Beauty specialists across the internet are constantly raving about a little beauty tool called a comedone extractor – but what on Earth are comedones, and why would one want to extract them? It sounds a little uncomfortable.
What is a Comedo?
A comedo is just a fancy medical term for everyone’s most unwelcome friend: the pimple. It’s quite literally where a pore or hair follicle becomes filled with skin debris (keratin), bacteria, and oil (sebum). A single lesion or blemish is known as a comedo whereas a cluster are known as comedones.
Sebum is produced by the skin to prevent the hair and skin from drying out. But when sebum is produced in excessive amounts, perhaps from stress or hormonal changes, this excess oil needs somewhere to go. And, usually, it can’t just flow out of your skin because your pores are clogged up with dead skin cells, makeup, and dirt. So it builds up under the skin and forms a comedo lesion.
A comedo blemish can be open or closed. A closed comedo is where the follicle is completely blocked and so you get a traditional whitehead pimple –– the kind that all pimple poppers love to pop! Whereas an open comedo is usually capped with a dark spot of skin (caused by the skin pigment melanin), and are well renowned as “blackheads”.1
What is a Comedone Extractor Tool?
A comedone extractor is a small metal tool with a loop at one end. It’s also known as a blackhead extractor tool, or a blackhead remover, but is used for all comedones (both blackheads and whiteheads). The loop of the blackhead extractor tool is placed around the comedo and gentle (but firm) pressure is applied. This even pressure is able to force out the contents of comedones without injuring the surrounding skin. It’s incredibly simple to use, but you do need to understand the “rules of extraction” in order to perform it correctly and safely.
What are the Different Types of Comedone Extractors?
Comedone removal tools can come in several varieties. The main types that you are likely to come across are:
- Lancet –– Has a very small but very sharp point that is used to puncture a hole in a whitehead comedo to “lance” the build-up inside.
- Spoon Extractor –– Looks like a small spoon with a hole in the middle. It’s designed to fit snuggly over a comedo and as gentle pressure is applied, it pushes the trapped build-up out of the skin.
- Angled Loop –– For reaching difficult areas such as the crevices of the ear or the side of the nose (a very common trouble spot!).
- Small Loop –– A smaller loop is effective for rolling out smaller, mature (ready to pop) whiteheads.
- Flat Loop –– The longer, flatter loop is ideal for pressing out blackheads. The flatter loop is also better for minimizing skin damage and irritation.
Why Popping Pimples “Your Way” is Bad
Much like blackheads, when you have a whitehead pimple, they taunt you every time you look in the mirror. You can almost hear them repeating, “free me, free me!” You try to resist the urge. You know it’s bad for your skin, but it feels so good when you pop those little guys. You promise yourself that this time you’ll be extra gentle, and you won’t leave a red mark.
But popping and squeezing any type of pimple is bad for your skin, and it can easily leave you with scars. For this reason, you should leave the pimple popping to the experts: dermatologists.2
Popping blackheads and whiteheads:
- Create damage (and irritation) to the surrounding skin, which can take a long time to heal
- Add bacteria and dirt from your fingers to the pimple, which can make the infection worse
- Can spread bacteria and create more comedones in the area
- Messes up your body’s covert attack. The body has already sent in the immune cell army and is currently doing its job. When you interfere, you mess up the progress it’s making.
- Can leave lifetime scars, especially with deeper cystic acne
How are Extracting Pimples and Blackheads Different?
Contrary to what you’ve been taught, it can actually be okay to do a little pimple and blackhead removal yourself, but there are rules. Many dermatologists shudder at the thought of people doing comedone extractions at home, because they know that they often don’t take the proper precautions.
So, what are the eight commandments of safe blackhead removal, or whitehead extraction?
1. Know Thy Comedones!
Comedone extractors should only be used on whitehead or blackhead comedones, and never on cystic acne – which is much deeper, and can cause serious scarring. Leave cystic acne to your dermatologist.
2. Sanitize, Sanitize
This one cannot be said enough. Keep everything as sterilized as possible. Thoroughly cleanse your blackhead remover in alcohol before you begin – even if you’re certain it’s clean from last time. In fact, let it sit in alcohol for one minute. You want to avoid any chance of bacterial infections.
3. Prep a Clean Face
Give your face a good wash with your favorite cleanser for the removal of any bacteria that may be lurking on the skin. A clean, dry work surface will also help to minimize the possibility of bacterial infections.
4. Open Your Pores
It’s always recommended that you steam your pores before you begin any extractions. Steaming will open your pores and make extractions with blackhead removal tools far easier. This means less stress on your delicate skin. Boil up a pan of water, place a towel over your head, and hold your face over the steam for at least 5 minutes.
Bonus: you’ll clear your sinuses at the same time as your pores!
Now that you’ve done the prep work…
5. Be Gentle
Though a comedone extractor is far better than harshly squeezing the skin with your fingers, you can still harm your skin if you’re not careful. Proceed firmly but gently. Push down on one side of the comedone extractor tool at a time, gently rolling it across the affected area.
6. If It Doesn’t Budge, Leave It Alone!
This one is pretty self-explanatory. If it doesn’t want to come out, lay off it. The debris should actually come out quite easily after that steam session, so if it isn’t coming out, move on. The comedo may be deeper than you first expected, and you will risk scarring if you proceed.
7. Sanitizing, Part Two
You’re not quite done with sanitizing just yet! Between each pimple you must, must, must re-sterilize your comedone extractor, so you don’t spread bacteria between pimples. So it’s back to the alcohol for another minute.
8. Treat Your Wounds
Now that you’ve succeeded in the removal of debris, sebum, and bacteria from your comedones, it’s time for a little bit of skincare to make sure that the mini wounds you’ve created are protected. Whether you pop a pimple with your fingers (which you should not do!) or use a comedone extractor, you’ve still created an open wound. Apply a gentle toner to close up your pores, and then dab some antiseptic cream, or a natural antibacterial like tea tree or eucalyptus oil, on the site.
If in doubt, or if you don’t feel completely confident in what you’re doing, take a visit to a beauty specialist or dermatologist for the removal of your comedones instead. It may cost more than doing it at home, but preserving your beautiful complexion is worth it, don’t you think?
Or, you can just “let it be” as your mom would tell you. Your immune system is smarter than you give it credit for. It’s always at the site of an infection, battling in the trenches, long before you even realized you had an infection. So get out of its way. Apply salicylic acid to your comedones, which helps to unclog pores, then dab on some concealer, and try to relax. Everyone gets pimples at some time or another.