With warm steam, soothing smells and gentle massage, a facial is one of the most relaxing treatments on the spa menu. But, the least peaceful part for many of us is extraction — where the esthetician uses a stainless steel tool to press built-up oil and debris out of clogged pores. However, it’s one of the most effective ways to unplug pores and remove stubborn blackheads. Here’s what you need to know about professional pore extraction and doing it yourself.
Cleansing isn’t enough
Cleansing — or washing away the dirt, oil and makeup that lead to clogged pores — is a pivotal part of clean pores and a clear complexion.
But when it comes to stubborn issues like blackheads and build-up, simple cleansing is rarely enough. As dermatologist Rachel Herschenfeld, M.D., explains in The Washington Post, these problems start below the surface, where excess oil and skin cells collect deep inside the pore. To remove them, you need a deeper-reaching solution like extraction.
When combined with daily cleansing, extraction is an effective way to maintain debris-free pores. Regular extractions prevent materials from re-accumulating and stop larger problems — like acne and enlarged pores — before they can start.
At the spa (or office)
A licensed esthetician or dermatologist typically performs extractions. While the experience can vary greatly across medical offices and spas, you can expect a two-stage process wherever you go.
Before the actual extraction begins, the specialist washes your skin with a gentle exfoliating cleanser or one containing salicylic acid. This lifts surface-level dirt and oil, making impacted material easier to access.
Steam comes next — usually delivered with the help of a facial steamer. Heat and moisture open pores and loosen blockages to make extraction easier.
Once the prep work is complete, it’s time to bring out the tools. Most professionals use a magnifying glass to zero in on clogged pores along with a metal loop extractor to unplug them.
The pen-sized extractor is positioned directly over the blackhead and gentle pressure applied to push it out of the pore. There may be some discomfort with the pressing, but if skin is properly prepped, it’s usually quite mild.
There’s no question that clean pores start at home. Daily cleansing and regular exfoliation are important steps toward clean, unobstructed pores. But should you perform your own extractions? Most dermatologists say "no," and warn against risks of infection, acne or even scarring.
Dermatologist Lisa Kellet, M.D., tells Fashion Magazine that patients tend to apply too much pressure during self-extractions. This makes matters worse, because, as she explains, "contents of the plug dump into the surrounding dermis," increasing chances of infection and blemishes.
But, if you just can’t resist the urge to extract, it’s important to do it safely. Follow these guidelines to minimize risks.
- Make a clean start
Start your at-home process with a thorough cleansing. Pick a product containing salicylic acid or alpha hydroxy acids to deep clean pores and wash away surface debris. Try Murad AHA/BHA Exfoliating Cleanser or SkinCeuticals Simply Clean.
- Soften and steam
After cleansing, soften impacted material with steam. Use a facial steamer or simply boil a pot of water and allow it to cool for several minutes. With a towel over your head, lower your face a comfortable distance from the water and soak up the steam for up to 15 minutes.
- Assess your skin
Before you lift a finger against a blackhead, make sure it’s ready for removal. If the head isn’t clearly visible at the surface, pressing and squeezing will only cause further irritation.
- Put down the tools
Improper use of metal extraction tools can damage or scar the skin, so they’re better left to the professionals. Instead, cover each index finger with a tissue, and press gently along each side of the blockage.
- Be gentle
A light hand is extremely important. Pressing too hard not only risks permanent damage to the skin but also forces the blockage deeper. This releases additional toxins below the surface and puts you at risk of infection and breakouts.
Learn everything you need to know about acne-fighting skincare in our Complete Acne Handbook.