Blackheads and whiteheads are two common types of acne.
As the names suggest, blackheads look like black dots on your skin and whiteheads look like white spots. While blackheads and whiteheads form differently, both respond to similar treatment approaches.
Here’s a closer look at what causes whiteheads and blackheads plus tips for managing both
Blackheads are also 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, so the bacteria inside don’t undergo the same chemical reaction that causes blackheads to be dark.
Like blackheads, whiteheads are typically found on your back, shoulders, and face.
Both blackheads and whiteheads are caused by clogged pores, which means they can be treated similarly.
Over-the-counter (OTC) products can be effective in treating blackheads and whiteheads.
Look for products that contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid. Both help to remove oil and dead skin cells that clog your pores. You can find everything from facial washes to creams to astringents containing these ingredients at your local drug store.
Above all, avoid touching your face as much as possible.
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.
Looking for more ideas? Explore these 13 home remedies for acne.
There are many myths involving skin care and pimples. Here’s a closer look at 5 of the big ones:
Myth 1: Eating chocolate causes pimples
Diet is only a small part of the picture, and it’s unclear whether certain foods directly cause acne.
If you think certain foods might be contributing to your acne, try keeping a food diary to see if you notice any patterns between specific foods and changes in your acne.
Myth 2: Frequent face-washing 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 — at most — 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.
If you suspect that makeup is making your breakouts worse, talk with a healthcare professional to help narrow down the cause.
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.
- Acne. (2020).
- All about sunscreen (2021). http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/sun-protection/sunscreen/the-skin-cancer-foundations-guide-to-sunscreens
- Baldwin H, et al. (2021). Effects of diet on acne and its response to treatment.
- Can the right diet get rid of acne? (n.d.). https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/acne/causes/diet
- Cao H, et al. (2015). Complementary therapies for acne vulgaris
- Oakley A, et al. (2014). Comedonal acne. dermnetnz.org/topics/comedonal-acne/