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Let’s start with a common misconception about blackheads.

Blackheads aren’t caused by dirt.

Blackheads are caused when a build up of dead skin cells and/or sebum (the oil secreted by your skin) in pores, react with oxygen turning it black – and that’s how you get a blackhead.

I’m sure by now you have seen those videos showing the black “charcoal” face masks that literally pull the black heads out of pores! While these videos are very satisfying to watch, and admittedly your skin feels soft after using them – in the long run, they’re not the best way to clear your pores.

The masks are basically an aggressive form of exfoliation, that strips the skin of the natural oils that protect the skin. These oils form a barrier that protect your skin from bacteria, free radicals and the elements. Another thing to note is that the supposed “blackheads” that you can see on the back of the mask once it’s been peeled off are often not blackheads at all. More often than not they are sebaceous filaments – which are also part of your skins defence against harmful bacteria.

So essentially while these masks are stripping away your blackheads, they’re also stripping away many of your skins natural defences.

Since blackheads are a build up of oxidised dead skin cells an important part of getting rid of them is exfoliation – but in order to avoid doing more harm than good you need to make sure you exfoliate in the proper manner and using the correct products.

When it comes to exfoliation a good rule of thumb is that if you want better exfoliation don’t do it harder, do it longer. Gentle exfoliation is less likely to disrupt your skin’s natural oil production.

Many exfoliating face washes contain at least one ingredient that gives it a gritty texture – these can be made from a range of substances, anything from tiny foam balls to crushed walnut shells. If you’re going to utilise these types of products it’s best to go for the more gentle exfoliating elements – just because they’re gentle doesn’t mean they can’t be effective. Remember – “exfoliate longer, not harder”

Probably the most effective and thorough exfoliation you will get will be from a cleanser containing alpha and beta-hydroxyl acids. Alpha hydroxyl acid (AHA) is most often seen as salicylic acid. And beta hydroxyl acid (BHA) can be found in products with glycolic or lactic acid. Both types of acids are considered to be the gold standard when it comes to removing dead skin cells.

Regenerate Skin Care’s Refresh AHA/BHA cleanser contains 6% lactic acid plus 3% glycolic acid and 2% salicylic acid to gently remove dead skin cells and decongest pores to remove blackheads and prevent them from occurring in the first place. It can be used morning and night if you require a deep clean. It is effective in thoroughly removing make up and can even be left on the skin slightly longer for a gentle peel once a week.

Another effective way to keep dead skin cells from building up and forming blackheads is to ensure increased skin cell turnover. A great way to do this is by using retinol.

The average skin cell turnover time is 30-35 days. The use of retinol based products can increase this skin cell turnover to 3 – 5 days. Reactivate Collagen Stimulator from Regenerate skin care contains 0.9% retinol. This concentration of retinol is strong enough to be effective in increasing skin cell turnover and preventing acne. Retinol products can have a drying effect so it’s important when using them to keep your skin hydrated and protected from the sun (which you really should be doing everyday anyway).

Retinol products should also not be used while pregnant or breast feeding.

A great way to think of the retinol is the ‘push’ of new cells to reach up to the skin’s surface faster and the AHA/BHA cleanser is the ‘pull’ sweeping off dead skin cells before they can lay around and cause blockage.

In summary – your most effective defence against blackheads will be to ensure that you clear away the dead skin cells that cause blackheads and avoid quick fixes that can damage your skins natural oil production. Being gentle with your skin will prove much more effective in the long run.  Remember good skin is a marathon, not a sprint.