Blackheads vs Whiteheads?

Did you know that there are a number of different types of pimples? It can be difficult to classify exactly what kind of blemish you’re dealing with, but two of the most common forms are blackheads and whiteheads. You’re probably already familiar with them — one looks like a small, dark spot while the other tends to look more like a raised bump. 

Both blackheads and whiteheads are clogged pores, but the opening of the pore is different in each. In a blackhead, the part of the pore at the surface of the skin is stretched and open. The black color you see consists of dead skin cells, bacteria and oil that’s oxidized and stuck down in the pore. Because the top of the pore is open, the scientific term for a blackhead is an open comedone. 

A whitehead is also a clogged pore, but unlike a black head, the top of the pore is not stretched open. The surface of the pore is closed, so dermatologists call this a closed comedone.

Let us tap in together to find the break down of what makes blackheads different from whiteheads, what causes these blemishes, and of course, the best plan of attack for both. 

How to Treat Blackheads and Whiteheads

Luckily, treating blackheads and whiteheads is relatively simple.

If you have clogged pores of any kind — blackheads or whiteheads — we recommend using a cleanser that contains exfoliating and acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid. Start out with a gentle cleanser like the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Acne Face Wash ( $14.99 ), that removes dirt, oil and makeup while also gently exfoliating to prevent pores from clogging in the first place. 

To prevent excess oil that can clog pores, it’s important not to dehydrate your skin by over cleansing (cleanse twice daily and if your skin feels tight or itchy afterwards, look for a more gentle option). Use a non-comedogenic cream like the CeraVe Daily Moisturizing Lotion ( $9.99 ).

Dr. Nazarian says that a retinol product like ProactivMD or Differin gel is a good place to start. This loosens the blackheads and makes it easier, and less dangerous to push out,” she explains. But while retinol works to decrease oil production and minimize the sebaceous glands, you should be cautious — over-using it can make skin too dry. Once or twice a week is a safe bet. Differin Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment ( $12.99 ), contains the first OTC Rx-strength acne-fighting retinoid. Retinoids play a crucial role in the treatment of acne by regulating skin cell turnover & reducing inflammation deep in the skin to clear & prevent pimples. What makes the retinoid in Differin (Adapalene) so cool is that, unlike other topical prescription retinoids, Differin is gentler on your skin, while still effective — and you don’t have to do things like completely avoid sunlight forever!

As for picking your blackheads, proceed with caution. After a few weeks of using a treatment, the blackheads will typically pop out with gentle pressure. If they’re not budging, see your dermatologist to avoid damaging your tissue and causing scarring!

When dealing with whiteheads, retinol or salicylic acid can help clear the buildup out of pores. “For whiteheads, salicylic acid is great because it breaks up the ‘glue’ that keeps dead skin cells together, and can degrade the keratin plug in the whitehead,” Dr. Nazarian explains. 

How to Prevent Blackheads and Whiteheads 

Whether you get blackheads and whiteheads, it boils down to genetics. However, there’s a few steps you can take in your skincare routine to minimize both types of breakouts. Look for products that say they’re “non-comedogenic” because they don’t contain ingredients that clog pores. 

You also need to be consistent with your skincare routine. Retinoids and salicylic acid are great at dissolving blackheads and whiteheads, but you need to continue using them to prevent them from refilling and reforming. It typically take about four to six weeks to dissolve blackheads and whiteheads, so be patient.

You can also talk to your dermatologist about prescription options if breakouts persist. Prescribed solutions like vitamin A-based creams can prevent pores from becoming clogged as well as prevent the formation of larger acne lesions. 

And whatever you do, don’t squeeze either of them! Squeezing may seem satisfying in the moment, but can do damage in the long term.



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