Whiteheads are a type of acne that affect millions of people all over the world. Though hormonal changes mean mostly teenagers have to bear the brunt of whiteheads and other types of acne, adult-onset acne is becoming more common. In fact, it is the uncommonly lucky person who never has to deal with some form of acne at all. Whiteheads, like blackheads, can be very stubborn and hard to remove. They mostly occur on the face, but can also appear on the neck, chest and back. A variety of treatment options exist to get rid of whiteheads, and we’ll explore them in this article, as well as delving deeper into uncovering all the facts about whiteheads.
What Are Whiteheads?
Whiteheads are also known as closed comedones. This means they are covered by a layer of skin and thus never exposed to air, leaving them white or cream in color. Blackheads, on the other hand, are exposed to air and become oxidized, leading to their dark color. Whiteheads are basically plugs or bumps inside hair follicles, or pores, that consist of dead skin cells and sebum, or oil. Because they are covered by a layer of skin, their extraction can be more difficult than that of blackheads. It is never recommended that whiteheads be popped or extracted by a non-professional. This can lead to scarring and inflammation that can ultimately lead to a full-blown pimple.
What Causes Whiteheads?
Whiteheads, like blackheads, are caused by dead skin cells slowly but surely accumulating inside pores and mixing with sebum to form a plug. Sometimes dead skin cells can be especially sticky and adhere to each other more readily. When mingling with sebum, they become trapped in the pore and create a bump. Whiteheads are not like inflamed pimples. They are typically just a creamy color that doesn’t turn red like a pimple does. Thus, they can also blend in pretty easily with the rest of your skin and not be as noticeable as a blackhead or inflamed pimple.
Common Areas for Whiteheads
Since we have millions of hair follicles all over our body, it stands to reason that a whitehead can occur anywhere. Of course, some areas are not as oily as others. The face, for instance, can be quite oily, as can the back and chest. The T-zone (forehead, nose and chin), especially, is oily for many people, and this is where whiteheads are most likely to occur. For some people, the nose and chin, in particular, are where most whiteheads will form, because of this excess oil production.
Whitehead Removal Tips
- Use salicylic acid – Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid that is found in many over-the-counter anti-acne products. It is an oil-soluble chemical exfoliant that penetrates deep into the pore to break up the “glue” that holds the dead skin cells together. Once they are separated, they shed more easily, and eventually the whitehead is no more. Salicylic acid further decreases oil production inside pores (thus, it can be a bit drying). This also prevents more whiteheads from forming. By both decreasing oil production and forcing cells to shed more quickly, salicylic acid makes both a great treatment option as well as a preventative.
- Try benzoyl peroxide – Benzoyl peroxide is an anti-bacterial that also gets rid of excess oil. By destroying acne-causing bacteria, it prevents a whitehead from becoming inflamed and turning into a pimple. By getting rid of excess oil, it prevents new whiteheads from forming. Note: Benzoyl peroxide can bleach skin, hair and clothing.
- Use retinoids – Retinoids like retinol are derivatives of vitamin A that promote shedding of dead skin cells to essentially erode whiteheads. They are often used to treat wrinkles as well because of this ability. As retinoids encourage skin cell shedding, they can potentially prevent future whiteheads from forming. Irritation is par for the course when it comes to retinoids. These are strong substances that can cause redness, peeling and dryness, but your skin will ultimately adjust and be able to tolerate them better. Retinoids also make your skin more sensitive to the sun so use them only at night.
- Try physical exfoliants – Physical exfoliants come in the form of scrubs and various tools like brushes. Scrubs that contain micro beads glide over skin to slowly chip away at whiteheads and reduce the bumps in size. Brushes work in a similar fashion. Physical exfoliants are typically harsher on the skin than chemical exfoliants like salicylic acid, because sometimes the micro beads can be a little bit jagged and cause little tears in the skin. Use physical exfoliants no more than twice a week to avoid irritation.
- Use lukewarm water for cleansing.
- Opt for mild, oil-free cleansers and moisturizers that don’t contain fragrances.
- Exfoliate regularly but not daily to avoid irritation. About twice a week should do the trick.
- Avoid oily hair products that can come in contact with your face and transfer their oiliness to your skin.
- Keep your smartphone clear to prevent the transfer of dirt, grime and bacteria.
- Wash your makeup off every night and keep your makeup brushes clean.
- Wear makeup that is oil-free and non-comedogenic.
- Avoid sun exposure and use oil-free sunscreen.
- Never pick or pop whiteheads as it can lead to scarring that may never go away.
- Be consistent with treatment – it takes patience and diligence to deal with whiteheads.
The Bottom Line
Whiteheads are common and harmless, but that doesn’t mean they’re not annoying and bothersome. Most people hate the way they look and will try various methods of getting rid of them. If all of your attempts at getting rid of whiteheads fall through, it may be time to consult your dermatologist for a stronger medication that will help.