I’ve been in a war against blackheads since I first discovered Bioré pore strips back in high school (seeing that black gunk is just so satisfying). According to celebrity facialist Cecilia Wong from Cecilia Wong Skincare in New York, those tiny dots are a sign you need to treat your skin ASAP. “A blackhead is a combination of oil and dirt mixed together,” she tells SELF. “If you don’t take care of your pores, eventually the dirt and oil will accumulate. If someone has a lot of blackheads, you can feel it—the skin is rough, scratchy, and bumpy.”

More bad news: Dirty pores can also mean reduced skin elasticity in the future. “A pore is like a rubberband—the more you stretch it out the less elasticity it has,” Wong says. “Once your pores are stretched out to a certain degree, they won’t close back up.”

Lately, with the rise of pimple-popping videos on the Internet, there have been a lot of blackhead removal hacks floating around. We’ve tried a few of them here on SELF like the grits exfoliation technique from Reddit and the DIY gelatin mask. But at the end of the day, we’ve found the best methods for blackhead removal and prevention are a lot simpler.

Here are the steps to take to get rid of blackheads on your nose, chin, and forehead.

1. Wash your face at least twice a day.

This seems like basic advice, but cleansing can go a long way to help prevent dirt and oil from accumulating in your pores. Rinse skin in the morning to get rid of any bacteria that might have transferred to your skin from your pillowcase. You’ll need to cleanse again at night to get rid of the makeup and dirt that coats skin throughout the day. If you work out, a third cleanse is required. It seems like overkill, but you want to remove any sweat and oil from the face to avoid clogging pores.

Try: Dermalogica Precleanse Balm, $45; Ulta.com or L’Oréal Paris Exfoliate & Refine Pure Clay Cleanser, $6; Target.com

2. Clean out dirty pores with a strip.

Yes, Wong stands by the effectiveness of pore strips to get rid of blackheads quick. But keep in mind, these are for newer breakouts. “Pore strips only really work for blackheads that haven’t been in pores for a long period of time,” she says. Pore strips are like a band-aid, using adhesive to rip away dead skin cells and dirt. However, it’s only a temporary fix.

Try: Bioré Deep Cleansing Pore Strips, $8; Target.com

3. Exfoliate two times a week to dissolve dead skin.

Dead skin is one of the many things that can clog your pores. Wong recommends a vigilant exfoliation routine using a wash cloth (beginner), a mild enzyme cleanser (intermediate), or a glycolic peel (advanced). Plan to scrub two times a week. Some derms even say you can go up to three times a week if you have oily skin that is prone to blackheads. Just make sure to moisturize after every exfoliating session. “You have to moisturize because exfoliant tends to be very drying to skin,” Wong explains. “If your skin is really dry, your oil production overcompensates, creating more oil and more blackheads.”

Try: Tatcha Indigo Soothing Rice Enzyme Powder, $78; Sephora.com or Caudalie Glycolic Peel Mask, $39; Caudalie.com

4. Use a clay mask or overnight treatment.

A clay mask will pull out all the dirt from your skin. You can apply for 15 minutes and rinse, or you can use it as a spot treatment overnight. “When you’re sleeping, your pores are open, and at night, there are dirt and germs in the air,” says Wong. If your skin produces lots of oil, you can put the clay mask on your nose or T-zone to specifically target blackheads in that area. Charcoal masksare another alternative to clay. Choose a formula that has clay and plenty of moisturizing ingredients.

Try: Cecilia Wong Blemish Peel Mask, $68; Birchbox.com

5. Get extractions from a professional.

While it’s possible to pop whiteheads at home, it’s best to see a professional every four to six weeks to get rid of blackheads. The small hardened dots are typically too tiny to get with just your fingers. Estheticians like Wong use a small tool during a facial to squeeze out the dirt from the pores without breaking the skin.

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