How to Safely Use a Comedone Extractor on Blackheads and Whiteheads
The comedone extractor can easily push blackhead- and whitehead-causing gunk out of your pores—if you use it properly.
In the “important memories” folder stored in the back of my brain, you’ll find life-changing moments like waking up with my first period, passing my road test and picking up my driver’s license, and dealing with my first blackhead. The gnarly zit sprouted on my right nostril, exactly where you’d find a nose piercing. Being a 13-year-old with no beauty or skin-care expertise, I scrubbed the dark and mysterious bump with face wash, smeared concealer on it before I went to school, and crossed my fingers it would magically disappear on its own.
Months passed, the blackhead only grew larger and larger, and I became so embarrassed that I finally relented to my aunt. Her advice: Get a comedone extractor. I took her tip with me on my first trip to Ulta (an experience that’s also filed in that memories folder), and later that night, I gently pressed the metal contraption against the monstrous breakout. In that grossly satisfying, Dr. Pimple-Popper way, the dead skin that was clogging the pore exploded outward. And all at once, my wish for a blackhead-free nose came true. (Related: The 10 Best Blackhead Removers, According to a Skin Expert)
The comedone extractor (Buy It, $13, dermstore.com and ulta.com) has been my go-to, zit-zapping tool ever since. It's basically a four-inch metal rod with wire loops—one small and thin, the other long and thick–at each end. When you have a whitehead or blackhead that’s just dying to be popped, you encircle the opening of the pore with one of the loops and gently press the skin to extrude the contents (usually dead skin and sebum), says Marisa Garshick, M.D., F.A.A.D., a dermatologist based in New York City.
Some comedone extractors have a sharp point on one end that’s designed to create a small opening in the blackhead if one isn’t easily accessible. This will open up the pore and allow whatever’s clogged to come out. That said, Dr. Garshick cautions against using this part of the tool by yourself, as piercing the breakout too deeply can increase the risk of injury to the skin—aka inflammation, swelling, bleeding, or scarring. (See: Asking for a Friend: Is Popping Pimples Really So Bad?)
As simple and quick as the process sounds, dermatologists and skin experts *typically* don't recommend using a comedone extractor at home. (Sorry, Dr. Garshick!) “I think the reason that many dermatologists are often in the camp of ‘don’t try this at home’ is because if you put too much pressure, you can sometimes cause further injury to the skin,” she says. Aside from the potential to do more harm than good, it’s difficult to achieve the same level of sterilization that a dermatologist can provide at an in-office appointment, which helps reduce the potential for infections. (Related: The Best Acne Spot Treatments to Get Rid of a Pimple Fast)
For particularly stubborn breakouts, a pro is able to prevent damage and injuries caused by comedone extractors by applying the proper amount of pressure to relieve the buildup beneath the skin–and knowing when to stop. Plus, attempting to extract inflamed breakouts and cystic acne (large, sore, deep breakouts) at home can cause some serious damage. “I think those tend to be the ones that people run into the most trouble with when they try to pop,” notes Dr. Garshick. “Oftentimes, not a lot wants to come out, so they keep digging. That’s when they run into more issues with scarring, inflammation, or even develop a little scab because they’re really trying to push at it.” For these types of breakouts, you’re better off getting a cortisone injection or prescription medication to alleviate it, she adds.
But if you do have a blackhead that needs to be popped ASAP and you can’t make it to the derm (whether it's due to a hectic work schedule or a pandemic), don’t start squeezing it with your fingertips. Not only do you run the risk of infection, but you are also putting pressure on more skin than necessary for a small breakout, creating more inflammation and swelling, points out Dr. Garshick. “If you're gonna pop it and you have access to a comedone extractor, that’s definitely better than your fingers,” she says. “I would say when used the right way, the tool can help and facilitate a more positive extraction experience.” (Related: Why Salicylic Acid Is a Miracle Ingredient for Your Skin)
Here’s how to safely use a comedone extractor and where to buy one, if an appointment with your doctor simply isn’t an option.
How to Safely Use a Comedone Extractor
- Apply a warm compress (such as a damp, warm washcloth) to the affected area to soften and open up the pore.
- Clean the skin and the comedone extractor with alcohol.
- Select the wire loop you'd like to use. The smaller, more narrow loop is typically the better option since it doesn’t put extra pressure on the affected area. The larger loop can be used, with caution, on a larger breakout, says Dr. Garshick.
- Place the wire loop around the blackhead or white head. Press gently to extract the dead skin and sebum that’s clogging the pore. If nothing immediately comes out of the breakout, stop pressing and let it rest. If bleeding occurs, stop pressing. In this instance, it’s likely that the contents of the clogged pore have already come out and there’s nothing left, or the spot itself wasn’t ready to be popped. A little bruise may develop around the breakout from the pressure of the comedone extractor, which will go away on its own.
- Gently wash your face with soap and water to remove any remaining bacteria from the surface of the skin. Avoid spot treatments, which can further irritate the skin. Wait until the following day to resume your normal skin-care routine.