What Are Blackhead (or Blemish) Extractions?

Why Your Esthetician Squeezes Blackheads During a Facial

Comedo Extractor
A comedo extractor may be used to remove blackheads.. Photo © Angela Palmer

You're lying in a quiet treatment room at the salon, soft music flowing around you along with the relaxing scent of lavender. The esthetician has just finished giving your face a cleansing steam bath, and then ... ouch!

Welcome to the extraction portion of your facial.

You've always been told not to pick at or pop your blackheads and blemishes. So why does your esthetician insist on doing it every time you get a facial?

What Are Blackhead (or Blemish) Extractions?

Blemish extractions are routinely done during salon facial treatments.  Blackheads and non-inflamed blemishes (also known as pore blockages or comedones) are manually removed, or extracted, from the skin during a facial treatment.

The thick plug of oil and dead skin cells is carefully pushed up and out of the pore, leaving smoother looking skin behind.  You'll see an immediate difference in your skin -- blackheads are gone!  You'll also get long-term benefits because those small pore blockages won't be around to turn into larger, inflamed pimples. 

How Are Extractions Performed?

First, the skin is prepared by lightly steaming the area. This helps to soften the plug of debris that's set up camp in your pore, as well as expand the pore opening so that the plug squeezes out more easily. 

Your esthetician may also exfoliate the skin before extractions begin.

  Again, this helps prepare the comedone and the pore for easier extracting.

Next, the skin care therapist wraps her fingers in cotton or tissue and applies gentle pressure to the blackhead or blemish. Some therapists may also use a small metal implement called a comedone extractor.

With luck, the plug of sebaceous matter is coaxed from the pore.

Not only do extractions immediately improve the look of the skin (especially if the blackhead was large and obvious), but done regularly, they can help reduce breakouts.

Extractions can be done anywhere you have blackheads and blemishes -- on the face, neck, chest, back, and shoulders.

Can Extractions Damage the Skin?

When done correctly, extractions don't harm the skin.  Your skin may be slightly red for a very short time after extractions are done, simply because of the manipulation and pressure put on the skin.  If your skin tends to be sensitive anyway, you're more apt to notice redness after extractions.    

But extracting a blackhead correctly is easier said than done. It should never be forced to the surface. Extra care must be taken if a comedone extractor is used, because they can place a lot of pressure on the skin if used incorrectly.

Only non-inflamed blemishes, like blackheads, closed comedones, and milia, can safely be extracted.Inflamed blemishes, acne papules and cysts for example, should never be extracted except by your doctor.

Applying any type of pressure to an inflamed pimple can damage the skin and cause scarring. Besides, it hurts!

Can You Do Your Own Extractions At Home?

If you're gentle, careful, and selective, you can safely extract blemishes at home on your own.  It's easiest to extract blemishes after a shower, when the skin is warm and the pore blockage more pliable.

Remember to use clean hands, and only apply the gentlest of pressure.  If the blemish doesn't extract, don't force it.  Leave it for another day. 

Don't be tempted to use your fingernails to squeeze your own blackheads. Using two cotton swabs or your fingers wrapped in tissue is much better for your skin.  Incorrect technique can make your blemish worse, rather than better.

Never squeeze or try to "pop" a red, inflamed pimple.  This can scar your skin. 

If you need guidance, ask your dermatologist or esthetician for extracting tips.  This will help you clear out your pores while keeping your skin safe.

Next Steps:

How To Extract Blackheads and Blemishes without Harming Your Skin

How To Get Rid of Blackheads

How To Treat Non-Inflamed Blemishes

Treating Acne at the Salon

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