My Favorite Ingredients for Treating Tough Blackheads

“I don’t believe in pores,” my friend proclaims. She is sitting on the sofa, limbs folded easily under her, the picture of unaffected grace. Her significant other, with a dazzling array of skincare products tucked under her arm, pauses on her way to the bathroom. I pause in my listless train of thought on the opposite sofa. From the kitchen, my significant other quips, “What?”

“Pores,” she reiterates. “I don’t think they’re a thing.”

We all sink silently in our various mires of disbelief.

“Well, whether you believe in them or not,” I say, “I’m pretty sure they’re there. Right?”

But to be honest, something cosmic shifted in us that day. I do not claim to be any sort of beauty expert, I just have skin like most other people. The effects of the great white north combined with chronic stress and anxiety have made my skin a battlefield in which I fight for dominance over the most often-surveyed part of my being. I know my fair share of weapons. But the details, the nitty-gritties, the twenty-minute YouTube episodes about flushing and exfoliating the micro-holes in the face, these are above my pay grade.

To be clear: my friend does still believe in pores. She just doesn’t buy into the whole opening-closing clarifying-exfoliating wining-dining gig, which I respect and understand. That’s for sciencey people to debate, and in our case, a discussion for another post!

I have long fought the battle with blackheads and visible pores. My chin and my nose are the most well-worn fields upon which I do battle, and they have been this way since middle school. It’s like I never left. Earning my diplomas in high school and university have earned me a reprieve from whitehead pimples and cystic acne, but blackheads are there to remind me that somewhere, somehow, I’m still the little pipsqueak who listens to My Chemical Romance.

To be fair, though? Their music still slaps.

Here is what I have used that has worked. These are not magic pills or cure-alls, but with regular use and a little experimentation, I’ve seen real results.

For each of these ingredients, there are store-bought options as well as DIY recipes, and I will happily point you to both. In my experience, there is merit to both sides of that particular debate– so long as you do what you can to support ethical businesses and prioritize what feels best for you, don’t sweat it too much. I’ll discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly of store-bought vs DIY products in another post, but for now, just go with your gut (and your wallet!).

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Green tea

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Green tea has been my constant companion since middle school. This miracle drink has a number of health benefits aside from clearing skin, and if you haven’t already, try to get a couple of cups in during the week. You’ll feel good all over!

The sciencey secret is that green tea is full of antioxidants, which does good stuff, in, on, and all around you. Application to the skin helps reduce inflammation and oils that collect on your face from your normal daily activities. Introducing antioxidants to your skin’s system helps keep everything in tip-top shape, so you won’t see more damage on top of what you are already treating.

The storebought standby is St. Ives Blackhead Clearing Face Scrub. The green tea ingredient really does a number on blackheads. Beware, however, this product does contain Salicylic Acid, which will dry you out even if used in moderation. Therefore, I would recommend this product if you have more serious acne trouble in addition to blackheads, otherwise, you risk making a bad situation worse.

You can straight up apply green tea to affected areas and it works great as a spot treatment. Just brew some green tea, pop it in the refrigerator, and then use a cotton ball or pad to apply the chilled liquid to the trouble spots. You’ll want to leave this on for 10-15 minutes before rinsing it off, just be sure to put some moisturizer on afterward so your skin stays soft and happy. Green tea is also a great ingredient for homemade face masks, cleansers, and toners. I used to use a green tea toner religiously until I switched to what I currently use!


If you’re like me, masks seem like the miracle cure for all of your skin woes. One evening of crap on your face, and then boom! You’re a whole new person. Running the risk of revealing my tendencies to put everything off and then do a big purge when I get a free minute (I will not be posting about my laundry habits, thank-you) I will say that masks are a great solution, especially for busy people. All you need is 15 minutes and a shower, and the results are immediate.

That being said, you do have to be selective about your masks if you want more than one day of soft skin. I’ve tried practically every mask under the sun, and when it comes to treating blackheads, clay masks are seriously the way to go. You want one that has as many natural ingredients as possible in this case, because masks with more stuff packed into them can dry  you out like nobody’s business. I like L’Oreal’s Pure-Clay masks, personally, because they feel great while they’re on and for the whole day after, without drying me out even in the worst winter months. I know people swear by charcoal, but it just doesn’t do it for me. I’ve seen great results with their red algae mask, but I’m sure that if charcoal is your bag, their charcoal variety would work for you as well.

You can always make your own clay masks with even fewer ingredients right at home! Bentonite clay is your best friend.

Glycerin/gelatin (pull-off masks)

I will freely admit that I have yet to try a storebought sheet mask, but I do intend to for another post! What I see in ads all the time are those peel masks, featuring an already-flawless lady smiling next to a used sheet studded with defeated blackheads. It looks cathartic, seriously. The pimple-popper in me sheds a single tear.

I’m here to tell you that in my experience and the experience of everyone I know who has used them, those things just don’t work that way. I think that somewhere, deep on our souls, we all knew that, but in these dark times we are human beings who could use a little hope. My friend bought a charcoal peel mask off of Facebook and we tried them together, and that remains to this day the only time she has seen me cry.

What has worked for me is a homemade peel mask containing glycerin, which doesn’t have the satisfying effect of pulling out blackheads, but does appear to reduce the visibility of pores and clears nasty stuff off of the surface of the skin. There are a number of natural peel-off mask recipes containing such things as honey, milk, egg whites, and lemon juice, which I intend to try and report back on in the future, and most store-bought cucumber peel-off masks aren’t bad.


Lemon juice is a natural astringent that kills acne-causing bacteria without screwing up your skin. In fact, you can use pure lemon juice as a spot treatment all on its own! Citrus juices are common ingredients in “morning” themed cleansers and toners because they naturally brighten your skin (and your attitude, if you truly believe, or you just like lemon). In the summer, I like to use Clean & Clear Morning Burst Skin Brightening Facial Cleanser. I switch to hydration-focused cleansers in the wintertime because, well, winter.

Use lemon juice as a spot treatment for blackhead-heavy areas, dabbing it on with a cotton ball or pad. Leave it for no more than 30 seconds before washing it off, and moisturize directly after. All of these spot treatments should take place before your moisturizing/setting step, because keeping your skin properly moist is critical to preventing further blackhead damage!

Lemon juice is also a great ingredient to add to cleansers and creams where the other ingredients tone down its intensity. I use lemon juice in the night cream I make for my partner because it isn’t too intense and doesn’t dry out the skin. I leave it out for day creams, however, as lemon can cause slight light sensitivity, and we get enough glare from the snow for that to be a problem.


Photo by Janko Ferlic.

While you’re writing green tea into your schedule, make sure you have once-a-day coffee. Seriously. Just do it.

That’s just a public service announcement.

Coffee in measured doses, applied properly, can seriously help with blackheads. Too much coffee can be a serious problem! Remember the Buddha: all things in moderation. Ground coffee beans is an excellent exfoliating ingredient for masks and scrubs alike. As far as I know, exfoliating is real skin science, wherein large pieces clear out dead skin and other bits of nasty that can clog your pores and contribute to blackheads. Grounds tend to be softer than most exfoliators, so they do the heavy lifting of clearing dirt without leaving the skin dry or irritated. Coffee is also another “skin-brightening” ingredient, much like lemon, that wakes up your skin in the same way it wakes up the rest of you! Even if you aren’t a big coffee drinker, using grounds on your face smells absolutely magnificent.

I’m an addict of Lush’s Cup o’Coffee mask, which I found in a post about sensitive skin treatment many moons ago. You can make your own dupe of that recipe, but I can never quite get it as good as Lush. Coffee is a great ingredient for any DIY recipes.

What are your solutions for blackheads? Drop me a line!