The difference between whiteheads and blackheads, and how to effectively get rid of both, according to dermatologists

Advertisement
The difference between whiteheads and blackheads, and how to effectively get rid of both, according to dermatologists
You should never pop blackheads or whiteheads.LaylaBird/Getty images
  • The main difference between whiteheads and blackheads is blackheads form in an open pore which gives them their black coloring.
  • Both whiteheads and blackheads can be treated by washing your face regularly, exfoliating weekly, and using a topical retinoid.
  • However, unlike whiteheads, blackheads can also be removed with pore-strips.

Whiteheads and blackheads are some of the most common forms of acne, and although similar, have a few distinct characteristics.

Here's how to tell the difference between whiteheads and blackheads and how to prevent and treat both of them.

What are whiteheads?

Whiteheads are a covered, protruding type of acne that occurs when dead skin cells, oil, or bacteria block a pore. They typically emerge down the center of a person's face as a sealed, white bump. "If the pore is completely blocked, a whitehead, also known as closed comedones, has formed. These appear as small yellow or white bumps on the skin," says Brooke Jeffy, MD, a dermatologist at Spectrum Dermatology in Phoenix, Arizona.

Advertisement

While whiteheads can appear on the back, chest, or arms, they primarily appear on the face's T-zone - the area encompassing the forehead, nose, and chin, says Jeffy. She explains that the time a whitehead lasts will vary based on the size and type of treatment used, but small ones generally resolve within 10 days.

What are blackheads?

Blackheads are also caused by clogged pores, but unlike whiteheads, they appear as exposed, dark bumps on the skin. Instead of the skin remaining closed over the pimple, as is the case with a whitehead, blackheads have no skin coverage, which results in their darker color.

"The blackhead is formed by air getting into the pore which combines with bacteria, sebum, and dirt and turns black," says Michele Green, MD, a cosmetic dermatologist in New York City.

Advertisement

Blackheads most commonly appear on and around the nose but can form anywhere on the face, back, chest, or arms, says Jeffy. They last longer than whiteheads, potentially months or years, if you don't take any action to remove or treat them.

How to get rid of whiteheads

As tempting as it can be, popping whiteheads is highly discouraged, as it can cause scarring. Instead, use a dermatologist-approved method for removing whiteheads. According to Jeffy and Green, there are many options for getting rid of whiteheads:

  • Use products containing salicylic acid or glycolic acid to exfoliate the skin and remove dead skin cells gently. This action prevents cells from combining with oil and clogging your pores.
  • Apply a topical retinoid, which will help encourage skin turnover, limiting dead cell buildup
  • Wash your face morning and night
  • Avoid wearing thick makeup and clean off any products every night
  • Refrain from touching your face or picking at the existing pimple

When following these methods, whiteheads should disappear within 10 days. If your whiteheads continue to grow or multiply, a visit to your dermatologist can help you create an action plan for removing them.

Advertisement

How to get rid of blackheads

The process of treating blackheads is very similar to getting rid of whiteheads. For example, you should also avoid popping them and use the same types of exfoliants and creams.

"Products containing salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are great at treating blackheads. These products kill the bacteria which causes acne," says Green.

A 2004 study found using scrubs, toners, and masks containing salicylic acid reduced the appearance of both blackheads and whiteheads after four weeks.

Advertisement

On top of these products, there is one additional option for getting rid of blackheads that don't work for whiteheads: pore strips.

Pore strips act as a strong adhesive, drying on the skin and pulling off anything it attaches to. Over the counter pore strips can be helpful for removing blackheads thanks to their open nature, says Jeffy. Pore strips are designed to be placed in areas prone to blackheads like the nose, forehead, and chin. Once placed, the adhesive binds with dirt, oil, and blackheads. Then, when you peel it off, you're also peeling all that gunk from pores.

There are also entire face masks that act in the same manner as pore strips. However, since these are less targeted to the area blackheads tend to appear, there's a potential for them to aggravate your skin.

Advertisement

Apply pore strips once a week to avoid skin irritation.

How to prevent whiteheads and blackheads

Because the causes of whiteheads and blackheads are the same, you can take the same preventative measure to keep both at bay. According to Jeffy and Green, you can prevent whiteheads and blackheads by:

  • Gently exfoliating about two times per week
  • Use a cleanser and lukewarm water to wash your face
  • Apply an exfoliating toner with alpha hydroxy, salicylic, or glycolic acid to cleanse pores
  • Moisturize using a lightweight formula, like a gel, with hyaluronic acid
  • Wash the face after exercising or sweating profusely
  • Avoid touching your face or picking at pimples
  • Choose oil-free makeup

"If lesions persist, a tailored plan provided by your dermatologist, in conjunction with in-office treatments, may be needed," says Jeffy. Working with a dermatologist can prevent scarring and they can also prescribe you stronger treatments and medications.

Advertisement

Insider's takeaway

Whiteheads and blackheads are two common types of acne that form due to clogged pores.

Whiteheads appear as sealed bumps with white or yellow heads, and are typically found on the T-zone. Meanwhile, blackheads are dark in color and often emerge on the nose.

Washing your face, exfoliating your skin, and avoiding picking at acne can help treat and prevent both these conditions.

Advertisement

Related articles from Health Reference:

{{}}