• Fri, Aug 31 2012

Beauty Confession: I’m Obsessed With My Blackhead Extractor

get rid of blackheads

When I extract comedos, I don't look nearly as blissful as this lady

Confession: I’ve been using the same beauty product for the last 15 years. No, it’s not a mummified jar of moisturizer or an ancient, cracking cake of blush: it’s my comedo extractor. What’s that, you say? Oh, just a tiny little metal tool I use to squeeze pimples and blackheads out of my face. It’s the same thing an aesthetician will use on you if you ever get a facial…except I’ve gone rogue, using mine year after year in my own bathroom mirror.

Comedones (where the word comedo comes from) are basically pores or hair follicles filled with debris. Open ones are commonly referred to as blackheads, and closed ones are whiteheads. A comedo extractor is the little tool that allows you (or your skin care professional) to apply pressure and force the debris out.

As an oily-skinned Irish-Italian, I had terrible acne as a preteen and teen. My grandmother, whom I was very close to, felt awful for me and bought me all kinds of creams, lotions and washes to make my pimples go away. When I was 11, she bought me a comedo extractor, the very same one I used last night to get out a pesky whitehead on my chin. Although my acne isn’t nearly as horrific as it was in those hormone-addled years of the late 90s, it’s still pretty bad.

I’m the first to admit that my obsession with my little comedo extractor is kind of weird. It’s always in my bag when I travel, and on the few occasions it’s almost been lost, I’ve basically hyperventilated. Once, it got stuck behind the sink for six months, and I was forced to get a new and very much inferior extractor (I had a lot of blackheads in those dark days).

I love, love, love using my comedo extractor. It’s a perverse and disgusted love, but it is love. I love pressing it against my skin and seeing the gross things that come out: little worm-like squiggles of oil and sebum, clogged hair follicles, dry skin that should have been exfoliated away in the shower.

Is it the best thing ever for my skin? No. Most dermatologists are against home extractions, as Dr. Tanya Kormeili explains, “because some milia and pustules are deep and can cause scarring if not done correctly. ”

I’ve been known to use my blackhead extractor to pop a pimple that’s not yet ready to be popped, causing some angry red explosions. I’ve also been known to go on “blackhead sprees,” which usually happen when I stare at my face in the medicine cabinet mirror for too long and start seeing clogged pores everywhere. That usually results in my coming out of the bathroom with little comedo-pressure marks all over my face and my boyfriend saying “Um, was there a war in there?”

But still, I find that extraction is a better, more reliable way to get rid of the blackheads I continue to be plagued with than slapping some chemicals on my face. I’ve used Retin-A (and it works pretty well for me) but my insurance won’t pay for specialists, so a dermatologist visit is out.

If, like me, you’re committed to getting rid of your comedos at home, there are a few things you can do to make the process better for your skin.

  • Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize! Thoroughly scrub your extractor before and after each use, and let it sit in alcohol for at least one minute, too. This will cut down on the risk of bacterial infections.
  • Steam your face. Hold your face over just-boiled water for 5-10 minutes (or sit in a steamy bathroom) so your pores can open, making extraction easier.
  • Wash your face! A clean face will also cut down on bacteria risk.
  • Be gentle. Don’t push too hard with the instrument; if the debris in the pore doesn’t come out easily, lay off.
  • Treat it! Once you’ve done your extracting, make sure you apply some kind of astringent or acne care medication to the affected area. Like I said above, I’m not keen on chemicals, so I usually use tea tree oil (a natural antibacterial oil available at most health food stores)

Photo: Shutterstock

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  • Adult with acne

    Since you seem to have a preference, do you have any brand recommendations, or what to look for when picking a comedo extractor out?

    • Carrie Murphy

      I actually have no idea what the brand of the extractor I have is. I think my grandmother got it from QVC or something. But it says “MADER Germany Stainless” on it. I’d say look for ones from a speciality beauty store or beauty supplier…the replacement one I had from the drugstore did NOT get the job done. Thanks for your comment and good luck!

  • caroline

    Agreed on the no-chemicals preference…I recently stopped using all store-bought skin products and now defer to witch hazel and jojoba oil for everything. My skin has always been pretty rough, but this has worked wonders (and this might sound weird, but try mixing nutmeg and water together to form a kind of paste and scrub your face with it…I don’t know whether it actually makes your pores smaller, but it makes your skin sooo soft). Thanks for the tips!

    • Carrie Murphy

      thank YOU, caroline! that nutmeg and water thing sounds great.

  • Suzanne Gomes

    I have a lot of blackheads on my cheeks, chin, forehead, and temple areas. I have tried many types of “chemicals” and creams, but I noticed that these products do not remove the “debris”.

    The only thing that has worked for me is extraction. I, like Carrie Murphy, am obsessed with my extractor. If you need a quick method (can’t get to the store in time, or can’t spend the money now) use a BOBBY PIN.

    Use the looped end of the bobby pin, and it will get the job done.

    Before extraction, I wash my face, exfoliate my skin, steam open my pores (a hot washcloth works great!), and go to town on my face with my extractor!

    I also use tea tree oil, diluted with water after extraction!

  • Lesley

    I definitely agree with what you wrote, and use my extractor all the time! Sephora has good ones, if you are looking.

  • Kati P

    Caroline – what kind of skin did you have before switching to witch hazel and jojoba oil? I have super oily skin and I’m nervous to switch to 100% oil, but I’ve heard a lot about it recently. Thanks!

    And great article as always, Carrie :)

  • Monica

    I’m 15 and have already damaged my face in the last 8 months than anyone at this age should. I overuse my extractor and it’s an addiction. I’ve even started doing it on my mom because when I see her pores clogged it bothers me and I have to do it for her. Please help and tell me how I can stop using the comedo extractor and accept my skin and begin to let the scarring go away

    • Ben

      Consider taking the over-the-counter amino acid NAC (n-acetyl cysteine, avail. on Amazon if not in your pharmacy). It has been proven to significantly reduce compulsive behaviors like hair-pulling and skin-picking. Also, you may have found your “gift” as an esthetician. Facialists are notorious pickers. Oprah once raved about a facial she’d had and said when she asked the facialist about her passion, the facialist said something like “I’m obsessed with extracting blackheads.”

  • LynnKell

    Oh lord! I also love my comedo extractor. I have learnt to not use it as frequently as I did, but it is a wonderful device. I love it as much as my tweezers <3

  • Caroline

    What brand extractor do you use?

  • uncomfortable

    Be careful with Tea Tree Oil, if you buy it undiluted, you need to dilute it with water in like a 15:1 ratio before applying it to skin.

  • Regret!

    I tried the comedo extractor once and I hate it. I shouldn’t have bought it in the first place. Also, steaming face before extraction never helps. It cause me more breakout. Totally regret what I did. I wish I did not buy this evil device.

  • unes99

    Another more affordable step you can take is exfoliation. Exfoliating cleansers, face scrubs, or even a mixture of baking soda and water can be used to cut through grease, oil, and dead skin cells. I also recommend investing in a Clarisonic brush, which will help remove dirt, oil, and makeup while gently exfoliating your skin. Exfoliate at least once or twice a week to keep blackheads at bay.

    For more information, i suggest to you this blog : Blackhead extractor

  • unes99

    I’ve had chronic blackheads all over my face since I was 14. I am now 23, and being Finally blackhead free i can say that diet and hygiene is EVERYTHING. If you’re someone who is suffering from serious chronic blackheads and have been on many oral medications to get rid of them (like me, who has been on accutane twice and minocycline twice), and even currently on birthcontrol and the blackheads still come back, I would say a weak Liver function has much to do with it. Stuffing you’re body with serious, dangerous medications is actually weakening your liver, causing your body difficulty to flush toxins. (Due to my history, my body was most likely very toxic). As a result these toxins will mix in with your sebum causing a sticky production that leads to blackheads. I finally put my foot down and decided to take a more natural route to curing my blackhead problem when my dermatologist suggested to even go on a third round of minocycline to get rid of them.

    LIVER DETOX to promote a healthy liver function. I bought a 30 day Liver kit for this one. Eating healthy and drinking tons of water with this detox is a MUST. I drink up to 15 glasses of water a day (i know crazy right, but people with acne should actually be drinking 10-15 glasses of water a day).

    On top of this, TAKE CARE OF YOUR SKIN HYGIENE! After washing your face with a gentle cleanser, in the morning i put FINACEA (a Rocasea cream but also get rids of blackheads through skin renewal) and Retina A galaxal base 0.01% at night (very low percentage because my skin is highly sensitive). Has completely transformed my skin.

    DAIRY-FREE!! so important due to hormone triggers. I’ve been on this routine for a month now and I am blackhead free without no JUNKEY oral medication.

    Organic and healthy is the way to go :)

    For more information, i suggest to you this blog : Blackhead extractor