How to get rid of blackheads. For real.

Now, I’m not one to tell you what to do, (yes I am) but there is one thing you absolutely, definitely should do for the sake of your skin and pores, and people who have to look at your nose when they talk to you. (Everyone.) (Except small children.)

It is to have your blackheads professionally extracted. I know! I know. How controversial.

I realised this the other day while I was having Extremely Exhaustive Extractions performed on my nose by my terrific and thorough facialist, NATASHA, a woman with an enchanting pixie cut and terrific eyebrows who otherwise would not harm a cockroach, even if that cockroach was 10ft tall and making off with her wax pot.

I had only just had a round of extractions two weeks prior, but I was called back in because my nose was very clogged and brimming with blackheads (cute!) just waiting for a public appearance so they could morph into pimples. And Natasha wanted them out.

Why my nose (and the bit where my nose joins my face where all my capillaries like to hang out and play Sudoku) was like this was because I had just spent a week in Mexico, where I had applied zinc and heavy sunscreen (including one that was my boyfriend’s “extreme blokey protection balm for being a sports hero” and was akin to pure duck fat) like the possessed, five times a day. And that shit builds UP. Even though I had exfoliated, it had still plugged my pores with the tenaciousness of the little Dutch boy with his finger in the dike.


Even though it was upside down because I was on her treatment bed, I could clearly see the expression of pride and satisfaction on NATASHA’s face when she’d finished the job. “Your nose is the cleanest it has ever been,” she said.

“That really f__cking hurt,” I said. But she was right: My pores were now the size of ant shoes and there was not a black (or white) head to be seen. It was magnificent. Who knew having a pure, clean nose would feel and look so fantastic?

Quite a few of us, I’d say, judging by the amount of women who write in asking me how to remove blackheads.

The short answer is professional extractions. I’ve asked many, many skin specialists over the years and they all say that while pore strips (they only remove the “lid” of the blackhead, actually leaving more room for infection than if you hadn’t used them I’ve learned) and purifying masks and scrubs might help diminish their appearance, or remove a few, nothing gets blackheads out like a professional extraction. Nothing.

As I’m not one of those radiant-faced pixies with clear, non-congested skin who wears very little skincare and makeup, I have extractions as part of my bi-monthly facials. That’s plenty for my skin type, which is normal, with a side of dehydration. (Not dry – two different things.) Those with oily, congested or combination skin will benefit greatly from extractions, as clogged pores and blackheads are the perfect foundation for blemishes.

Think extractions sound painful? Mamamia’s own Mia Freedman recently got her face lasered… and it wasn’t exactly pain-free (post continues after video).

Note: I am not talking about large, open pores, the kind you often find in an oily T-zone, or on very oily skin. These are better managed with gentle exfoliation and toners/serums with (BHAs like) salicylic acid than with extraction.

As you can tell from the words and sentences you’ve just read, I am obviously pro-extraction. My nose looked pretty vile before NATASHA did her thing, and I love knowing she’s saved me from a constellation of grotty pimples and a mountain of dark dots on my nose. Sure, when the extractions begin mid-way through a facial it’s the equivalent of being awoken at 3am by a very bitey scorpion, but I like knowing my skin is authentically, literally clean after a facial.


Some people, and a lot of beauty therapists, are opposed to extractions. There are two very passionate schools on the matter, in fact.

The anti-extraction camp says it’s unrequired and cruel and invasive and that pulling and pressing the pores weakens them and your collagen and elastin fibers. They also maintain that with the help of the right products and treatments (such as facial oils and warm compresses) the skin will detox itself of impurities, and the oil flow will be regulated, and not clogged. Clarins, for example, (and, uh, most of France, I suspect) are anti-extractions, so don’t book into a Clarins beauty room if you’re hoping for a good squeeze.

The pro-extraction guys on the other hand, (nose?) believe that while you can manage and exfoliate thick, clogged pores, blackheads and congestion at home, (try Mario Badescu’s famed Silver Powder, clay or warming masks to draw out gunk weekly, and BHAs – as found in the Clean and Clear/Neutrogena acne and blackhead ranges) these pores will not just magically clean themselves. (DIY extraction is absolutely not recommended, by the way – will lead to infections, pimples, scars and broken blood vessels.) The skin is simply not equipped to deal with the amount of products we put on our skin, and the textures and formulas and ingredients thereof, (like sunscreens, silicones from primers and the polymers in long-last makeup) and cannot reject and detox these impurities themselves. Without professional extraction, you end up with dull, grey skin and enormous, stretched pores that fester and become zits.

I concede that for people with very sensitive skin, extractions might well be too much. Or it might just be a choice you’ve made to be a little more gentle with your skin. Admittedly, if your therapist is too rough, and doesn’t properly prepare and soothe the skin afterwards, extractions can mess your skin up for a day or two. I’ve seen friends with HORRIBLE results (welts!) after 45 minutes of barbaric extractions, and the poor lambs don’t know what to do. I am furious when I see this. Rough, painful extractions are NOT OKAY: it’s not meant to look like you’ve been attacked by sandflies.

A portrait of a Young asian woman smile while looks at the mirror, happy
A good therapist won’t leave any trace of extractions. (Image via iStock)

A good therapist won’t leave any trace of extractions. In fact, I think extractions are the test of a good facialist – it’s an art form, almost.

Here’s how it should play out:

– A gentle, professional therapist who understands it’s not a ‘no pain no gain’ situation gives you a facial

– She prepares the skin with adequate steam and exfoliation (enzymes or a scrub) to soften the pores

– She does precise, delicate extractions with a magnifying lamp and a tissue. More push than pull

Antiseptic/purifying products (such as witch hazel) are applied post extractions

– The skin is soothed with a calming/anti-inflammatory face mask or even something like Omnilux (LED)

– You leave happy and update your Facebook status with a photo of your sparkling nose

This kind of care and effort will ensure you prance out of that salon looking glowing and delightful, and no one will even know you just a kilo of dirt and oil removed from your mug. That said, if you have sensitive skin, or the facialist was presented with a post-Mexico nose and had to go rather hard, you might have a bit of redness for a bit. Just cover it up with mineral makeup, although this why it’s better to have a facial late in the day, when you can go straight home and not wear makeup and not wash your face until the next morning, so that all the skin care and all the serums and the masks they’ve used can really sink in and do their job.

Obviously this is the part where I sit back in my chair with my hands in a pyramid and a defiant look in my eyes and challenge you to look at your nose REAL CLOSE in an unflattering mirror and harsh daylight to see if perhaps your schnoz needs a spring clean, and if you might consider extractions to assist in said spring clean.  And then I get up and go get some yoghurt because I’m hungry.

That’s extractly what I’m talking about,



Zoe’s amazing book, Amazing Face

Zoe is an author and columnist. She has previously been the beauty director for both Cosmopolitan and Harper’s BAZAAR magazines, and the Editor at Large of Zoe has published four books; Air Kisses, Textbook Romance (which she wrote with Hamish Blake), Playing The Field and Amazing Face. You can follow Zoe’s tumblr here and her Twitter here.