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 painful, cystic acne that is much harder to tackle and might require medication to cure. However, many people also suffer from much milder forms of acne, two common kinds being whiteheads and blackheads. These two types of acne are easier to tackle and are fairly common due to its 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 and prevent new ones from sprouting too often.
But first, let’s go through the differences between blackheads and whiteheads.
What’s the difference between 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. It is caused by hair follicles that are clogged. 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 a sebaceous gland that produces an oil known as sebum. When a blackhead forms, the opening of the skin follicle gets clogged up with dead skin cells and 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 treatment would be to prevent and extract these comedones without affecting the rest of the skin. Both can be easily prevented through methods that involve reducing the amount of oil in your face. 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.
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. Exfoliating once to twice a week is sufficient.
- Try a chemical exfoliant
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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
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!