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A whitehead is a type of acne that forms when dead skin cells, oil, and bacteria become trapped within one of your pores.

Whiteheads can be annoying, and they may seem to develop at the worst times.

The good news is that whiteheads can be prevented with a combination of lifestyle changes and medical treatments.

Understanding the cause of whiteheads can help you prevent future breakouts. Clogged pores are the main cause of whiteheads. Your pores can become blocked for several reasons.

One cause of blocked pores is hormonal changes, which are common triggers of acne. Certain life stages can increase the amount of sebum, or oil, your pores produce. The increased oil production causes clogged pores and whiteheads.

These stages include:

Certain contraceptives that contain progesterone only may also increase hormone levels and cause acne flares in women. Likewise, some women notice more acne during certain stages of their menstrual cycles once they stop taking birth control pills.

Several studies have found that genetics also play a role in the development of different types of acne, including whiteheads. If someone in your family suffers from acne, you have a higher risk of developing it too.

Whiteheads can also appear in areas where you get a lot of friction, like on the chin from a chin-strap on athletic gear.

A whitehead can develop anywhere on your body. The nose, chin, and forehead are collectively known as the T-zone. The particularly oily parts of your face, such as the T-zone, may be particularly prone to acne.

You may also develop whiteheads on:

  • your chest
  • back
  • shoulders
  • arms

Acne can occur in men and women, and at almost any age. Even if you never had problems with whiteheads as a teen, you can still develop them at some point during adulthood.

Whiteheads are considered a mild form of acne. They’re relatively easy to treat.

A topical retinoid is the first-line treatment for whiteheads. However, topical retinoids take three months to see any effect. They should ideally be used every day (or night).

Topical retinoids are used to prevent acne. They shouldn’t be used as a spot treatment on your pimples. Retinoids work by several mechanisms, but, ultimately, they prevent the pore-clogging process.

You should wear sunscreen daily since your skin will be more sensitive to the sun as a result of using a topical retinoid.

If you have inflammatory acne (red bumps and pustules on your face) your doctor might also prescribe oral or topical antibiotics, which destroy excess skin bacteria and reduce inflammation and redness. The oral antibiotics are used off-label to treat acne.

Combined oral-contraceptive birth control pills are also used to reduce acne in women. They’re an FDA-approved contraceptive method.

Oral and topical medications are both effective treatments for whiteheads, but they’re not the only options. You can also enjoy clearer, healthier skin and reduce the risk of future breakouts by making certain lifestyle changes.

If you wear makeup, consider using cosmetic brands that are noncomedogenic and oil-free. These products might be a better fit for people who are prone to acne because they don’t clog pores. That reduces the likelihood of acne, such as whiteheads.

You should also use oil-free lotions or moisturizers to limit the amount of oil added to your skin.

Wash your hair and skin on a regular basis. And don’t forget to remove makeup before going to bed. However, you should avoid excessive washing since this may actually cause irritation on the face and worsen your acne.

Use a mild cleanser to wash your face once a day using warm water. Make sure to pat your skin dry instead of scrubbing. Do not exfoliate your skin with any scrubbing products, as this will likely worsen your acne.

There are some common misconceptions about whiteheads. Understanding what can and can’t cause acne is important for getting rid of whiteheads. The following factors have little to no effect on acne:

  • Excessive washing and scrubbing doesn’t prevent whiteheads.
  • Dirt doesn’t cause acne.
  • Washing your face too hard can irritate the skin and worsen existing acne.
  • Greasy foods don’t cause acne.

The way you deal with whiteheads can affect the health of your skin. If you constantly pick at a whitehead, it’s more likely to become irritated and cause a scar. Once a scar occurs, while it can be improved, it’s a relatively permanent mark on your skin.

Acne and whiteheads can be frustrating and uncomfortable. However, help is available. If you’re dealing with a mild case of whiteheads, see if you can manage acne with over-the-counter medications.

You can also try replacing your current facial and body products with those that are oil-free, noncomedogenic, and gentle on your skin.

If this doesn’t work, speak with your doctor or dermatologist. They may be able to recommend alternative treatments or prescribe medications.

If you need help finding a dermatologist, then check out our FindCare tool here.