us. Tech neck, sleep disturbances, eye strain — all actual health concerns. And of course, not cleaning...
What do you call a price increase that goes from around $240 to nearly $10,000? Words like strange, confusing, and even exploitative may come to mind. ...
Dry, scaly skin can be kind of a nightmare no matter what the season. So, in the spirit of smoother, ultra-hydrated skin, we put together a list of our ...
(Paid Content) If achieving clear, glowing, incredible skin were as easy as slathering on a single cream, we’d be the first in line to scoop it up. But ...
When it comes to pretty much, well, everything, it’s no secret that millennials expect swift service, same-day delivery, and overall efficiency. Our need ...
Since we’re all well aware of the dangers of tanning beds — and too much time in natural sunlight sans SPF — self-tanners are the perfect solution when the...
This isn't news to anyone, but I feel it bears repeating: Acne scars suck. Anyone who has suffered from post-pimple hyperpigmentation knows this truth to ...
We’ve all seen the studies about why sleep is so important — a full eight hours keeps our bodies and brains more fit, happy, and focused. As it turns out, ...
The moment when you suddenly realize you're an adult can come amid a seemingly random activity — depositing money in your newly formed 401k, making dinner ...
For a long time, the word "peel" meant one of two things in the beauty world: a) You've spent too much time in the sun sans sunscreen and are now suffering...