We’ve all been there: You wash your face, pat it dry, then give it a once-over in the mirror only to discover a swarm of blackheads peppering the tip of your nose. The bright bathroom light exaggerates their gruesomeness. You gasp in disgust. The only thing to do is to whip out your tools—your fingernails—and start squeezing.
It’s borderline repulsive, yet extremely rewarding—with every successful purge, you feel a sense of satisfaction. “There is something oddly satisfying in being able to take your fingernail and have this relief of something. You’ve accomplished this little thing on your face. It’s that immediate satisfaction that’s really gratifying,” says Dr. Samantha Boardman, M.D. and founder of Positive Prescription, a New York City-based positive psychology practice.
For most people, squeezing blackheads is a gratuitous little habit they can control. Yet for some, it can quickly become a compulsion. “Every time they do it, they release a little bit of dopamine and that’s the same kind of neurotransmitter that’s released with many, many addictive behaviors,” says Dr. Michelle Henry, Clinical Instructor of Dermatology at Weill Medical College. Dopamine directly affects your emotions, as well as your sensation to pleasure and pain. It controls the brain’s reward center, which explains why squeezing is so addictive and particularly hard to stop.
The Skin-Compromising Consequences
Every squeeze session causes visible skin damage, especially if it’s a daily occurrence. “Squeezing, picking, pulling, prodding—all of that can stretch the elastic around the pores, which makes them wider and larger, and they won’t bounce back into shape. Ultimately, your pores will look larger and become increasingly more visible. The perimeter of your pore is like the neck of a t-shirt. Once it is stretched out, it’ll never go back to its original shape. It’s irreversible damage,” says Dr. Henry. Damaging your skin by squeezing or picking can also cause inflammation, hyperpigmentation and scarring. Squeezing additionally introduces bacteria, oil and dirt from your hands into your pores, which can lead to more blackheads.
Breaking Bad Habits
When you feel the urge to purge, look for an immediate distraction: take a walk, call a friend, organize your closet, or even slip on a pair of gloves. “You want to interrupt the pattern and create a new routine for yourself that can prevent you from this go-to picking behavior,” says Dr. Boardman. Also, adds Dr. Henry, arm yourself with a great product that will clear out blackheads without damaging your skin. This way, you’ll get the instant gratification, without risking enlarged pores, pain or scarring. Her recommendation: Self-Heating Blackhead Extractor. This purifying formula heats up when mixed with water, gently opening up pores so that salicylic acid, bamboo powder and pumice can work to clear out oxidized oil, dirt, and debris without damaging skin. It also has an applicator tip with textured nubbies that help loosen up and whisk away blackheads. The proof: Clinically proven to reduce 93% of blackheads in 6 weeks. All gain, no pain.
Model photography: Christine Hahn | Words: Julie Redfern