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Let’s Talk the Difference Between Pores and Blackheads (and How to Tell)

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Main image – Juliememe/Stocksy

Grace Day is an aesthetician and beauty editor who divides her time between testing and reviewing the latest launches, and providing treatments and skincare routine coaching from her Manchester studio. Each month, Grace shares her learnings and observations straight from the salon, along with her verdict on the latest trends and product launches, here in her series “In the Treatment Room with Grace Day.”

Pore or blackhead? It’s an age-old question, which as an aesthetician I now find myself being asked on a daily basis. Seriously, not a day goes by that I don’t sit down with a client and hear ‘my nose is covered in blackheads’, only to take a close look and inform them that there isn’t a single one in sight.

That’s right, nine times out of ten, those tiny dots that cover the surface of your skin (often most obvious in the T-zone—nose, forehead, and chin) are actually pores.

Also known as sebaceous filaments, pores are a normal and natural feature of our skin. In fact, the average human has over 5 million pores on their body, with about 20,000 on these on the face. Oh, and everyone has them.

Of course, I totally understand the confusion. I remember as a teenager being convinced that my nose was covered in blackheads, only to later learn that what I had been squeezing and pinching in (a futile) attempt to achieve ‘flawless’ skin, were actually just enlarged pores. There’s no getting rid of them, and there’s no opening or closing them—they also do not ‘breathe’.

Our pores are there to serve one simple function, moisturising our skin via the production of oil (sebum) to prevent it from becoming dry and scaly.


Image – Alexeykuzma/Stocksy


This lightbulb moment made me see my skin in a whole new light and gave me a newfound appreciation for the functions of my skin. I realised why the pore strips, charcoal masks, and excessive exfoliation hadn’t helped to remove my ‘blackheads’—because there was nothing there to remove.

When new clients send me lists of their skin concerns, I can almost guarantee that blackheads will be on there, but that in actual fact, what they’re looking at is their pores. It is an easy mistake to make, especially if you’ve never seen a blackhead before—and they’re definitely not the most common type of breakout that people experience.

If you are also confused about the difference between pores and blackheads, scroll down. Below I’ve answered my most asked pore and blackhead-related questions from my clients.


What do pores do?

Pores are the small opening in our skin that connect to our hair follicles. Pores don’t open or close but they can stretch and dilate. They function to allow sebum or sweat to move out of the skin. The sebum rises up the hair follicle and exits through the pore. Sometimes, the pore becomes clogged with sebum and dead skin, which can lead to a breakout forming.


What is a blackhead?

Also known as an open comedone, a blackhead forms when a pore becomes plugged with dead skin cells and sebum. The sebum turns black when it oxidises in contact with the air.


How can you tell the difference between pores and blackheads?

You’ll know a blackhead when you see one because they really do stand out in comparison to pores. Although it will be small, it will have a much darker surface and will also probably be slightly raised on the skin.


What’s the difference between a blackhead and a whitehead?

A whitehead forms in the same way a blackhead does, but appears white because the pore is closed off by a covering of skin, which prevents oxidisation. For this reason, whiteheads are known as closed comedones.


How can you get rid of blackheads?

Keeping skin cleansed and exfoliated can help to prevent blackheads from forming in the first place. If you already have one, use a salicylic acid-based spot treatment—this powerful exfoliating ingredient helps to unclog buildup pores by breaking down sebum.


Can you remove pores?

No, but you can make them appear less obvious. If a pore is clogged (with excess sebum, dead skin, makeup etc) then it may appear more noticeable than others. Likewise, if skin is dry and stretched then pores will appear wider. Cleansing skin efficiently, exfoliating regularly, and keeping skin well hydrated will help pores to be less visible.


Is it okay to squeeze pores and blackheads?

Although it’s tempting, this is a bad idea. Not only can squeezing and picking cause trauma to the skin which can lead to hyperpigmentation or scarring, but this can also transfer bacteria to the pore and lead to a more severe breakout.


Why are pores and blackheads more obvious around my nose?

Pores and blackheads are typically more obvious in our T-zone because this area produces more oil than the rest of the face.


Why do my pores look different to other peoples pores?

Our pores, where they are, and what they look like are largely impacted by our genetics. In addition, pores look more obvious as our collagen breaks down, which happens as we age or when we have significant sun exposure. Sebum production, which is in turn impacted by things like the menstrual cycle, also impacts pore size, as does hydration.


6 new skincare launches for enlarged pores and blackheads

Skin Rocks The Control Acid

My own treatment room is well-stocked with bottles of this salicylic acid-based exfoliating toner. I use it before and during the extraction process, to make removing any blackheads quicker and easier. For my clients who cite pores and blackheads amongst their top concerns, I recommend using it up to three times a week to keep on top of congestion.


Laneige Bouncy & Firm Sleep Mask

If you suspect that your pores are enlarged due to skin losing volume or feeling dry and dehydrated, this overnight mask will help to give your complexion a quick boost. I love to use it on nights when my skin looks tired and lacklustre. By morning, it not only appears pepped up, but the pores across my forehead appear much less noticeable.


Starface Hydro-Star + Salicylic Acid Pimple Patches

Spot stickers are my favourite alternative to recommend to clients who are prone to squeezing or picking at their pores. As well as preventing the picking from happening and keeping bacteria out, they will help to absorb the congestion from the pore. What I particularly love about these ones is the addition of salicylic acid, to help break down the sebum.


Image – Starface


The Ordinary Retinal 0.2% Emulsion

Enlarged pores are typically thought of as a concern that teenagers deal with, but actually many of my clients don’t start to notice them until they hit their thirties or forties. This is due to the loss of collagen (which gives skin structure). My top recommendation? A retinoid serum which will help to stimulate collagen production and keep pores unclogged. This is my favourite to recommend to retinoid newbies.


Dr. Jart+ Pore Remedy Renewing Foam Cleanser

A good cleanser is the backbone of any solid skincare routine, but especially if you’re looking to target blackheads and enlarged pores. Formulated specifically with those concerns in mind, this gel-to-foam face wash uses poly hydroxy acids (PHAs) to gently exfoliate skin. I recommend it to my oily-skinned clients as a perfect second cleanse in their evening routines.


Fenty Skin Blemish Defeat’r BHA Spot Targeting Gel

Blackheads, and indeed all types of breakouts, don’t stand a chance against this intensive spot treatment. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s one of the best I’ve tried—and as I’m very acne-prone, I’ve tried many. The cooling gel applies clear and forms an invisible patch so can be worn throughout the day and under makeup while salicylic acid works to break down congestion and reduce inflammation.


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Freelance Beauty Writer

Grace Day is the former Beauty Editor of Beauty Bay and a regular contributor to publications like Hypebae and POPSUGAR UK.  A qualified aesthetician, Grace is regularly featured in the likes of The Evening Standard, In Style and Brydie for her expert skincare consultations and facials at Dolls Part salon in Manchester.

Expertise: Skincare, makeup
Education: University of Manchester

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