I’m an eternal optimist. That is, except for one thing: the godforsaken, unwelcome collection of blackheads that have accumulated on my face. A heavy sprinkling of little black dots have taken up permanent residence on my nose and that delicate area next to my nose for, well, ever.
Decades since they arrived—seventh grade, just in time to coordinate nicely with my braces and awkward social skills—I’ve resigned myself to the thought of the blackheads as a permanent part of my face. I’ve tried every facial, all kinds of products with big promises, and occasionally a late-night squeezing session that may be satisfying in the moment, but we all know it’s a big no-no that can cause long-term scarring. (Don’t do it!) Even when the blackheads temporarily retreat, those stubborn bad boys always come back.
So you should have seen my face when I read about Clearstem Clearity serum ($65), which the brand has nicknamed “The Blackhead Dissolver.” Squinted eyes, a cocked eyebrow. Yeah, right. Let’s see what the tough army of blackheads on my nose have to say about that.
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Formulated with a blend of mandelic acid, turmeric, and vitamin C, Clearity claims to be a powerful yet gentle exfoliating serum that gets deep into your pores to dissolve any clogging without causing excessive dryness. Danielle Gronich, a clinical esthetician and the co-founder of Clearstem Skincare, says Clearity was created to address a variety of common skin concerns, including acne, melasma, fine lines, and my personal skin enemy, blackheads.
“We created the perfect acid blend and combined it with vitamin C, as well as a specific pH balance to unclog pores and dissolve excess oil while stimulating collagen,” Gronich says.
Let’s see about that, I thought. Over the course of a month I added Clearity, along with Clearstem’s calming Cellrenew serum, to my nightly skincare routine. Then, after about a week, when my skin adjusted to its exfoliation level, I doubled down using it in the AM, too.
There’s one catch to Clearity though: It must sit alone on your bare skin, post cleansing, for at least 10 minutes to do its job. If you cut that time period short you’ll neutralize its abilities and your blackheads will likely stay perfectly in place. The 10-minute wait period is a bit annoying, especially if you’re nodding off at the bathroom sink getting ready for your 9:00 p.m. grandma bedtime (who, me?), but it’s a small sacrifice to dissolve those pesky blackheads.
After each application, I set a timer so I wouldn’t unintentionally cut the waiting period short or hit my head on a pillow, forgetting about finishing my routine altogether. After a skeptical week examining my little black spots, suddenly I thought, “Wait, what little black dots?”
While the majority of my blackheads have disappeared, and my skin has never looked cleaner, it’s not a cure-all—at least not yet. Hopefully with continued use, Clearity will do away with the most stubborn of blackheads on my nose.
How does this little bottle of magic work so well? Mary Berry, CEO and founder of skincare formulator Cosmos Labs, took one look at the ingredients list and immediately called out its use of mandelic acid. “This is the real powerhouse of the formula,” says Berry. “Mandelic acid is less irritating than other AHA (alpha hydroxy acids) but still gets the job done.” She also notes its antibacterial properties, which can help reduce the growth of acne-causing bacteria on the skin, unclogging pores while preventing new blemishes from forming.
“I personally love Clearity because it is the only acne serum that works overnight without compromising my skin barrier,” says Gronich. “It is truly the Goldilocks of acne serums because it’s strong enough to get the job done versus salicylic, which takes forever to work, or glycolic, which is too irritating.”
Another key ingredient, according to Berry, is witch hazel extract. “It’s a natural plant extract that has been used for centuries for its skin-care benefits,” she says. In this serum, she says, its naturally astringent properties can minimize the appearance of blemishes for people with acne-prone skin, and it can help reduce excess oil, too.
Now, for the downsides. The dissolver felt a bit tacky and didn’t leave me glowing like other favorite products do. Even after applying Cellrenew and my go-to moisturizer my skin overall looked a bit drab. Personally I need to pair Clearity with an additional serum (big shout out to Matter of Fact’s Brightening + Firming Serum, my ride-or-die!) to give me that Hailey Bieber glow. Still, no other product has successfully evicted blackheads as Clearity has.
Consider me a complete optimist now.
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