Wearing face masks for a prolonged period of time, especially in the hot, humid weather much of the world is currently experiencing, exacerbates clogged pores — so it's no wonder more of us are searching for clear skin solutions. While TikTok certainly isn't short of them (some safe and effective, others not so much), one video in particular is going viral. It's all down to Amy Chang, aka Bondenavant, who suggests combining two very hardworking ingredients for the best results when it comes to minimizing clogged pores, especially on the nose where they can be tricky to treat.
What are blackheads?
Knowing exactly what causes blackheads is the key to treating them. Consultant dermatologist Dr. Anjali Mahto says that blackheads form in small follicles with dilated openings to the skin. Oil and dead skin cells collect in the follicles and eventually cause a blackhead. The black color, Dr. Mahto explains, results from the debris within the follicle reacting with oxygen in the air. While blackheads are more common in those with oily skin, everyone can experience them.
Why has TikTok's blackhead removal hack gone viral?
Considering the damage that can be caused by at-home pore extraction (such as scarring and even infection), it's a big no-no. Squeezing could also push bacteria into your skin, causing inflammation and further breakouts; if you're a popaholic you'll already know that picking can cause red patches and superficial scars that take a while to fade.
Extraction is best left to the experts, but skin care is easily accessible and a better option for dealing with breakouts at home. In the viral video, Chang suggests making spot-busting ingredients your friend. She lists a number of them, including glycolic acid and lactic acid, but favours two for "magic" results: benzoyl peroxide, an antibacterial ingredient used in acne skin care, and salicylic acid, which exfoliates deep inside pores and follicles to break up the thick mixture of dead skin and oil. Together, Chang says they help to unplug blackheads.
In the video, which has 252.6k likes and counting, Chang says: "The way I got rid of the clogged pores on my nose was by pairing together an acid that will gently exfoliate the surface with salicylic acid, which is a great acid for exfoliating inside of the pore. I like to use benzoyl peroxide or glycolic acid (not together) to exfoliate the surface of my skin and then I pair it with a moisturizer or a serum that has salicylic acid in it — and it's like magic."
Does TikTok's blackhead removal hack work?
While my hormonal acne has subsided over the years, blackheads are a skin gripe I deal with on a daily basis. I'll hold my hands up and admit that I'm a popaholic; there's nothing more satisfying than using your nails to get out all the gunk. But like Chang mentioned, doing that can cause damage, and I've had to double up on concealer after a popping spree left me with obvious (and painful) red dots.
I'm a skin-care obsessive, but I've never thought to concentrate benzoyl peroxide on my nose specifically. "Benzoyl peroxide can be used to treat more pus-filled acne spots," Aimee Piper, skin expert and senior aesthetician at Vie Aesthetics, says. "On the other hand, salicylic acid is used to exfoliate and cleanse your skin and is great for removing blackheads as it eats away at sebum beneath the skin, to unclog and decongest the pores." While they aren't typically used for de-clogging, Piper says the two ingredients can work in unison.
Intrigued by the trend, I picked up ACNECIDE Face Wash Spot Treatment Benzoyl Peroxide (Differin Daily Deep Cleanser, which also has 5% benzoyl peroxide and a similar ingredient list, is a good alternative if you're in the U.S.) and the new Selfless by Hyram Salicylic Acid & Sea Kelp Pore Clearing and Oil Control Serum. The cleanser can be used once or twice a day and left on for one to two minutes as a targeted treatment before removing with warm water. Because benzoyl peroxide can be irritating on sensitive skin (causing flakiness and dry patches), I used it just once in the morning, three times a week, and followed with a drop or two of the salicylic acid serum. As my skin is prone to reactions, I concentrated both products to my nose only.
After a few days, I noticed my skin start to peel while applying makeup, but there wasn't any sensitivity or redness at all. "Using both products at the same time may cause increased irritation," Piper says, "so it would be advised to use them at different times of the day" — for example, one in the morning and another in the evening.
Experts say it can take up to 12 weeks to notice a difference when using a new skin-care routine, but after just under a month, the change was subtle but definitely there. I noticed myself spending less time in front of my magnifying mirror, and while the pores on my nose are still relatively large (I blame genetics), there isn't much there to squeeze or extract. To minimize pores and blackheads further, I apply a little concealer (not foundation, which can be oilier in texture) to my nose. I love Fenty Beauty Pro Filt'r Instant Retouch Concealer, which blankets blemishes without the heavy, cakey look or feel.
Are there any side effects of TikTok's blackhead removal hack?
There's no denying benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid can make a great team for tackling blackheads but it pays to start slowly, like I did. Acids also make skin very sensitive to sunlight, so wearing a high-factor broad-spectrum sunscreen during the day is a must to protect your skin. Piper suggests not using benzoyl peroxide with retinol, as both can be irritating. "It is important when using these two ingredients to follow expert advice on when and how much to use," Piper says, so always read the instructions on the label. "Using too much can have adverse effects and create further concerns. Always consult a dermatologist or skin specialist if you are unsure."
In my case, the benzoyl peroxide product I chose was a rinse-off treatment, which is a lot gentler than a leave-on since it has significantly less time to absorb into the skin, and the salicylic acid serum relatively low at 0.5% concentration.
How do you get rid of blackheads for good?
There's a handful of other blackhead-nixing methods to try if this doesn't sound like one for you. Physical exfoliators are popular if you're wary of acids, but it pays to be gentle and stick to using them just a couple of times a week so that the gritty particles don't harm sensitive skin. Piper says the key to getting rid of and preventing blackheads or clogged pores is to have an effective cleansing routine (morning and evening) as well as exfoliating regularly. "This will ensure your skin is clean of any bacteria or dirt beneath the skin," she explains. "Follow with a toner, which will help to rebalance your skin."
Not all experts recommend pore strips, but if you're going to give them a go, try Starface Lift Off Pore Strips, which are a lot easier to peel off than others I've used. What I'd suggest avoiding are pore vacuum tools: Risks include permanent scarring, painful bruising, broken capillaries, and hyperpigmentation.
Lastly, if you'd rather head to a professional, there's a number of treatments that can help get rid of blackheads and clogged pores, Piper says — including the HydraFacial, a medical-grade technique that deep-cleans the skin with zero inflammation or downtime.
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