What Causes the Blackheads on Your Upper Back?

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Woman looking over her shoulder in front of bathroom mirror

Ever noticed small, black bumps on your upper back? 

These are known as blackheads. 

Wondering what causes them, as well as how you can get rid of them? 

Here is everything you need to know…

What Exactly Are Blackheads?

You already know that blackheads are those small dark bumps that appear on your skin, but what exactly are they? 

Blackheads are basically a mild form of acne. They occur when a hair follicle becomes blocked up with dirt, dead skin cells, sebum or anything else. 

While blackheads usually occur on the face, they can occur almost anywhere on the body, especially the back, shoulders and chest. 

One more thing to keep in mind…

A blackhead doesn’t necessarily have to be fully black. While the name may indicate that this should be the case, blackheads can appear in a wide variety of colors, from yellow to brown to gray. 

What Causes Blackheads?

No matter where your blackheads may be, whether they are on your nose or on your upper back, the cause remains the same…

Your skin is covered with pores, and each and every one of these pores contains a hair follicle, as well as a sebaceous gland. The main responsibility of the sebaceous gland is to produce sebum, otherwise known as oil, to keep the skin moisturized. 

However, sometimes the sebaceous glands produce too much sebum…

Why? 

This could be due to anything from hormones to genetics, and will be discussed in more detail later on. 

Whatever the cause of the excess oil production may be, the result is that the extra oil ends up mixing with the dead skin cells that naturally exist on the surface of your skin. This forms a clump that then plugs the opening of the pore. 

When the skin around this plug opens up, the plug is then exposed to air. This exposure causes the plug to turn black, resulting in the blackhead. 

On the other hand, if the skin around the plug does not open up, then this would be referred to as a whitehead. 

While this may be the main cause of blackheads, there are a couple of other causes that you should know about too…

As mentioned earlier, blackheads are a type of acne, meaning that the P.acnes bacteria is usually present when blackheads are around. This can sometimes build up on the skin, leading to the development of blackheads. 

Another cause would be when the hair follicles become irritated…

What causes this? 

This usually happens when your skin does not shed its dead skin cells on a regular enough basis. This is a process that naturally happens quite frequently when you are young, but slows down with age. Other factors can also lead to your skin holding on to its dead skin cells for longer than required. 

All of these extra dead skin cells mean that plugs are much more likely to form inside your pores, even if your skin is producing a balanced amount of oil. 

You are probably thinking…

But I only really experience blackheads on my upper back. Surely there must be a reason behind this? 

Well, it could be down to the amount you sweat, as well as the clothes you wear. 

While sweat in itself does not cause blackheads, it can often irritate the hair follicles and result in clogs. Wearing tight t-shirts or other tight garments doesn’t help, as this only traps the sweat against your upper back, rather than allowing it to evaporate. 

How to Treat Blackheads on Your Upper Back

If you already have blackheads on your upper back, then your next question is likely to be…

How do I get rid of my blackheads?

The most common way is with an over-the-counter acne medication. These are available in a variety of forms, from gels to pads to creams, and are designed to be applied directly to the affected area of skin. 

How do they work? 

They contain ingredients that are able to destroy acne-causing bacteria while drying out any excess oil that your sebaceous glands have produced. They also encourage the skin to shed its dead skin cells, rather than holding on to them, therefore preventing blocked pores from occurring. 

Key ingredients to look out for in over-the-counter treatments include: 

You may find it hard to reach the right areas of your upper back, but make sure that you persevere or ask someone to help you.  

Already tried over-the-counter treatments, and found that they don’t work? 

Your next step would be a prescription treatment. 

These contain similar ingredients to over-the-counter versions, except that the prescription treatments would feature much stronger concentrations. 

Prescription treatments also often contain a form of vitamin A.

Why? 

Because this ingredient not only speeds up your skin’s natural cell turnover rate, but also prevents hair follicles from becoming blocked. 

Still not having any luck getting rid of your blackheads? 

Manually removing blackheads is possible, but this is a technique that needs to be carried out by a professional. A special instrument, called a round loop extractor, is required in order to remove the plug that has caused the blackhead. 

How does it work? 

Your doctor or dermatologist will make a small opening in the plug, and then use the extractor to apply pressure. This pressure then enables the blackhead to be removed. 

Not sold on the idea of manual removal? 

Don’t worry, you still have a few other options…

Here are some other ways in which you can get rid of your blackheads pretty much instantly:

  • Microdermabrasion – this popular skin care treatment involves an abrasive surface that basically sands down the top layers of the skin. In addition to exfoliating and smoothing the skin, this process also removes the clogs in the hair follicles that cause blackheads 
  • Chemical Peels – this is another treatment that exfoliates the skin, this time by peeling away its outer layer. Chemical peels are available in different strengths, but even the mildest peels are able to remove the clogs, as well as the dead skin cells, that lead to blackheads
  • Laser and Light Therapy – these treatments make use of different types of light to target the skin in a couple of ways. Not only are they able to decrease the amount of oil that the sebaceous glands produce, but they can also kill acne-causing bacteria, all without damaging the outer layers of skin

How to Prevent Blackheads on Your Upper Back

Once you have worked out how to treat your blackheads, it is time to look into preventing them from developing again. 

While many may think that there is nothing that they can do about this, there actually is…

As mentioned above, blackheads often form on the upper back due to the increased sweat that forms in this area. 

No, don’t worry, you don’t need to stop working out. In fact, the heat and sweat produced by exercising can actually help to soften the clogs in your pores, enabling them to naturally come out. Plus, regular exercise has the effect of shrinking your pores, meaning that any blackheads will either quickly reduce in size or completely disappear. 

Instead, take some time to cleanse your upper back, as well as the rest of your skin, after a workout. This will get rid of any lingering sweat and dirt, preventing it from interfering with your hair follicles. 

Infographic on how exfoliation unclogs pores

Exfoliation is also key when it comes to preventing blackheads. 

Why is exfoliation so important? 

Well, one of the main purposes of exfoliation is to unclog the pores and clear away dead skin cells. This not only helps to treat existing blackheads, but regular exfoliation prevents them from forming in the first place. 

How should you be exfoliating? 

You have two main options: 

  • Physical Exfoliation – this makes use of an abrasive material, such as a scrub or a sponge, that is physically rubbed across the skin in order to dislodge dead skin cells. Results are usually instant, and your pores will also appear much smaller after physically exfoliating them 
  • Chemical Exfoliationthese products will contain either alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) or fruit enzymes. They work by dissolving away the glue-like substance that keeps dead skin cells attached to the skin. Some chemical exfoliants, such as salicylic acid, thoroughly exfoliate deep inside each pore, making them especially effective when it comes to clearing and preventing blackheads

Exfoliating can bring about such quick results, but make sure that you do not exfoliate more than two or three times a week. Over-exfoliating can lead to a number of problems and can cause so much damage to your skin’s protective barrier. 

Now that we’ve covered exfoliation, take a look at the rest of your skin care routine…

Do you use any oil-based products on your body? 

As mentioned earlier, pores quickly become clogged when they have to deal with excess oil. Oil-based products will increase the amount of oil on your skin, meaning that there is so much more chance of plugs forming in your pores. 

Even if your body wash and moisturizer does not contain any oil, it is important to check your sunscreen too. 

Fortunately, there are plenty of oil-free products available. 

Alternatively, look for noncomedogenic products. This means that, even though they may contain an oil, they will not clog up your pores. 

If you know that your blackheads are being caused because of your skin producing too much oil…

There are many steps that you can take to cut back on your skin’s production of sebum, such as: 

  • Getting enough sleep – you may not think that this makes a difference, but sleep deprivation causes insulin resistance. This then increases the production of a specific hormone that increases the amount of oil your sebaceous glands produce
  • Keeping stress under control – when you are stressed, your body releases a hormone known as cortisol, which is also referred to as the stress hormone. Cortisol has the effect of increasing your skin’s sebum production, so try to keep your stress levels under control as much as possible 
  • Improving your diet – while this has not been conclusively proved, there are such strong links between diet and the development of blackheads. Everything from sugar and dairy to caffeine and processed foods can lead to blocked pores, with cooking oils in particular being a common culprit

What Not to Do When Dealing with Blackheads on Your Upper Back

One of the most common things that people do when trying to get rid of blackheads, no matter where on the face or body they may be, is squeeze them and pick at them. 

Why? 

To try to remove them, of course! There are many other at-home blackhead removal tools out there, from strips to metal devices, but you need to stay away from all of these. 

As mentioned above, manual extraction is something that needs to be carried out by a professional, otherwise you risk causing severe damage to your skin. This could lead to scarring, which is something you definitely want to avoid!

Another thing that you should pay attention to is the skin care products that you use, especially when it comes to facial oils. 

People tend to use body oils in one of two ways; either as a cleanser or as a moisturizer. 

When used as a cleanser, an oil can often significantly reduce the appearance of blackheads, helping to unclog pores over time. 

However, when used as a moisturizer, the shine that a body oil leaves behind on the skin can end up  magnifying each blackhead, making them appear so much more visible. 

So, instead of throwing out your body oils because you think that they are causing your blackheads, all you need to do is adjust how you use them. 

Blackheads can definitely be frustrating to deal with, and it can sometimes seem as though there is nothing you can do to get rid of them. However, by understanding what causes them, you will be better equipped when it comes to treating and preventing them, meaning that you will not need to deal with blackheads for too much longer! 

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