Real bodies: Life doctor

TODAY I want to deal with one of life's big issues: blackheads. You know the saying originally went "Don't cut off your nose to spite your blackheads"? Chaucer, I think. In the 14th-century, when a beauty therapist pitched her stall next to the turnip salesman, the favoured approach to blackhead removal was the scythe.

Modern ideas are often not much subtler. No wonder nose strips are the beauty phenomenon of the Nineties. They are the fastest growing new product of the decade. For the uninitiated, nose strips are those deep cleansing strips that look like the model on the packet has a plaster stuck on her conk. You moisten your nose, apply the sticky strip, wait for it to dry and then pull it off. With it come the blackheads.

Of course they don't work. Which is not to say that they're not better than almost anything else available. But they don't leave you with skin like the model on the packet. And the filthy little blighters come back.

Why do we get these pore-fillers? Excessive sebum (the oily goo produced by sebaceous glands to protect the hair and skin) oozes out of the skin and mingles with the grey fug we call air.

They are tenacious little devils. Squeezing them just opens up the pores, paving the way for bigger blackheads in the future and risks bruising. Steaming open the pores and scrubbing is only partially effective; one blast of diesel fumes in your face and they're back.

"Blackheads are like a never-ending journey," says Gordon Lee of Virgin Vie. "All you can do is keep them under control. They are a symptom of overactive and oily skin. If you have skin like this, you should wash with a product that has an antibacterial agent. But don't overdo it, for that encourages the skin to produce more oil."

But I have dry skin and blackheads. "Ah," says Lee, "sounds like you have what we call 'confused skin'. Superficially dehydrated by air conditioning and central heating. In that case exfoliation would help. Or your skin might be 'environmentally challenged'. Often happens to people who work in the city. You blow your nose and it's all black and horrible? The same thing is happening on the outside."

I once wrote a piece about whether it was possible to buy your way to perfect skin. Because celebrities never have blackheads. Consider. Close- ups don't come much closer than that mid-snog Jurgen Teller pic of Posh and Beckham that appeared in Vogue.

The only secret is that celebrities have more time to spend cleaning their skin. All the celebrity beauty therapists' recommendations basically required that I start working part time, or get a job where having my face cleaned was part of the remit. Jo Malone said that if you couldn't devote at least 15 minutes morning and night there wasn't much she could do. And Bharti Vyas wanted me to bathe in tepid water for 35 minutes every day with her special Dead Sea mineral salts to sort my vibes out, before going anywhere near the blackheads. I decided to invest in a better cover- up.

Getting rid of blackheads:

1. Live by the sea. The air's higher ion count apparently helps skin.

2. Or at least away from the city. Cow gas doesn't give you bad skin like car gas does.

3. Try not to look too closely. You think you have the world's worst blackheads because you examine them with your nose on the mirror.

4. Boring and expensive solution: wash, tone, moisturise, exfoliate, have facials regularly.

5. Become a celebrity.

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