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How to remove blackheads and whiteheads

Should you pop or should you stop? When it comes to blackheads and whiteheads, it turns out the answer may not be as clear cut as previously thought.

One of the most common skin problems around, they are also among one of the most stubborn to get rid of too, (the ones on our noses come to mind in particular). Therefore, we asked skin specialist and Get The Gloss Expert Dr Terry Loong for her advice on how to remove them in the safest and most effective way possible. From prevention to treatments to the whitehead and blackhead removal products that actually work, a clearer complexion could be closer than you think.

Read on to find out how...

GTG: What causes whiteheads and blackheads, how can we prevent them?

TL: Quoting from my published book "The Hormonal Acne Solution," blackheads are open comedones, where a plug of sebum and dead skin cells are clogged in the hair follicle, darkened by oxidation (the reaction of the oil with oxygen). It normally has a "head" or opening on the surface of the skin.

Whiteheads are closed comedones, similar to a blackhead but where a piece of skin covers the surface so it avoids oxidation and remains white. There is no opening on the skin.

Good ways to prevent whiteheads and blackheads are:

1. Having a good cleansing routine, e.g. using the Clarisonic Deep Pore Brush, £21 that cleans deep in the pores to remove dirt, makeup residue and avoid the build-up of oil and dead skin cells.

2. Using a gentle exfoliator once every 2-3 days to encourage skin cell renewal to avoid build-up of dead cells. Exfoliation will also help remove small superficial whiteheads and help to soften the blackheads for extraction.

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GTG: What over-the-counter products would you recommend?

TL: I love The Body Shop's Tea Tree range. Tea Tree is a great anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and keeps excessive oil at bay.

I love their Tea Tree Cool and Creamy Wash, £5 which is perfect for blemished skin, without the irritation or dryness of many cleansers designed for oily skin.

Before I put my Oxygenetix Foundation on, I apply their Tea Tree Oil, £7 and Tea Tree Skin Clearing Lotion, £3 to keep my skin calm, clean and behaving itself. The Tea Tree lotion is light, hydrating and absorbs well in my skin. Throughout the day, I don't find it oily at all, which I love.

GTG: Are there any specialist treatments that you would recommend for particularly bad cases?

TL: Yes. A medical facial at The Skin Energy Clinic, where we extract all of the whiteheads, deep blackheads and cysts.

It involves double cleansing, steaming, a mild chemical peel to soften the skin and a thorough extraction before we apply a treatment mask. For inflamed areas, we also use high frequency therapy to "zap" the bacteria and allow the "spot" to dry up more quickly. There are also laser treatments and light therapy which are great for acneic skin types, but are often more expensive treatments. It is also important to address the internal causes of blemished skin to ensure better results and management of the condition.

GTG: Should we try and pop them at home? Is there a safe way to do so?

TL: If it's "ripe", you can. "Ripe" means you can see the pus or the "head". Doing it correctly will help to remove the inflammation on the skin and allow healing. Doing it wrongly could lead to aggravating the problem and risk scarring.

The best time to pop a spot is after a warm or hot shower or bath where your skin is clean, soft and your pores are open.

a) For blackheads, using a tissue to cover your fingernails, gently apply pressure on either side of the blackhead. If it "pops" out easily, great. If it doesn't, don't try to force it. It may make matters worse.

b) For whiteheads and spots, take a sterile needle and gently lance the skin to allow an opening. Gently apply pressure on either side of the area and if it's ready, it should "squeeze" or "pop" out with no trouble at all.

After undergoing extractions, make sure you apply an antiseptic over the area with a cotton bud, such as tea tree oil or a witch hazel solution. You can also use a clay mask to absorb any residual impurities out of the pore.

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