Woman wondering can headphones cause blackheads

Can Headphones Cause Blackheads?

Here I thought that my pimple and blackhead days were over. I mean, I’m long past my teenage years. One of the main causes of acne are crazy teenage hormones, but then you get them all over. So, why have I recently discovered these little blackheads in my ears?

This got me thinking; the cause has to be something that gets into contact with my ears on a regular basis. I use both my earphones and headphones almost every day, all day; Which has left me wondering, can headphones cause blackheads?

Wearing headphones for long periods of time or during workouts can lead to a buildup of sweat and germs. This can lead to clogged pores and an increased risk of getting blackheads, acne, and skin infections. Avoid this by practicing headphone hygiene daily.

According to a 2010 study, around 40 – 50 million Americans experience blackheads or acne in some form (we’re in this together).

The most commonly affected areas are the sensitive facial skin (including the ears), the infamous back blackheads, and chest.

Blackhead breakouts aren’t always caused by hormones. It can also happen when your hair follicles get clogged up with dirt, dead skin cells, and sebum (your natural oil).

Therefore, if you’re struggling with a few blackheads in your ears, it might be a good idea to know how your headphones could be the cause of blackheads and how you can prevent this from happening in the future.

What causes blackheads in your ears

To understand how to prevent blackheads, you have to understand why they occur:

The phenomenon of a “blackhead” comes down to a chemical reaction. Sebum, produced by sebaceous glands, turns dark when exposed to air.

When a sebum-producing pore gets clogged up, the outer bit is exposed to air, making a little dark spot. This explains why when we push them out, the top bit is black while the tail is yellow.

Your ears aren’t excluded from this; in fact, they have a ton of sebaceous glands. Sebaceous glands are often associated with hair follicles, and yes, I also have an ear trimmer.

Your ear canals are sebaceous powerhouses. Just think of all that earwax you clean out on a daily basis.

This is all normal, but when you don’t clean your ears or your headphones, you could be exposing your ears to bacteria, clogging your pores and making your blackhead issue worse.

What’s worse is that there are so many other factors that could be making your blackheads worse, like:

  • Stress
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Allergic reactions to hair products, cosmetics, or even certain fabrics.

Here are a few reasons why blackheads form inside your ears and advice on how to prevent it:

●      Earwax and grime found on your earphones or headphones

It happens, they’re in and on your ears. Any sebum or earwax clinging to your earphones or headphones should be cleaned at least once a week.

●      A dirty pillowcase

I am guilty of this, but if you don’t wash your pillowcase at least once a week, bacteria, dirt, hair products, it all builds up and transfers onto your ears. And, bam, you’ve got yourself recurring blackheads.

●      Your Cell Phone carries oil and bacteria

Regularly clean your phone with alcohol wipes to remove any germs, and sebum that might have accumulated.

At any given time, just tilt your phone in the sun, if you can see your code pattern clearly, it’s time to clean your phone.

●      Touching your ears

Your hands carry bacteria, and touching your ears transfers those germs. Wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your ears as much as possible.

Even popping blackheads and pimples can cause those germs to infect healthy skin, spreading the outbreak.

Unlike some other areas of your body, treating acne in your ears can be difficult, and due to the sensitive nature of ear (eardrum, cartilage, etc.), prevention is better than cure.

Avoid blackheads caused by wearing headphones

The reason why your headphones could be causing blackheads in your ears boils down to simple headphone hygiene. By headphone hygiene, I mean properly cleaning your headphones frequently. But, there are also other factors related to headphone hygiene that can play a role.

Proper headphone hygiene goes a long way

The sebum glands in our ears are continually producing oil and earwax, which can easily get onto your headphones.

If this isn’t cleaned on a regular basis, it may transfer back onto your skin, leading to excess earwax and eventually clogging up your pores. This vicious cycle will result in the blackheads you’re trying to avoid!

Never share your headphones

Many of us share our headphones with friends, family, or just pass it over to someone to have a quick listen to something.

This seems normal. But, while this seems like an innocent social interaction, you could actually be transferring bacteria between each other.

A study done on 50 voluntary school and college students, who regularly share headphones, showed that those who shared more easily had a significant increase in bacterial growth in their ears.

Interestingly, they also found that the majority of isolates were of Staphylococcus spp., which is normal to have most of the time, but could become a pathogen under favorable circumstances.

Common skin infections caused by staph bacteria include boils. The researchers also noted that poor quality headphones or improper use could lead to small cuts in the skin, offering the bacteria an entryway to cause infections.

Bacteria are also easily transferred between surfaces, so rather avoid sharing your headphones completely.

Besides, much more unpleasant than getting a blackhead from another person’s bacteria will be contracting an ear infection they might be dealing with.

An ear infection can get very serious, and if sharing headphones is a habit of yours, you might want to check out the post, I wrote on headphones and ear infections.

The simple solution to avoid any of this from happening when sharing headphones is to rather unplug your headphones and share whatever you’re listening to through your device’s speakers.

Clean your Earphones and headphones

It is very easy to lose track of time as we race through our busy lives. So, I get it, we all forget to clean our earphones (worst culprits), or headphones, most of the time.

However, it’s really important that you clean them regularly, especially if you’re dealing with constant blackheads.

If you find that using earphones makes your earwax situation worse, then over-ear headphones are definitely a better option. Over-ear headphones sit over your ears as opposed to earphones that go into your ear canal.

A recent study on ear cleaning methods found that if you wear your earphones too long, you obstruct the natural process of producing and expelling earwax.

This leads to a build-up of earwax, which can pick up dead skin, hair, dirt, and sweat. All of this can then clog up your pores.

Thus, when you don’t clean your earphones and headphones, this combination of earwax, bacteria, and dirt will stick to them. Every time you use them, you’re layering all of it back in and onto your ear and surrounding skin.

Bear in mind that even if you switch over to headphones, you will also have to keep them clean, especially if you prefer over-ear headphones and wear them often. This is particularly true if you like using them while exercising.

Wearing headphones causes friction and pressure, and while exercising or engaging in anything active, you also add heat, the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.

In order to prevent this from happening, clean your earphones and headphones once a week by disinfecting them properly.

Wipe down the earpads of your over-ear headphones

Keeping your headphones clean will not only save you a few unwanted blackheads, but it also maintains their quality.

Bacterial build-up inside your cushions can cause a nasty odor, and the bacteria encourage blackheads to form.

If you enjoy working out with your headphones, your cushions will absorb the sweat. This moisture, when caught inside, can ruin them over time if not cleaned properly

While wiping them down will help reduce the bacteria on the surface, to really do a deep clean, there is more work to be done.

Here are a few simple steps you can follow to ensure your earpads are squeaky clean:

  1. Remove your earpads (or silicone tip if you have earphones) – most just slip right off.
  2. Take a small amount of rubbing alcohol and dampen a cloth.
  3. With the cloth, clean both pads’ exterior by wiping them off gently (or wipe down the plastic of your earphones).
  4. To get into the small crevices, use a Q-tip soaked in alcohol.
  5. Moving on to the sponge part, you can either dip them into some alcohol or, if they’re really dirty, I have a deep clean method for headphones described in my other article. A great method for cleaning the metal mesh part of your earphones is described).
  6. Then it’s time to air dry – make sure they are completely dry before using them again. You can damage your headphone’s electronics with even the slightest bit of moisture.

If it’s been a while since you’ve cleaned your earpads properly, you might want to repeat these steps a few times.

Keeping in mind that the pads are likely the dirtiest part of your headphones and also the part constantly in contact with your skin.

Final note: Check what material your padding is covered with. Good quality headphone pads are often made of real leather. The product used will have to be safe for leather, or you might ruin it.

Wash your ears

Your ears produce sebum and wax every day – while that doesn’t make them dirty, things can get stuck it an excess of ear wax, and you want to avoid it.

Therefore, it is important to wash your ears every day to get rid of the excess build-up and to prevent blackheads (and infections) caused by bacteria. Washing your ears daily will remove any bad bacteria.

Cleaning your ears is easy to do. You can do it while in the shower by using either your fingers or a soft face cloth.

You want to use a gentle oil-free cleanser. You should never use anything with “moisturizing” oil, that will just add to your problem.

Sensitive skin areas, such as on your face and ears, can easily become irritated with over-scrubbing. Avoid being too harsh on your ears. You don’t want to cause more problems.

Make ear washing a part of your daily shower routine; you’ll be happy you did in the long run. Practicing good ear hygiene, especially if you have a problem with blackheads, is pretty important.

Exfoliate your ears

Gentle exfoliation is crucial in preventing blackheads from forming. The keyword here is gentle.

Exfoliation cream is a grainy, textured substance that you rub or massage into your skin. It helps remove dead skin cells, unclog pores, and keep skin healthy.

While in the shower, and after washing your ears, gently exfoliate the delicate skin in and around your ears. As a rule, you can do this once a week.

Extracting blackheads from your ears

We’re all guilty of squeezing and picking at our blackheads and pimples. There is, however, a right and a wrong way of extracting blackheads, or you might just make it worse.

With the right tool and know-how, you’ll be able to extract your blackheads like a pro (and trust me, this is actually quite fun and strangely rewarding).

Why you shouldn’t just squeeze blackheads in your ears

The moment you spot a pimple or blackhead, or in the case of your ears, feel it, you are going to be tempted to pop or pick at it.

Avoid doing this at all costs. Giving in to picking might make it much worse in the end and cause an even bigger problem.

While squeezing, the pus and bacteria in the blackhead can be forced deeper into your skin or spread to the surrounding healthy skin. Overall, that’s not what we want.

To make matters worse, you remember that staph bacteria I was talking about, they thrive under your nails.

You can easily end up with a boil in your ear if it happens to become infected from the staph entering the open area.

Blackhead extraction as a last resort

This should ideally be the last resort, after you’ve tried improving your headphone hygiene and cleaning your ears regularly… But, I know, it’s so tempting to extract them, and even a bit fun. Just remember what I said about the staph and boils. No nails.

The best way to do this is with a metal extraction tool or the common bobby pin (the unsung hero).

When using your professional (or not so professional) tool, follow these steps carefully:

  1. You will need to soften the clogged pore by gently pressing a warm washcloth on the area (alternatively, do it after a nice warm shower). This is usually where people go wrong with this method; they have to be soft.
  2. Sterilize your extractor tool of choice and press the metal loop right onto the edge of the blackhead. To extract it, slowly sweep it across the surface of your skin.
  3. Don’t use too much pressure, as this will definitely damage your skin..
  4. After the extraction is done, make sure to clean the skin and your extractor tool before moving on to the next blackhead.

When to seek medical attention

It happens, these things can be extremely stubborn. If all else fails, you might need to go see a specialist. I would recommend a dermatologist, as this really is a skin issue and not a hearing issue.

A dermatologist has better tools, more experience, and can even prescribe some medicines to help with the issue.

If you do go on medication, just remember that most acne meds make your skin sensitive to the sun while using them. Stay out of the sun as much as you can, because while sunscreen is necessary, it can also clog your pores.

The Bottom line:

How to prevent blackheads in your ears when wearing headphones

  • Wash your ears every day
  • Avoid oils in products that can make things worse.
  • Avoid triggering breakouts by not touching your ears throughout the day
  • Keep all objects that touch your ears like earphones, headphones, your cellphone, fingers, and pillow case clean.
  • Lotions and sunscreens used has to be specially formulated, or it might clog pores

Blackheads from wearing headphones don’t have to be your reality, by knowing what causes them and how to prevent them, they can be managed and treated.


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