- Whiteheads are not as simple to get rid of as you might think.
- Whitehead is used incorrectly as a blanket term for any small blemish with a white center.
- Approach them with caution before you squeeze.
Noticing small white bumps descending across your face?
Those stubborn zits that look ready for the picking are called whiteheads, and you should approach these with caution before you give them a good squeeze. Whiteheads are completely unique in their formation and treatment, especially in comparison to other blemishes.
For more insight on these tricky blemishes, INSIDER talked to a few skincare professionals on their causes, and how to treat them properly.
First, let’s establish what acne exactly is.
Before we get into whiteheads, we have to understand what acne is in general, and what causes it. According to Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, celebrity cosmetic dermatologist and founder of PFRANKMD, it is a disease of the hair follicle and the pores that lead to them in the skin.
“The process occurs when pores first become clogged,” Frank said. “Acne is multi-factorial and has many different causes. Although acne has been blamed on everything from poor cleaning habits to greasy food and emotional stress, it appears that sensitivities to androgen or testosterone-like hormones play the most dramatic role. When glands produce too much oil, the pores can become blocked, accumulating dirt, debris, and bacteria.”
So what are whiteheads?
The term “whitehead” tends to be incorrectly used as a blanket term for any small blemish that has a protruding white center, but according to Heyday skin therapist Joanne DeLeon, they’re much more specific than that.
“A whitehead is a small soft bump that appears to be just under the skin’s surface and does not have a severe delineating border,” DeLeon said. “They are usually small; no larger than the tip of a candle wick and they are not red or inflamed.”
Even if you can’t notice them at a glance, almost everyone has them.
“The best place to ‘look for them’ is on the skin half-way below your lower lip and your chin,” DeLeon stated. “Use your facial muscles to stretch out your chin and pull back your lower lip. Those white bumps you may see… those are whiteheads!”
According to DeLeon, many people constantly mistake other forms of acne for whiteheads solely because they notice small white dots. While many forms of acne can have a literal white head, that doesn’t mean they are automatically classified as a “whitehead.” She said that if there are small, pearl-like dots with a hard and defined texture around your eyes, then that is most likely milia, a form of cysts. If you notice a white bulb with a red and inflamed blemish, then that is most likely a pustule, another form of acne.
“Whiteheads form in the follicle and appear to be just under the topmost layer of the skin, due to the collection of Sebum (oil) and dead skin cells collecting in the pore,” DeLeon said. “Whiteheads do have the potential to become inflamed blemishes or deeper infections if not properly cared for. They are difficult to prevent, but they can be managed!”
According to dermatologists, there are a few ways to prevent whiteheads from forming.
According to Dr. Loretta Ciraldo, board-certified dermatologist and creator of the luxury Dr. Loretta skin-care line, exfoliation is key to keeping whiteheads at bay.
“The two best ingredients for keeping pores clear are salicylic and glycolic,” she said. “But you need to use a high percentage of these acids to be effective and you don’t want to make skin red or dry so the exfoliating products should be formulated in Hydrating bases to address this.”
Another way to keep your skin free of whiteheads is by improving your diet, according to Dr. Frank. He suggested minimising your intake of dairy, sugar, and simple carbohydrates to reduce your risk of acne, and to replace these skin-wrecking foods with more proteins and vegetables that are rich in colour.
“A diet that has a lot of dairy in it is ‘pro-inflammatory’ meaning that it can exacerbate any condition, like acne, that involves inflammation of tissue,” he said.
Dr. Loretta also noted that your beauty products could actually be the whitehead-inducing culprit. “If your whiteheads are on your chin they may be coming from thick moisturizers, and if around the rim of your face or in the forehead hair products may be the culprit,” she said.
When it comes to whiteheads, there are a few things DeLeon says you need to avoid doing.
She advised to completely refrain from touching, picking, and/or squeezing any blemishes. “This will only introduce harmful bacteria, potentially leave a scar and can force the debris further down into the skin to cause those dreaded ‘underground’ blemishes,” she said.
While gentle exfoliation is beneficial for treating whiteheads, DeLeon recommended avoiding harsh scrubbing, and to stop using harsh or drying skin-care products. Using harsh irritants can cause inflammation and dehydrate the surface of the skin, further blocking the opening of the pore.
If you’re currently dealing with whiteheads, there are quite a few expert-approved ways to treat them. Here are some of the top whitehead treatment tips from our skin-care experts:
1) A DIY spot treatment: For the occasional whitehead, DeLeon suggests using this spot treatment that you can easily create at home. Simply dissolve 1 tablespoon of baking soda into 8 ounces of distilled water, and apply it directly onto whiteheads once a week. “This alkaline solution seeps into the follicles softening the clogged matter,” she said. However, do not take the “more is better” approach with this treatment. DeLeon said that it is very drying, and suggests using a small amount on each whitehead.
2) Use a cleanser for your skin type:If you have oily skin with blackheads and whiteheads, then Dr. Frank suggested using a ‘non-acne’ cleanser. ” It can be beneficial because it will help to exfoliate the skin and balance oily skin, which can worsen the condition,” he said.
3) Get a facial: If your whiteheads lean on the more severe side of the acne spectrum, then getting a facial may be your saving grace, according to DeLeon. “For more extreme situations, a professional facial is the best avenue to give your skin a deep cleansing and extractions,” she said. “Professional strength products, tools and techniques can rid many of the whiteheads and reset the skin to function at its best.”
4) Try LED skin therapy: This painless, non-invasive dermatologist treatment involves different colours of light triggering different reactions beneath the epidermis and penetrating the skin at varying depths, according to Dr. Frank. “Blue light is generally used to kill the bacteria that causes acne, providing an effective treatment for blackheads and whiteheads, whereas wavelengths of red light are normally used to speed up healing and stimulate collagen production, simultaneously shrinking enlarged pores and tightening the skin,” he said.
5) Be patient: We hate to burst your bubble, but your skin most likely won’t clear up overnight. That’s why DeLeon suggested being patient with your skin as it works to clear itself of any blemishes and acne.
“Just remember, it’s a marathon and not a sprint,” she advised. “Like going from brunette to blond, it’s a process and requires patience.”
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