What's the Difference Between Blackheads and Whiteheads?

What’s the Difference Between Blackheads and Whiteheads?


Acne affects many people and can show up in different degrees of severity. Some people suffer from severe acne such as painful, cystic acne that is much harder to tackle and might require medication to cure. However, many people also suffer from mild acne, two common kinds being whiteheads and blackheads. These two types of mild acne are easier to tackle and are fairly common due to their nature of being a result of clogged pores. Luckily, with the right knowledge and understanding of blackheads and whiteheads are formed, you’ll be able to keep them at bay, prevent new ones from sprouting and achieve clear skin!

But first, let’s go through the differences between blackheads and whiteheads.

What are whiteheads and blackheads?

Blackheads and whiteheads are both a form of comedones. Comedones are small, skin-colored bumps that occur when there is a blockage in pores or skin follicles. The difference between blackheads and whiteheads is that blackheads are open comedones while whiteheads are closed. Still, confused about what that means? We’ll break it down a little more! 

Blackheads are small bumps that appear black on your skin. Blackheads form due to a clogged pore or hair follicle. Blackheads appear anywhere with hair follicles such as the back, arms, ears, neck, and chest. A follicle is made up of a strand of hair and sebaceous glands that produce an oil known as sebum. When a blackhead forms, the opening of the skin follicle gets clogged up with dead skin cells and excess oil, forming an open comedo (singular form of comedones). If the skin over the bump is open, the exposure to air causes this clog to oxidize and appear black. It’s very easy to see a blackhead — they are very shallow bumps but are not inflamed or sensitive to touch like a pimple. You might notice more blackheads on your nose and on the sides of your nose, chin, and forehead. 

Meanwhile, whiteheads appear as a small bump on your face with a white tip. It is not as red, tender, or inflamed as a pimple. They’re also typically much smaller than a pimple. This is because the whitehead does not go as deep into the skin as a pimple. Whiteheads form from the same process as blackheads. They are formed by hair follicles that are clogged. A follicle is made up of a strand of hair and a sebaceous gland that produces an oil known as sebum. When a whitehead forms, the opening of the skin follicle gets clogged up with dead skin cells and oil. But unlike blackheads which are open, the oil in a whitehead is covered by a thin layer of skin that traps it in the pore and hence creating a raised, visible white bump. Whiteheads are therefore also known as closed comedones.

How are blackheads and whiteheads treated?

Both whiteheads and blackheads can be treated in similar ways. The goal of treating blackheads and whiteheads would be to prevent future breakouts and extract these comedones without affecting the rest of the skin. Both can be easily prevented through methods that involve reducing oil production.

You could create your own diy face masks for oily skin to serve this purpose. Having oily hair or not washing your hair frequently can lead to increased blackheads and whiteheads as oil from the hair gets trapped on the skin. It is a safe estimate to wash your hair every two to three days. It is also probably a good idea to make sure that all products you use on your face (makeup and skincare) are non-comedogenic, which means they won’t clog your pores. Any products that are heavy and thick have the tendency to clog up pores, making the formation of whiteheads and blackheads more probable. Furthermore, collagen for skin can also help to prevent blackheads and treat such skin issues.

But should you already suffer from these acne forms, there are many ways to tackle them!

  • Use a physical exfoliator

Using a physical exfoliator is the easiest first step. 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. You don’t want to end up with red dry patches on skin because of vigorous scrubbing. Exfoliating once to twice a week is sufficient.

  • Try a chemical exfoliant to unclog pores

Exfoliants also come in the form of chemicals. You can get these from drugstores as well. Chemicals work a little differently from physical exfoliants, as it uses 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. Just make sure to use the right amount, so your skin won’t dry up and lead to early aging.

  • Incorporate a retinoid or salicylic acid into your skincare 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 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 them 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. This is because it might be bad for those with skin hyper sensitivity. Once you have gotten used to the strength, you can use it more frequently or move up the retinoid strength.

Another popular ingredient used in treating acne is salicylic acid. Salicyclic is especially effective in treating severe acne like inflammatory acne, blackheads, and whiteheads as it targets bacteria, oil and dead skin. Other products and ingredients you could also try out include benzoyl peroxide and glycolic acid.

Of course, there’s also the option of visiting a dermatologist who specializes in clinical and aesthetic dermatology who could provide you with prescription medications and personalized advice diagnosis or treatment.

  • Don’t touch it!

It is super tempting to squeeze out a whitehead, or extract a blackhead yourself but remember that applying pressure to it will likely leave scarring! It might lead to inflammation, for which you’d need products to reduce redness on face. It is best to leave your whiteheads alone as squeezing closed comedones will likely cause a scar or spot. Be very careful should you extract blackheads yourself, and use the proper extraction tools and not your fingernails which can introduce more bacteria to the follicle. Using honey for face does wonders in combating bacteria issues if they ever occur, but that being said, hands off!

If you need more tips, you can refer to this article.


Dealing with milder forms of acne is not difficult but it does require a concerted and disciplined effort. Incorporating small lifestyle changes like washing your face twice a day, using non-comedogenic products, and removing your makeup right after you get home are all important steps that will help improve your overall skin condition! Add face skin tightening and you’re all set for longer-lasting, young skin for years.

Stay tuned for more skin care topics, like do eye creams work, proper exfoliation, and much more!

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