In the quest for flawless skin, who hasn’t spent some time about an inch away from a mirror examining their pores? If you’ve ever looked closely, you may have noticed small white or black bumps just under the surface. You’ve probably heard the terms “whitehead” and “blackhead” before. But what are whiteheads vs blackheads? What is that “gunk” in there, and what can you do about it?
Where Do Whiteheads And Blackheads Come From?
Your skin is covered in tiny holes called pores. All pores contain:
- A hair follicle
- Sebaceous glands
- A hair1
Sebaceous glands produce an oil called sebum, which keeps your skin and face moisturized. Your skin sheds cells, called corneocytes. When sebum and corneocytes, mix with bacteria called P. acnes, build up in your pores, you may start to see red bumps, whiteheads, and blackheads.2
Blemishes can be found almost anywhere on your body, but they commonly develop on your:
If you’ve experienced breakouts, you’ve probably noticed bumps that are both white and black. Both whiteheads and blackheads are known as comedones. Comedonal blemishes refer to hair follicles that are blocked with sebum. Whiteheads and blackheads are quite similar – they’re formed in the same way, but there are some differences, too.4
Whiteheads form when your skin pores become clogged with dead skin cells, sebum (oil), and bacteria. Whiteheads are closed within the pore, which is why a whitehead is also called a closed comedone. Because they are closed, air doesn’t enter the follicle and react with the “gunk” inside. In the absence of outside air, they remain white.5
Here’s how you can recognize a whitehead on your skin:
- White or yellowish in color
- Small bump underneath the skin with no open pores
Blackheads form when the opening of a hair follicle becomes clogged with dead skin cells, oil, or bacteria. This forms a bump. If the skin over the bump opens, the material inside oxidizes and appears black.8
There is a common misconception that blackheads are caused by dirt trapped under the skin, but this is not the case. The black color comes from the melanin, a pigment that is present in dead skin cells and sebum. When the melanin oxidizes, you see a dark color.9,10
Here’s how to recognize a blackhead on your skin:
- Black or yellowish-black in color
- Flatter than a whitehead or pimple
- Not painful to the touch11,12
Why Do Whiteheads And Blackheads Form On Your Skin?
Both whiteheads and blackheads are caused by clogged pores, but what causes the pores to clog in the first place? While this is constantly being studied, experts have several ideas. According to the research, here are some common causes including:
- Hormonal changes caused by puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, or oral contraceptives
- The overproduction of sebum, that oily substance that protects your skin
- Overgrowth of bacterial flora
- Certain medications, such as steroids
- The use of certain cosmetics, facial products, or comedogenic substances
- Environments with high humidity
- Environmental factors, like smoking or air pollution
- Genetic predisposition
Some experts believe that these other factors may contribute to blemish-prone skin, but they are not yet backed up by conclusive evidence. This includes:
- Poor facial hygiene
- Sunlight exposure20
Dealing With Whiteheads And Blackheads
What Can You Do At Home?
- Try not to touch your face. Although it can be hard, this may ensure that bacteria and dirt doesn’t transfer from your hands to your pores.
- High quality skin care products and face washes may help with whiteheads and blackheads. These products may help cleanse the skin without leading to further irritation.21
- Topical spot treatments. Look for products that contain glycolic acid (an alpha hydroxy acid) or benzoyl peroxide.22
- Home remedies, like apple cider vinegar, zinc, or tea tree oil may be able to help get rid of blackheads and whiteheads.23
Consider Visiting A Dermatologist
A dermatologist can help with extractions, medicated products, and can also help you figure out the specific cause of your blemishes. They can also help you determine a skin care routine that will address your unique concerns.
Tips To Prevent Future Blemishes
- Try to reduce stress in your life.
- Wash your face both morning and night with a face wash that is made for your skin type.
- Hydrate with a high-quality moisturizer. Yes, even if you have oily skin.
- When you spot a bump, use an over-the-counter treatment that contains ingredients like benzoyl peroxide.
- Make sure you’re using non-comedogenic makeup.
- Remember to remove makeup and wash your face before bed.
- Take a shower after you exercise.
- Try to limit refined sugars and excessive dairy.24
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