Most of you must be thinking “Yeah right, you have access to all the best products and tools, therefore making it impossible to get a pimple.” Wrong! I get them as well but there is a right and wrong way to removing those unwelcome guests on our skin. Here’s some tricks of the trade to get you through a skin care nightmare.
Before we begin, I would like to define a few key terms.
- Extractions – the action of taking out something, especially using effort or force
- Comedones – the professional term for a pore blockage
- Closed Comedone – White head
- Open Comedone – Blackhead
“To pop or not pop, that is the question?”
The first step in properly extracting comedones is to recognize which impactions can be safely removed and which can not. Closed comedones are pores filled with white sebum (oil) and are surrounded by pink/ red inflammation. Trying to extract a closed comedone is not only futile but can be detrimental to your skins health. By opening the pore before it is ready, you expose your skin to additional environmental contaminants making the problem worse and it can also lead to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (dark spots). Open comedones however, can and should be removed. The reason the open comedones can be removed safely is that the inflammation associated with the impaction is no longer there and the pore has already opened, leaving you a safe pathway for extraction. With proper preparation this can be an easy process.
The best way to get great results is through careful preparation.
Prepping your skin for extraction is easy. It just requires opening your pores with the combination of heat, moisture and a little exfoliation. In a spa setting, a steamer is used to moisten the skin but at home a warm shower or a soft steamy towel will work just as well. (Some big box and drug stores sell table top facial steamers. These work, but can vary in price from affordable to luxury.) After your skin is warm and moist, you will need to remove any topical debris like dead skin cells, make-up residue, etc. that may hamper your efforts. The best way to do that is by exfoliating your skin either mechanically (by hand with a gentle scrub or with the assistance of a tool) or chemically (use of active ingredients such as Glycolic, Lactic or Salicylic Acid). Both methods are effective, you can use whichever works best with your current skin condition. After exfoliating your skin, rinse away any product or active ingredient that might be left on your skin. Pat dry your face with a soft towel but be sure not to completely dry your face. The reason being that your pore will quickly tighten after becoming dry in an attempt to seal in the skin natural oils. Moist skin is supple skin which will allow the comedone to be removed more easily. Now that you have the basics, let’s get into techniques.
Q-tip Removal Method
Believe it or not, Q-tips are my #1 recommendation for performing extractions outside the treatment room. The reason they are so effective is that they prevent damage to the skin by limiting the amount of pressure that you can apply on the impaction, therefor preventing any inflammation from occurring. The best way to utilize the q-tips is to treat the comedone like the letter “U”. (A “U” you say, what is she talking about?!) Let me explain. Your pore is shaped like a “U” and if you just push the side of the “U” together you will never extract the sebum lurking below. First you must use to q-tips to roll away from the center of the impaction in opposing directions (think north, south or east, west) starting on each side of the comedone. Then re-position your q-tips in the opposite starting point (If you were north,south you now re-position to east,west) and again roll away. Now comes the fun part! Using firm pressure, roll the q-tips toward the impaction coming from beneath if possible. This will start to dislodge the comedone from the pore. Re-position your q-tips in opposing directions and repeat this pattern until the comedone is removed.
There are many tools on the market to assist you in removing your comedones. Everything from “peel away masks”, which from the YouTube videos look quite painful, to mini blackhead busting vacuum contraptions. None of these I would personally nor professionally recommend. One tool I would endorse the use of would be the “loop” extractor; which essentially composed of a thin metal handle with a small rounded loop on one end and a large flat loop on the other. The smaller rounded edge is for removing open comedones and the larger flat end is for closed comedones. The best way to utilize this tool is to place it beside the comedone with the center of the pore in the middle of the loop, then gently apply pressure toward to impaction, always trying to come from underneath. Once one side is done you may re-position it to the other to ensure the entire comedone is removed. This may take a few passes but if it becomes painful or begins to bleed, stop immediately to avoid damage to the skin.
Esthetician’s Favorite Tool
I would have to say that my favorite tool of all time is my Sonophoresis machine. Sonophoresis is a process that exponentially increases the absorption of topical compounds into the epidermis and dermis by using microvibration waves. You might be thinking “Absorption? Isn’t that the opposite of what we are tying to do here?” Interestingly enough, the same tool that can penetrate product into the epidermis can assist in extracting it. When using the Sonophoresis machine to penetrate product into the skin you would use the flat side of the spatula, adjusting the frequency as necessary; then slide it gently across the skin, carefully avoiding the eye area. When you are using the machine for extractions, you would turn the spatula over, using the rounded prong side. Again adjusting the frequency as necessary, then applying the tool to the side of the comedone with light pressure to remove.
The proper closing can leave a lasting impression.
Like many things in life the proper ending can be key…. You don’t want to do a load of hard work then leave the mess lying around do you? Here is the best way to finish your extraction session.
Weather its one comedone or twenty if its swollen, ice it! If inflammation is present you must reduce it as quickly as possible to avoid damage. If there is no swelling present or the swelling had reduced to a comfortable level, your next step is re-balancing your skin. You can do this in many ways but the best being a hydrating mask. Look for masks that contain Aloe, Allantoin, Honey, Lavender, Oatmeal or Shea Butter. Follow the instructions given on your chosen mask and once your hydrating mask has been removed, you may want to tone your skin with a non-alcohol based toner to again assist your skin with its pH. If you dont use one or have one available it is not nessesary. Now it is time to moisturize your skin to ensure that you either replenish the oils that your skin needs for drier skin types or to seal in the natural oils for more oil prone skin types to prevent an over production of oil. The final step is sunprotection of SPF15 or higher.
The old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” couldn’t be more accurate when it comes to skin care. An ounce of sunscreen can protect your entire face, neck and shoulders and it could save you a pound of flesh, if you catch my drift… Please wear your sunscreen! Your friendly Esthetician thanks you!
Thank you so much for reading my first blog! I hope you enjoyed it and possibly learned something. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to comment below or write me an email. If there is a subject you would like me to cover, please share.
Mahalo for reading and a hui ho,