Most people have had acne at some point in their lives. “As many as 50 million people in the U.S. are dealing with acne at this moment,” notes Effie Rabinowitz, a certified registered physician’s assistant specializing in dermatology with Advanced Dermatology PC. “And they’re not just teenagers. The factors that contribute to ‘problem skin’ – hormones, genetics, stress, lifestyle – can pop up throughout our lives.”

“What people often lump together as ‘pimples,’” Rabinowitz continues, “actually includes different forms of acne, which may require different treatment approaches. Blackheads – medical name ‘open comedones’ – are one type.”

Acne forms when our skin’s pores – the openings for hair follicles – get clogged with dead skin cells, sebum skin oil, and, in more serious cases, the surface bacteria p. acnes, the condition’s namesake.

“Comedones are a less severe form of acne that typically do not involve inflammation,” explains Rabinowitz. “Blackheads are called ‘open’ to differentiate them from ‘closed comedones,’ or whiteheads.”

“With blackheads,” Rabinowitz emphasizes, “it’s important for patients to realize the dark spot is not dirt that can be scrubbed away. Rather, because the plugged pore is open, it’s exposed to the air, which oxidizes the trapped skin debris, making it dark.”

The fact that blackheads are less severe doesn’t mean they’ll go away on their own. “Early treatment can prevent more serious acne from developing,” notes Rabinowitz. “And that’s important because acne can have serious repercussions, contributing to social anxiety and depression.”