Everything You Need to Know About Whiteheads

Everything You Need to Know About Whiteheads


At some point in your life, you have probably come across these small raised bumps on your face that have a white tip and are filled with pus. This mild form of acne is known as a whitehead! The term “acne” sounds scary and brings to mind painful, cystic, red bumps that leave nasty-looking scars, but whiteheads are a very mild form of acne that largely does not leave any marks and can be easily treated. 

Whiteheads and blackheads are two of the most prevalent skincare issues, and while they are slightly different, they form in a very similar way. Whiteheads are caused by the clogging of pores and skin follicles with sebum and dead skin cells. Everyone’s skin is covered with follicles and pore which have oil-producing glands known as sebum glands. Sometimes there will be a buildup of oil or dead skin cells in these follicles and pores, creating a plug. If skin grows over the clogged pore, it becomes a whitehead. Whiteheads are also known as closed comedones, as the clog is covered and not exposed to air. Open comedones are known as blackheads, and the color difference is due to the fact that sebum oxidizes to appear black.

Causes of Whiteheads

Whiteheads can be caused by many different factors. One of the main factors is the overproduction of body oil given that the skin follicles contain sebaceous glands. Naturally, if the sebaceous gland produces too much oil there will be a build-up of oil in the follicle and hence form a whitehead. 

Another cause is a buildup of Propionibacterium acnes bacteria on the skin which can also cause clogging in the skin follicle, leading to whiteheads. Whiteheads might also form when the dead skin cells in the hair follicles shed irregularly and cause irritation to the hair follicles. Changes in hormones are another big cause as it will cause an increase in the production of oil. Some drugs and medication can also lead to blackheads such as corticosteroids, lithium, and androgens. 

Apart from these more common causes, there are also many other reasons why you might be prone to getting whiteheads. Hereditary factors such as genetics are also a big reason for any kind of acne. If your parents have a history of acne-prone skin, oily skin, or sensitive skin, chances are you will also be more likely to share the same skin type as them. 

Stress has also been shown to be a potential factor in causing acne flare-ups. This is because the cells that produce sebum contain receptors for the stress hormones. While scientists are still unconfirmed about the exact relation, they have observed a high correlation between individuals experiencing high levels of stress with more severe and frequent acne.

Where Do Whiteheads Commonly Appear?

Whiteheads mostly commonly occur in the T-zone, which consists of the nose, forehead, and chin area. These areas are typically the oiliest part of the face. However, whiteheads can also occur anywhere on the body such as the neck, arms, chest, back, and shoulders.

Who Can Get Whiteheads?

Anyone can get whiteheads, they are not limited to a certain age group. Even babies and children who have not yet hit puberty can develop whiteheads, although they will not experience it as frequently and severely as teenagers and adults. Teenagers are most prone to whiteheads due to their fluctuating hormones. Whiteheads will generally impact people throughout their teenage and adult life from time to time due to any of the above-listed causes.

Best Advice to Deal with Whiteheads

Thankfully, there are many ways that one can deal with whiteheads, and they are quite easy to take care of. Whiteheads are considered non-inflammatory acne, which means there is no swelling or redness that makes it sensitive and painful. That is a good sign because inflammatory acne is the most difficult and delicate to deal with. Whiteheads rarely leave scars, but that doesn’t mean you should squeeze them out. Here are some ways that you can deal with and prevent whiteheads, as well as some advice on what not to do! 


  • Wash your face at least once a day

Since strictly speaking whiteheads are caused by excessive oil buildup, washing your face will help to contain blackheads. It is especially important to wash your face after you sweat in order to keep the skin clean. Don’t overwash your face though, as the skin does need a little bit of natural oil. Overwashing might actually backfire as the sebaceous glands produce even more oil to compensate for the drying out effect that overwashing might have. 


  • Avoid using benzoyl peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is a readily-available over-the-counter treatment. It works by killing bacteria and drying out the area it is applied to. In theory, it should work with whiteheads since whiteheads are caused by an overproduction of oil. However, benzoyl peroxide has the side effect of overdrying the skin and causing irritation and redness. It is hence best to avoid this chemical and turn to other chemicals instead. 


  • Try a chemical exfoliant such as salicylic acid

Exfoliants can come in the form of chemicals. You can get these from drugstores as well. They use chemicals to dissolve the upper layer of dead skin cells. Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) are very efficient chemical exfoliants, and some examples are glycolic acids and lactic acids. There are also beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) like salicylic acid which causes a chemical disintegration of the skin’s top layer of cells which unblock the pores. 


  • Use a physical exfoliator

Using a physical exfoliator is easy to incorporate into your skincare. Exfoliating removes the upper layer of dead skin cells and prevents this layer from getting blocked in the pores. You can buy exfoliators from many drugstores, and they can come in the form of a scrub with granules or a face cleansing brush. Essentially, an exfoliator is something a little abrasive so it can rub away the layer of skin. However, you should be careful not to over-exfoliate as that can irritate and inflame the skin. Exfoliating once to twice a week is sufficient. 


  • Avoid heavy creams and oily products 

Decongesting your skin can be aided by using non-comedogenic products that won’t clog your pores. Especially for people who have oilier, more acne-prone skin, products like coconut oil, heavy moisturizers, and thick heavy creams should be avoided. Use instead of products with lightweight formulas and ingredients such as salicylic acid, niacinamide, and witch hazel.  


  • Incorporate a retinoid into your routine

Retinoids have recently become quite popular in the skincare world, and rightfully so as they are one of the best methods for tackling skin imperfections. A retinoid is a vitamin A-based formula that induces an accelerated exfoliation. You’ll have to be patient with retinoids though, as they take anywhere between 8-12 weeks to show effect. Retinoids can be very strong, and you should only use them at night as the sun causes it to be inactive. Retinoids should be used in gradual increments. Start off using it once or twice a week and pay attention to whether your skin gets red and itchy. Once you have gotten used to the strength, you can use it more frequently or move up the retinoid strength. 


  • Consider what makeup you’ve been using

Do your makeup products contain a lot of oil or comedogenic ingredients? It’s best to stop using them and switch it up with non-comedogenic products. Non-comedogenic products will reduce the possibility of clogging and buildup in your pores. However, if you have acne-prone, oily, and sensitive skin it is best not to use heavy, thick makeup products as these will contribute to clogging pores. It is best to let the skin stay clear as much as possible. The way you apply makeup could also be a factor in whiteheads. Using brushes and sponges to apply foundation all over could be a reason your pores are getting clogged, so it is better to use a heavier duty concealer and spot treat the areas with spots rather than applying a layer all over the face. Don’t forget to wash your makeup tools regularly or dirt and bacteria will build up.


Whiteheads are easy to treat skin conditions and do not require too much effort or cost. Consistency is key in skincare, and remember that your skin is an organ, so making an effort to take care of it is the best way to ensure a clean and healthy complexion.

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