Blackhead and whiteheads, also known as closed and open comedones, are one of the many different types of acne.
Whiteheads a non-inflamed collection of debris including dirt, oil, sweat and dead skin that has clogged a pore.
Blackheads happen when a clogged pore isn’t trapped under the skin and so is exposed to the air, the debris will oxidise and turn grey or black (and despite common belief, blackheads are not those dark pores on your nose).
This kind of comedonal acne is the most common and – thankfully – curable. They fall under the ‘non-inflammatory’ acne umbrella, which describes their tendency to be un-inflamed (read: not red) and to also linger for a long time. That’s because your body isn’t recognising them as an infection, so while they aren’t as inflamed, they also fly under the radar and avoid attack from your immune system.
With just one powerhouse ingredient you can tackle both of these annoying types of pimples super effectively:
Salicylic acid, also known as Beta-Hydroxy Acid or BHA for short, is an oil-soluble derivative of willow bark (this is also where aspirin comes from!). It’s often found in percentages up to 2% and is considered a type of chemical exfoliation. BHA is one of the most popular anti-acne ingredients on the market – you won’t have to go far to find it. That’s because it’s affordable, relatively safe, easy to use and effective not only against basic blackheads and whiteheads but can also benefit a range of other acne and non-acneic skin problems, like keratosis pilaris.
Why does salicylic acid work so well on non-inflammatory acne?
It works in two ways:
Salicylic acid is mainly so effective because it is oil-soluble and keratolytic (protein-dissolving), allowing it to enter each clogged pore and dissolve and dislodge the trapped debris. Because this debris is the real core issue leading to visible blackheads and whiteheads, this helping hand makes a huge difference.
Salicylic acid is also anti-inflammatory, which will help to reduce any minor redness and swelling that sometimes comes along with whiteheads. That’s what makes it a great choice to deal with the more serious inflammatory acne too.
Great salicylic acid products to try
Salicylic (like most skin care actives) requires a specific pH range to be effective. In the right formula, you’ll get the maximum benefit and minimum irritation.
Below are some tried and tested products that have awesome acne-fighting capabilities thanks to salicylic acid. Purchase them or read about them to educate yourself and find your own to pop into your routine!
Clearasil Ultra Rapid Action Treatment Lotion is a good choice for your first foray into salicylic acid as it’s lightweight, affordable and easy to find.
Similarly, if you’re on a tight budget or go through your product quickly but want a thicker cream, try out the massive CeraVe Renewing SA Cream Salicylic Acid Body Moisturizer for Rough and Bumpy Skin.
If you have sensitive skin or want a bare-bones routine, reach for the plain and simple The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2% Solution.
This is my personal favourite and current salicylic acid product, straight from Korea and super gentle – Cosrx Bha Blackhead Power Liquid.
Widely regarded as one of the most effective salicylic acid products, this is a classic and reliable place to start and is jam-packed full of other great-for-skin ingredients – Paulas Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Salicylic Acid Exfoliant.
Now go on, choose the right treatment product to go in your skin care routine and finally beat stubborn blackheads and whiteheads!