Many people suffer from acne sometime in their lives. About 85 percent of people between 12 and 24 experience pimples due to blocked pores.

Acne can be treated easily, but not all people require the same care. Blackheads and whiteheads are common types of acne. They’re different in the way they form, but their treatment is similar.

Keep reading to learn how a pimple develops into a blackhead or a whitehead.

Blackheads look like black dots that have formed on your skin. Blackheads are called open comedones. Comedones are the skin-colored bumps that form when you have a pimple. In the case of blackheads, these comedones consist of follicles beneath your skin with very large openings, or pores.

When you have blackheads, these large pores become clogged with a substance known as sebum. A chemical reaction with the sebum occurs under your skin. Melanin is oxidized and turns the clogged pores a black color. This form of acne is often found on your back, shoulders, and face.

Whiteheads are known as closed comedones. The follicles beneath your skin become filled with bacteria and have a very small opening at the top of your skin. Air isn’t able to enter the follicle. The bacteria inside of it doesn’t undergo a chemical reaction, so it stays white in color. This type of acne is also found on your back, shoulders, and face.

Blackheads and whiteheads are both mild forms of acne. Both types of pimples are caused by clogged pores, so they’re treated in a similar manner.

Over-the-counter products

Over-the-counter (OTC) products can be effective in treating blackheads and whiteheads. They help open the pores, allowing the bacteria and dirt to be washed out before acne forms.

Look for products that contain benzoyl peroxide (NeoBenz Micro, Clearskin) or salicylic acid. Both dry out acne and remove oil and dead skin cells that are also clogging your pores.

You can find anything from facial washes to creams to astringents containing these ingredients at your local drug store.

Learn more: Can I use benzoyl peroxide during pregnancy? »

Hands-off approach

Playing with pimples will only make them worse.

One of the most important things to remember is not to touch your face. Even if you’re just scratching an itch, bacteria and any dirt from your hands get transferred to your face. The bacteria and dirt then get into your pores. This leads to clogging and the formation of whiteheads and blackheads.

You may be tempted to pick out blackheads or pop whiteheads. But spreading the bacteria that were in your pimples onto your skin can lead to more outbreaks across the rest of your face. Picking at pimples can also lead to scarring, discoloration, or skin that is red, irritated, and painful.

Alternative medicine

There is some evidence that different supplements or topical treatments may help with acne. More research is needed to assess the effectiveness and safety of these products. Always discuss alternative options with your doctor before trying them.

  • tea tree oil
  • alpha hydroxy acid
  • azelaic acid (Azelex)
  • bovine cartilage
  • zinc
  • green tea extract
  • aloe vera
  • brewer’s yeast

Learn more: What are the best essential oils for acne? »

There are many myths involving skin care and pimples. Here’s five myths you may have heard:

Myth 1: Eating chocolate causes pimples

Diet is only a small part of the picture. Research is mixed on whether certain foods can cause acne. There is some evidence that dairy products and carbohydrates may indeed impact skin. More research is needed in this area. In the meantime, keep a food diary to see if certain foods might be making your acne worse.

Myth 2: Washing your face often will stop breakouts

Frequent washing can irritate your skin. In fact, too much washing and scrubbing of your face can actually lead to more pimples. It’s best to wash your face only twice a day with a mild soap. When you’re done, pat your skin dry with a clean towel.

Myth 3: You can get rid of pimples by popping them

Popping zits may make them less noticeable in the moment, but it can make them stick around much longer. When you pop a pimple, you invite bacteria into your skin. The bacteria can make the redness and swelling worse or even lead to scarring over time.

Myth 4: Makeup makes breakouts worse

Not necessarily. If you want to wear makeup, go ahead. Just choose non-acnegenic or noncomedogenic products that won’t clog your pores or irritate skin. Make sure you also regularly clean or replace your makeup brushes.

Some makeups may even help your skin. Look for brands that contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. These ingredients fight breakouts.

If you suspect that makeup is making your breakouts worse, talk to your doctor.

Myth 5: Tanning can clear up your acne

Getting sun can temporarily improve your complexion. Over time though the sun’s rays can leave skin dry and irritated, leading to even more pimples. Sun exposure can also lead to premature aging and even skin cancer. Use a noncomedogenic or non-acnegenic sunscreen that’s at least SPF 15 before heading outdoors.

Taking care of your skin and washing it on a regular basis can help decrease the chances of either blackheads or whiteheads becoming a major skin problem.

Follow these tips to prevent breakouts:

  • Keep your face clean by washing it twice a day with a mild soap.
  • Try using OTC products that contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid to dry out excess oil.
  • Choose oil-free makeups that won’t clog your pores.
  • Always wash makeup off before going to bed.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Resist picking at and popping pimples.
  • Use water-based gels and sprays for your hair. Better yet, keep hair off your face so products won’t clog your pores.

If these lifestyle measures don’t help to clear your skin or you are experiencing severe acne, it may be time to see your doctor or a dermatologist. A dermatologist is a doctor who specializes in skin health. They may prescribe oral or topical medications to help clear and heal your skin. They can also help you come up with a daily routine tailored to your skin type.