Lunchtime Beauty Q&A: How Do I Extract Blackheads Safely?

Photo: Fabrice Lerouge/Corbis

Q: Do those tiny (ice-cream-scoop-shaped) extractors that drug stores sell work? What's the best way to use them to remove blackheads?

A: Dermatologists and facialists alike can agree that picking and popping your face at home is a very bad idea. "Extractors are best used by a professional in the office," warns New York dermatologist Dr. Jennifer MacGregor. "Sometimes people get too aggressive at home and cause more inflammation and even permanent scarring, especially if blackheads are buried deep in the skin."

Retinoid-based skincare products and exfoliators, like Skin Medica's Tri-Retinol Complex and Skin Ceuticals Micro-Exfoliating Scrub, can help prevent the formation of blackheads and "loosen" preexisting ones, but for many, that's still not enough. While Dr. MacGregor always recommends seeing a dermatologist, she knows that many will not be able to resist the urge to take matters into their own hands. "For superficial blackheads, soften them with a moist, warm washcloth then apply gentle pressure around it with cotton-tipped swabs," she advises. "Never use your fingernail or a sharp object." Noted.