Perhaps you’re lying in bed with your partner, or maybe a friend is braiding your hair when all of a sudden they spot something in your ear. As they point it out, your mind races with dreaded possibilities: Did your favorite hat leave some lint behind? Did you not clean your ears well enough yesterday and they’re filled with wax? But alas, the mysterious occupant turns out to be something even more unexpected: a blackhead.
That’s right, annoying as it may sound, blackheads can form just about anywhere, including on or inside your ears. “Usually, you’ll see blackheads live in areas of the body where sebaceous oil glands predominate, so the T-zone is really common, as are the scalp and back of the neck,” explains Rita Linkner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. “But since we have so many sebaceous oil glands in the ears, it’s a common place as well.”
Why do blackheads form in the ears?
Blackheads in the ears are a lot like the blackheads you may see on your face, neck, chest, back, or anywhere else on your body. The comedonal acne spots are typically caused by excess oil, dead skin cells, dirt, sweat, and pollution, and since they’re open to the surface of the air, they are oxidized and turn black. “Blackheads develop in the ears due to the accumulation of oils from our body, our hair, and hair products that build up and are not properly cleaned or exfoliated,” says celebrity esthetician Zaida Gordon, noting that the skin inside our ears has many follicles and sweat glands that produce oil and ear wax.
Oftentimes, because of the shape and nature of our ears, oil and bacteria get trapped there and lead to blackheads, but occlusion can also play a role. This happens when the skin is physically blocked and unable to shed dead cells normally, which means the earbuds you’ve been wearing around the clock may be causing blackheads.
Since the ears aren’t an area you can clearly see in the mirror, acne in that area is typically the sort of thing you don’t notice until it gets bad. “Sometimes, a blackhead there can turn into a cystic spot because there isn’t much fat located on the ears (it’s literally skin on top of cartilage), and those can become very painful and often need to be relieved by an extraction or an injection,” Dr. Linkner says. “The ears are a pretty unforgiving area because they don’t have that localized fat that really helps bring all of those healing cells into place, so they take a long time to heal, and things become more aggressive very fast.”
How can I prevent blackheads in my ears?
The ears are also not a region that gets a whole lot of love from our skincare regimens, and, as Gordon points out, “cleansing of the ear area is usually overlooked or neglected.” But paying a little bit more attention to the ears can make all the difference in both preventing blackheads from forming there and treating the ones that you already have.
Spoiler: your usual skincare products usually do the trick. “Make sure to regularly clean the outside of your ears with toner or astringent and a cotton pad,” suggests Gordon. Look for ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and retinol, some or all of which are likely already in your everyday skincare routine.
“I always tell patients that comedonal is the better kind of acne to have because it’s very responsive to topical medication, and prescription-strength vitamin A topicals are a great place to start,” Dr. Linkner explains. “Altreno is one of my go-to prescription-strength options when people mainly have whitehead or blackhead acne because it’s so tolerable, thanks to added ingredients like hyaluronic acid and natural collagen.”
Can I extract blackheads in my ears myself?
Just like the blackheads on your face, it’s important to avoid extracting the ones in your ear on your own. It’s difficult to see these spots given their location, and the cartilage on ears is incredibly sensitive, so attempting to squeeze blackheads there can be very painful and can lead to infection. “The best way to remove blackheads from your ear is to visit your dermatologist or esthetician, who can use a professional comedone extractor or blackhead remover tool,” Gordon says.
Most of the time, ear blackheads are a mere annoyance far more than a reason for actual concern, and regular use of an anti-acne skincare regimen should stop them in their tracks. But if you find yourself still struggling to get them under control or if they’ve become painful or aesthetically troubling, don’t hesitate to reach out to your dermatologist.
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