11 best blackhead treatments in 2023, according to experts

If you’ve ever dealt with acne, you’ve probably noticed pesky, dark spots pop up. Those are blackheads, a common skin concern that can appear anywhere on your body, but commonly manifest on the nose, forehead and chin. And you’re probably guilty of picking at them from time to time, but experts told us that may only make things worse. 

There are many skin care products that claim to remove blackheads in the form of pore strips, face scrubs and face washes. So how can you narrow down the ones that’ll actually be effective at decongesting your pores and minimizing the appearance of enlarged ones? We spoke to board-certified dermatologists about the best blackhead-fighting ingredients, how to safely and effectively remove blackheads at home and which over-the-counter products they recommend most.

SKIP AHEAD What are blackheads? | The best blackhead treatments | How to shop for blackhead removal products | How to treat blackheads | Is it safe to remove blackheads at home? | How do you prevent blackheads?

Our top picks

Blackheads, also known as open comedones, start as sebum plugs, which are collections of oily liquid that help the skin stay lubricated. They clog up pores when they mix with bacteria and dead skin cells, according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Deborah Spey. Blackheads turn black when exposed to air and oxidize, hence their name. These clogged pores are commonly found on the nose, forehead, chin, back and chest since they are sebum rich areas, according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Arash Akhavan. 

How we picked the best blackhead treatments

Our dermatologists recommend focusing on preventing future breakouts and decongesting current blackheads with the following ingredients:

  • Retinoids: These help regulate cell turnover and prevent the pores from becoming congested, says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Karen Burke. Topical retinoids work on all types of acne but “are especially helpful” for blackheads and whiteheads, she says.
  • Salicylic acid: A type of beta hydroxy acid (BHA), salicylic acid penetrates into the pores to help dissolve oil, unclog pores and prevent buildup of dead skin, oil and other debris, Spey says.
  • Benzoyl peroxide: This is an antioxidant, so it kills bacteria and stops the lipid, the protective layer of cells, from oxidizing, according to Burke. Cleansers that combine both benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are very effective at treating blackheads, says Burke.
  • Lactic acid: Lactic acid is an exfoliant that helps break up dead skin cells and unclog pores, says Spey.
  • Charcoal: Charcoal doesn’t prevent future blackheads, but it does offer some immediate benefits like drawing out impurities such as oil, debris and dirt from your pores, helping to minimize their appearance, according to Spey.

The best blackhead treatments in 2023

Below, we rounded up a few dermatologist-recommended products and some highly rated picks that can help remove blackheads. Each product contains decongesting ingredients like retinoid, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide in line with our experts’ guidance.

Differin Gel

This Select Wellness Award winner won’t make your blackheads disappear overnight, but it can help treat existing blackheads and prevent new ones from forming, says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Karen Burke. She calls this over-the-counter retinoid — which contains 0.1% adapalene, an expert-recommended ingredient to help treat acne — a “must-have” for anyone dealing with blackheads because it helps regulate skin cell turnover, which can prevent pores from clogging.

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser

This face wash from La Roche-Posay — which makes some of our favorite products for rosacea and teen acne — is specifically designed for oily and acne-prone skin and serves as a solid alternative for anyone who doesn’t like to use a harsh face scrub. This gel cleanser is a great option to reduce blackheads because it has salicylic acid and lipohydroxy acid, which is another derivative of salicylic acid and works as an exfoliant, according to Spey.

Murad Acne Control Clarifying Cleanser

This foaming gel cleanser helps remove excess oil, unclog pores and treats acne with ingredients like salicylic acid, according to the brand. Since salicylic acid can dry out or irritate the skin, this cleanser has green tea extract to soothe any irritation and redness, according to Murad. Although it’s best for oily and acne-prone skin because it’s foaming, this cleanser is also available in a cream-based formula with less salicylic acid for those with dry skin. It’s also highly rated, with a 4.7-star average rating from over 5,200 reviews on Amazon. 

AcneFree Blackhead Removing Scrub with Charcoal

This scrub comes recommended by both Spey and Burke because it contains 2% salicylic acid to help buff away dead skin cells and charcoal to help draw out oil, dirt and buildup that can clog pores. When it comes to facial exfoliants, usage will depend on your skin type. If you have oily and acne-prone skin, consider using one every two to three days but if you have sensitive skin you may want to limit an exfoliant, like a scrub, to once a week, according to Akhavan. 

Clinique Deep Pore Cleanse & Face Scrub

This 3-in-1 product can act as a scrub, cleanser and mask, according to the brand. It has salicylic acid to remove dead skin cells and silica to control oil production and remove blackhead-causing debris. It also prevents future blackheads from forming, according to Clinique. This multifunctional product has a 4.3-star average rating from over 600 reviews at Target. 

Skinbetter Science AlphaRet Clearing Serum

The AlphaRet Clearing Serum combines the benefits of salicylic acid and retinoids, according to Spey. The fragrance-free serum can help improve the skin’s tone and texture, minimize acne and reduce pore size, Spey says. This is because it has a few well-known ingredients like lactic acid, which moisturizes and improves texture, salicylic acid which aids with pore decongestion and niacinamide which also helps improve texture and moisture in the skin, according to the brand. 

The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA

This water-based exfoliator has lactic acid as its main ingredients, which helps unclog pores and even out the skin’s tone and texture, according to the brand. You should apply this treatment at night following your cleanser and before applying your moisturizer, according to The Ordinary. This serum has a 4.5-star average rating from over 1,300 reviews at Sephora. 

Mele Refresh Even Tone Facial Tonic

Mele’s facial toner contains blackhead-dissolving lactic acid, which can also help minimize the appearance of enlarged pores, hyperpigmentation and age spots, according to Spey. This toner is also made with vitamin C to help fade dark spots and even out the skin tone, according to the brand.

Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow PHA + BHA Pore-Tight Toner

The toner, which boasts a 4.3-star average rating from over 4,107 reviews at Sephora, has two types of beta hydroxy acids, willow bark extract and betaine salicylate, both of which help unclog pores and minimize their appearance, according to the brand. As the product’s name suggests, it is also made with hydrating watermelon extract to help the skin retain moisture and polyhydroxy acids (PHA) to help improve texture, according to Glow Recipe. 

Peace Out Skincare Pores

These pore and nose strips use hydrocolloids, a soothing gel of polymers, that absorb and remove dead skin cells, oil and other debris, according to the brand. It also contains retinol, which minimizes the appearance of large pores, our experts told us. Peace Out Skincare recommends applying the strip on clean, dry skin and leaving it on for at least four to six hours or overnight before gently peeling it off. The pack, which comes with four pore strips and four nose strips, has a 4.1-star average rating from over 700 reviews on Amazon.

Biore Deep Cleansing Pore Strips

Although only a temporary fix, these Biore pore strips can physically pull blackheads out of the skin but are gentle enough that they won’t damage the skin, according to Spey. However, you should not use these strips if  you’re also using a retinol because the skin is too delicate for the adhesive strip, Spey says. These water-activated pore strips come in different sizes for specific areas of the face, including the nose, chin and forehead.

How to shop for blackhead treatments

When shopping for a blackhead treatment, our experts recommend looking for specific pore clearing products that will safely remove this type of acne. Below, the experts we spoke to share a few tips when shopping for blackhead treatments.

  • Check the ingredient list. Common blackhead treatments will include acne-fighting and decongesting ingredients, including retinol, salicylic acid, lactic acid, benzoyl peroxide and charcoal. These ingredients can help control oil production, unclog pores, kill bacteria and prevent future breakouts, according to our experts. While you can benefit from combining some ingredients like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, layering on too many can cause irritation, Spey says. 
  • Introduce these products slowly. It’s important to gradually incorporate blackhead-fighting products into your routine, especially those with ingredients like retinol that can be aggressive on the skin, experts told us. Acids like salicylic acid can also irritate and dry out the skin, so you should only use them a few times at the beginning to avoid sensitivity before gradually increasing your usage over time, says Burke. For normal to oily skin, an ingredient like salicylic acid can be used daily if it’s at a lower concentration. If you have sensitive skin, you should only use it as much as your skin can tolerate it, but generally not more than 2-3 times a week, says Akhavan. For specific exfoliants like coarse scrubs, only use them a few times a week and avoid using them daily unless otherwise directed by your dermatologist since it can cause tears in the skin, says Spey. 
  • Look for hydrating or soothing ingredients. Consider products with ingredients like green tea extract and hyaluronic acid that can hydrate the skin and soothe irritation. If you’re using acne serums or scrubs, consider using a gentle cleanser rather than an acne cleanser and applying a moisturizer afterward to prevent excess dryness, says Spey. 

How to treat blackheads

There are many ways to treat blackheads including using over-the-counter products like a toner or scrub or extracting them completely with the help of devices and professionals. No matter the method, there are a few things to consider when choosing the right treatment, including its safety concerns, duration and benefits. 

  • Type of products. Incorporating acne-fighting and oil controlling products in your routine is the safest way to treat and prevent a future blackhead breakout, according to our experts. Some of the many products available include cleansers, serums, toners, scrubs, strips and masks. However, it will take you some time to see results, says Burke.  You should also look for hydrating ingredients like TK and TK to keep the skin moisturized.  
  • Exfoliation. Using a physical exfoliant can help prevent the formation of the sebum plug, which initiates a new blackhead, Burke says. If you’re using an exfoliating scrub, you should opt for a gentle formula with smooth beads because harsher, more abrasive scrubs can create microtears in the skin and cause infection, says Spey. Using a washcloth or a gentle Buf-Puf with a cleanser that contains a chemical exfoliant like salicylic acid is another way to get rid of blackheads at home because it decreases sebum and kills bacteria, according to Burke. 
  • Comedone extractor. A comedone extractor is a tool typically used during facials at spas and at the dermatologist’s office. Although you’ll find these tools in several common retailers, Spey doesn’t recommend them for at-home use since you might risk injuring your skin. If you do use a comedone extractor, you should clean the tool with alcohol before use and apply alcohol onto the skin before and after removing any blackheads to prevent infection, says Burke.
  • Pore vacuums. Pore vacuums can quickly improve the appearance of pores by temporarily removing buildup, but they do not prevent blackheads from reoccurring and could create redness and broken blood vessels in the skin, our experts say.
  • Professional extraction. In order to avoid potential damage to the skin or worsening the blackhead, consider going to a professional, according to our experts. Typically, a dermatologist with the proper knowledge and tools will use steam to open the pores and remove blackheads by using vacuum suctions, masks or other professional extracting devices. 

Never use your fingernails to squeeze out blackheads, according to our experts. “This could cause crush injury,” Spey says. “You won’t really be getting under the blackhead, so it will likely get deeper and cause an inflammatory lesion and a scab.” And although facial cleansing brushes help clean residue and particles from your face, they do not reach the sebum and keratin inside the pores so they aren’t useful in treating blackheads, Spey says.

Overall, the safest way to treat blackheads include using skin care products consistently to help combat and prevent a breakout and seeking the help of a professional for extractions, according to our experts. 

How do you prevent blackheads?

“It is much easier to prevent blackheads than it is to treat them,” Burke says. If you’re already dealing with a breakout and want to prevent it from escalating, you should have a professional do the initial extractions. Afterward, you can use an over-the-counter cleanser with acne-fighting ingredients like alpha or beta hydroxy acids or retinol creams to prevent new ones from forming, according to Burke and Akhavan. 

Meet our experts

At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

  • Dr. Deborah Spey is a board-certified dermatologist at Schweiger Dermatology Group in New Jersey. Her areas of expertise include medical dermatology and cosmetic dermatology with a focus on aesthetic techniques. 
  • Dr. Karen Burke is a board-certified dermatologist at her own private practice in New York City as well as a faculty member of the Department of Dermatology at Mt. Sinai Icahn School of Medicine. Her areas of expertise include injectables, lasers, acne, allergies, eczema and more. 
  • Dr. Arash Akhavan is a board-certified dermatologist and founder and director of The Dermatology & Laser Group in New York City. His areas of expertise include non-invasive and minimally invasive procedures on the face, neck and body. 

Why trust Select?

Nicole Saunders is a former associate commerce editor for Select on NBC News, covering wellness and lifestyle at Select. For this piece, she interviewed two experts to gather their tips and product recommendations. 

Bianca Alvarez is an associate reporter and has been covering beauty for a year. For this piece, she interviewed an expert and researched many blackhead treatments and products that are in line with expert recommendations. 

Catch up on Select’s in-depth coverage of personal finance, tech and tools, wellness and more, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok to stay up to date.


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