Do blackheads spread when you pop them?

Quick Answer

Popping blackheads can sometimes cause them to spread or become worse. When you squeeze a blackhead, you risk pushing some of the contents deeper into the pore, causing more clogging and potential breakouts. You can also spread bacteria from your hands into the open pore, increasing infection risk. However, properly extracting blackheads using sterile tools and techniques may help improve their appearance without making them worse.

What Are Blackheads?

Blackheads, also called open comedones, are small dark bumps that appear on the skin, often on the face around the nose and forehead. They form when dead skin cells, oil, and bacteria clog a hair follicle or pore. This plug widens the follicle opening, allowing air to enter and oxidize the clog, turning it black.

While harmless, blackheads can be unsightly and difficult to remove. As tempting as it is to squeeze them out, you must use proper techniques to avoid making them spread or get infected.

Can Popping Blackheads Make Them Spread?

Yes, picking at or squeezing blackheads incorrectly can potentially make them spread for a few reasons:

Pushing Debris Deeper Into The Pore

When you squeeze a blackhead, you risk pushing some of the clogged material further back into the pore. This can block the follicle even more, making it difficult for naturally occurring shedding and oil drainage. The increased blockage makes it more likely surrounding pores will also get congested and turn into blackheads.

Damaging The Follicle Walls

Using too much pressure and force when squeezing can damage the follicle walls. This allows debris to leak into surrounding tissue, blocking other pores and causing more blackheads to form.

Spreading Bacteria

Popping blackheads incorrectly can introduce bacteria from your fingertips into the open pore. Touching the skin with dirty hands transfers microorganisms like streptococcus and staphylococcus into the damaged follicle. This can lead to redness, swelling, and acne breakouts in the area as bacteria rapidly multiply.


Overly aggressive popping can cause trauma and even tear the skin. This can leave behind permanent scars or dark marks once a blackhead is removed forcefully. The risk of scarring increases if you try extracting blackheads that aren’t ready to come out.

Proper Blackhead Removal Techniques

While squeezing is not recommended, you can safely remove blackheads using proper techniques and tools. Here are some tips:

Use A Sterile Extractor Tool

A comedone extractor tool has a small metal loop designed to gently press around a blackhead and remove it. The smooth, round edges help loosen debris without damaging skin when used correctly. Never use your fingernails, pins, or needles.

Steam First

Hold a warm, damp washcloth over your face for a few minutes before extraction. This softens the skin and opens pores to make blackheads easier to remove cleanly.

Wash Your Face

Make sure to thoroughly cleanse your face before and after extraction to remove excess oil and bacteria. Use a gentle cleanser that won’t strip your skin.

Apply a Topical

Dab on a product containing salicylic acid to help dry out the blackhead and make removal easier. Avoid using harsh scrubs.

Gently Extract

Place the extractor loop over the blackhead and apply light, even pressure. Never squeeze forcefully or puncture the skin. Stop if it doesn’t come out easily.

Use Proper Hygiene

Always wash your hands thoroughly and clean extractor tools with alcohol to avoid spreading germs and infection. Never share extractors.

Apply a Sterile Dressing

Dab some antibiotic ointment on the open pore after removing a blackhead to prevent bacteria buildup. Cover with a small sterile bandage overnight.

Avoid Overextracting

Only extract blackheads that are ready to be removed and avoid picking at your skin. Overextracting can make your pores look larger.

See a Dermatologist

Visit a skin care professional if you have troublesome blackheads for proper extraction. Their expertise and sterile equipment reduce the risks.

How To Treat Blackheads Without Popping

While popping correctly can help some blackheads, try these gentler treatments first:

Exfoliate Regularly

Use a face scrub or solutions with beta hydroxy acid (BHA) or alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) to slough off dead cells and debris from pore openings. This prevents blockages that lead to blackheads.


Vitamin A-derived retinoids increase cell turnover to unclog pores while reducing blackhead-causing oil. They are available over-the-counter or stronger by prescription.

Oil-Free Skincare

Avoid heavy oils, thick creams, and occlusive products if you are prone to blackheads. Opt for oil-free, non-comedogenic makeup and moisturizers.

Tea Tree Oil

The antimicrobial properties of tea tree oil make it useful for fighting acne. Dab it directly on blackheads 2-3 times a week to dry them out and reduce bacteria.

Clay Masks

Masks containing bentonite or kaolin clay can help draw out impurities from clogged pores while absorbing excess oil. Use a couple times a week.


Glycolic acid, lactic acid, and salicylic acid peels remove dead skin, debris, and oils to keep pores clear. Get peels done monthly by a professional.

Prescription Treatments

For persistent blackheads not responding to over-the-counter options, dermatologists may prescribe stronger retinoids, antibiotics, benzoyl peroxide, or in-office treatments like microdermabrasion.

Are Blackheads Contagious?

Blackheads themselves are not contagious. They form as a result of oils and dead skin building up within your own pores. However, you can potentially spread the bacteria that cause worsening acne by touching blackheads then transferring germs to other areas of your face. Sharing makeup and extractors can also spread blackhead-causing bacteria.

To avoid spreading blackheads indirectly:

– Avoid touching, picking, or popping existing blackheads
– Do not share personal items like washcloths, towels, pillowcases, etc.
– Always sterilize blackhead extraction tools
– Discard old makeup and clean brushes/tools regularly
– Wash hands before applying skincare products or makeup

Who Is Prone To Blackheads?

While anyone can get blackheads, some people are more susceptible:

– Teenagers – hormonal fluctuations during puberty increase oil production
– Young adults – oil glands are most active in adolescence and early adulthood
– Oily skin types – excessive sebum clogs pores more readily
– Men – testosterone causes increased oil production
– Genetics – family history of acne makes you prone to clogged pores
– Environmental factors – humidity, medications, greasy hair products
– An unhealthy diet – eating lots of high-glycemic carbs and dairy

Where Do Blackheads Usually Form?

Blackheads can pop up anywhere on the body but are most common in oil-prone areas where pores and hair follicles are largest. Typical blackhead hot spots include:

– Nose – contains large pores and sebaceous glands
– Forehead – oily, with many hair follicles
– Chest – abundant oil glands around the upper chest
– Back – high concentration of sebaceous glands along the back
– Arms – large pores capable of clogging
– Shoulders – linked to back acne
– Ears – oil and dead skin can build up in ear canals
– Chin and jawline – hormonal area affected by androgens

Face Mapping Blackheads

The location of blackheads on your face can sometimes indicate their underlying cause:

Forehead: Oily hair products, hats, headbands putting pressure on skin

Between eyebrows: Stress, facial expressions

Nose: Genetics, enlarged pores, excess sebum production

Chin: Hormonal fluctuations

Cheeks: Skin care products causing congestion (makeup, sunscreen)

Around mouth: Smoking, lip balms

What Makes Blackheads Worse?

Certain factors can exacerbate blackheads by increasing oil production, blocking pores, and promoting bacteria:

Hormones – Androgen hormones increase sebum production
Stress – Cortisol spikes can worsen acne breakouts
Hot and humid climates – Sweating exacerbates clogged pores
Friction on the skin – From sports helmets, backpacks, tight clothing
Occlusive skincare – Thick creams and oil-based products
Medications – Lithium, corticosteroids, testosterone, birth control
Greasy cosmetics – Thick foundations, pomades, silicone-based products
Sun exposure – Excessive UV radiation damages skin
Sweat and bacteria – Trapped against skin by tight clothes
Diet – High-glycemic foods like refined carbs

Conversely, the following can improve blackheads:

– Using oil-free, non-comedogenic skincare products
– Exfoliating regularly to remove dead skin cell buildup
– Washing frequently, especially after sweating
– Avoiding excessive touching or squeezing
– Using a gentle, medicated cleanser
– Taking prescription retinoids

Are Blackheads Bad?

Blackheads themselves are typically not harmful, unlike inflammatory lesions like papules and pustules, which are red and swollen. Mild blackheads can usually be managed with over-the-counter treatments and good skincare habits. However, severe or persistent blackheads may require prescription acne medications or in-office procedures.

Ignoring blackheads for too long can potentially lead to:

– Enlarged, sagging pores
– Spreading acne breakouts
– Visible pores detracting from appearance
– Scarring if picked or popped incorrectly
– Dark marks after a blackhead is removed
– Bacterial infection of hair follicle (folliculitis)

See a dermatologist promptly if you suddenly develop many blackheads or they don’t respond to diligent self-care. This may indicate an underlying hormonal or internal cause needing treatment.

How To Prevent Blackheads

While you can’t always stop blackheads completely, you can reduce their frequency and severity by:

– Washing your face twice daily and after sweating heavily
– Using oil-free cosmetics labeled non-comedogenic or non-acnegenic
– Exfoliating 2-3 times a week to remove excess dead skin cells
– Applying a clay mask 1-2 times per week to control oils and tighten pores
– Using toner after cleansing to remove residual dirt and balance skin pH
– Using oil-blotting sheets during the day to control shine
– Taking OTC or prescription retinoids to increase skin cell turnover
– Avoiding excessive touching or squeezing of your skin
– Shampooing regularly if you have oily hair
– Keeping hair products and cosmetics off your forehead and cheeks
– Wearing breathable fabrics, especially during exercise
– Disinfecting your phone screen regularly with alcohol wipes
– Changing your pillowcase 1-2 times per week

Consistent prevention and avoidance of blackhead triggers are key to reducing their occurrence long-term.


Popping blackheads incorrectly can potentially spread their contents deeper into pores, worsen acne, and lead to scarring. However, proper professional extraction or using the right techniques and tools at home may safely clear some blackheads. Always sterilize tools, wash your face thoroughly before and after, and avoid over-extracting to prevent pushing debris into surrounding pores.

While extraction has its place, its best to avoid squeezing whenever possible. Consistent prevention using oil-free products, exfoliants, and retinoids can help control blackheads. If they remain widespread or severe, see a dermatologist for prescription treatments and extraction. With a solid skincare routine, most blackheads can be minimized for clear, healthy skin.

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