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How to Treat Blackheads and Whiteheads

If you are prone to getting blackheads and whiteheads, then you know they love to appear by the dozen. They also seem to stay on your skin for what feels like an eternity. Fun, right? What many don’t know, though, is that blackheads and whiteheads are a type of acne. Read on to learn what causes blackheads and whiteheads and how best to treat them (spoiler alert: picking isn’t one of them!). 

What are blackheads and whiteheads? 

Blackheads and whiteheads (also referred to as comedones) are types of non-inflammatory acne. They form when sebum and dead skin cells come together to form a waxy plug in your pore. Blackheads, a.k.a open comedones, penetrate the surface of the skin and become exposed to oxygen, giving them a black color. Whiteheads form the same way as blackheads, but they are referred to as closed comedones since the ends of whiteheads do not fully surface beyond the skin. The lack of oxidation keeps whiteheads flesh-colored.

What causes them?

Many factors come together to form blackheads and whiteheads, some of which are:

  • hormonal changes during the teen years, menstruation, menopause, or taking birth control can increase oil production and clog pores.
  • hyperkeratinization, the irregular function and shedding of skin cells occurs clogging pores.
  • taking medications like corticosteroids or antidepressants.
  • genetics.
  • specific triggers like skincare ingredients and high glycemic foods.
Will they turn into pustules, papules, or cysts?

Inflammatory acne happens when the lining of a clogged follicle ruptures, allowing bacteria to enter and cause an infection. Picking, squeezing, and popping blackheads and whiteheads can all cause enough pressure to rupture the follicle. We know it's SO tempting, but refraining from popping your blackheads and whiteheads will help you heal faster and prevent them from turning into inflammatory acne lesions.

How to treat blackheads and whiteheads
Use a gentle cleanser

When treating blackheads and whiteheads (and any other type of acne), it’s essential to use a gentle face wash. Using a harsh cleanser that leaves your skin feeling dry and tight might make you feel squeaky clean, but it will do more harm to your skin than good. Face washes only need to remove excess oil and debris that accumulate on the skin throughout the day. A harsh cleanser or excess face washing will over-dry your skin and compromise your skin barrier. As a response, your body will produce even more oil to try and add moisture back to the skin.


Since blackheads and whiteheads are essentially clogged pores, use an acne treatment that functions to unclog pores. Salicylic acid penetrates deep into pores to kill bacteria and break apart dead skin cells. Use it daily to get rid of your current blackheads and whiteheads and prevent new ones from forming.


Prevent your blackheads and whiteheads from becoming inflamed by supporting the health of your skin barrier. Using a good moisturizer will add hydration to your skin and lock in moisture to prevent transepidermal water loss. 


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