Above: Image © Hilda Bastian, Wikimedia Commons

My twin cousins have a lot in common, as you’d expect. They are both male in their late teens, they’re both blond, they both prefer spoons to forks, and they both have a problem with blackheads.

Blackheads are particles of dirt, oil and dead skin cells that get stuck in the skin pores and give the pores a dark and unsightly appearance. One of the possible causes of blackheads is the excessive response of the grease glands (sebaceous glands) to the normal hormone levels. The other name of the blackhead is comedo or plural – comedones. They can most often be found on the skin of the forehead, earlobes or more commonly, the nose. The ideal treatment for blackheads is pore cleansing and preventive treatment. This should prevent the overproduction of the oil by the skin cells and narrow the pores.

Did You Know? The black in a blackhead isn't dirt. It's dried oil and the skin cells that gather in the opening of hair follicles.

Now, I sensibly deal with blackheads by scheduling a facial with my beautician. I had a hard time, however, imagining a possible scenario in which I would be able to persuade two adolescent males to visit a beauty salon!

Luckily, I was not the first to deal with such a problem. People thought about devices to remove blackheads long before I was born. For example, in 1905 William Utschig patented a special apparatus, which looked like a big syringe and was supposed to suck out blackheads using negative air pressure. The apparatus was quite cumbersome and required two people to operate it. Apparently, it did not survive the competition. An intensive search through my drugstore shelves presented an alternative: Biore strips. Introduced to market in 1996, this skin care product seems easy enough to use: wet a strip, apply it to the affected area for 10-20 minutes, carefully peel it off, and Voila! Blackheads gone.

According to the side of the box, the strips work by binding tightly to the molecules of dirt plugging the nose pores. That sounded pretty plausible, but vague enough to make me wonder: what is the true science behind how these things work?

Digging up the Dirt on Nose Strips

I started my search properly by sifting through credible medical journals. Unfortunately, I found no source of scientific studies on these face strips. I even sent a request for documentation to KAO - the Japanese company which owns the brand Biore, but no documentation on the pore cleansing strips was publicly available.

Did You Know? Blackheads (and whiteheads) often are the result of using oil-based makeup, hair-care products, lots of sweating and humidity. Enter the magic of the Internet. I found that coincidentally, “blackhead” is also a disease of poultry. Moreover, I discovered that in the 15th century Latvia, a Brotherhood of the Blackheads existed, an association of wealthy bachelor merchants. Other that these pieces of trivia, on Google Patents, a patent search site recently launched by the search engine giant Google Corporation, I found a number of patents for adhesive nose strips given to such companies as Revlon and Pond’s. The information in these patents provided an explanation of how adhesive nose strips are supposed to work.

How do nose strips work? The main ingredients of the Biore strips are the following:

  • Polyquaternium-37 - a polymer the contributes to binding the particles of the blackheads to the strip
  • Silica - an absorbent that binds oil and sebum from the skin surface
  • Glycerin - which assists in activation of the components of the strip upon being wetted
  • Polysilicone-13 - which softens the skin
  • Peg-12 dimethicone - a skin conditioner that helps to remove the dead cells from the surface of the skin.

As the patents explained, upon wetting the components of the pore strip, they become activated and the cationic (positive charge) bonds form between the strip components and particles of blackheads. This allows to pluck out the blackheads.

The Consumer Review

When I checked the internet sites for the opinion about Biore strips, I discovered that despite having a sound idea behind this invention, many users gave them a thumbs down. They found that the nose strips didn’t always peel effectively from the skin, sometimes ripped as they were peeled away, or stubbornly clinged to certain areas of the skin. Consumers also had a problem of “over-stripping” the skin cells, which led to irritation and redness of the skin – a problem for use on people with dry and sensitive skin.

How to Fight the Blackhead Battle

So, what advice did I give to my twin-cousins? After revealing my research findings to them, I suggested first starting a blackhead-combating treatment with a steam bath to soften the skin, widen the pores and draw the dirt from the skin, followed by the removal of the blackheads using either pore strips or experimenting with the cheaper solutions, such as using grated potatoes or honey (check the references below).

And if that didn’t work, to talk to their doctor or dermatologist (doctor that specializes in the skin). There are a number of over-the-counter and prescription-based products and topical medications that can help fight the most mild to severe cases of blackheads to get the skin looking great.

Learn More!

Natalia Fedianina is a compact, portable scientist that comes fully equipped with an M.Sc. in Biology and Neuroscience from the University of Toronto, international documentation in three languages, and a stylish carrying case. She is currently working for a biological and medical equipment supplier in Moscow, Russia.

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