Whiteheads are tiny bumps on the skin that usually appear on the face especially on the nose, forehead and chin. They are very common especially in people with oily skin and can be a source of cosmetic concern and frustration. The good news is that there are many treatments that can help remove or get rid of whiteheads. In this article we explore what whiteheads are, their causes and how to properly prevent and treat them.
What are Whiteheads & What Causes Them?
Whiteheads are actually a type of non inflammatory acne medically known as “closed comedones”. They appear as small white bumps on the skin’s surface. They occur when pores become clogged with a combination of sebum (the skin’s natural oil), dead skin cells and sometimes bacteria. This blockage creates a plug beneath the skin’s surface and as such whiteheads are closed within the pore. This distinguishes them from blackheads (open comedones), which are open at the skin surface and exposed to air. It is also important not to confuse whiteheads with Milia which have a similar in appearance but different treatments. Milia are tiny, white cysts made up of keratin and typically occur when skin flakes become trapped under the skin’s surface.
Knowing how to get rid of whiteheads starts with understanding their causes which are varied. They include factors such as hormonal changes, which can increase oil production in the skin, genetic predisposition and environmental factors like pollution and humidity. Diet and stress can also play a role in their development. The best way to prevent and get rid of whiteheads is to address these underlying causes.
Can whiteheads go away on their own?
Whiteheads can sometimes resolve on their own. This is more likely if they are mild and not caused by an existing skin condition. The body’s natural healing process can clear the clogged pores over time and eventually remove the whiteheads. However, this process can be slow and without properly treating the underlying cause, new whiteheads may continue to form.
Best Treatments to Get Rid of Whiteheads
The best way to get rid of whiteheads will depend on the severity of your acne, causes and your skin type. For isolated and small numbers of whiteheads, simple skincare is often enough to remove them. For moderate to severe whiteheads, you may need a more advanced skincare routine or a combination of targeted treatments. Treatments for whiteheads are best grouped into topical skincare and professional treatments. Over-the-counter topical treatments containing active ingredients like exfoliating acids, benzoyl peroxide and retinoids are highly effective. They help to remove whiteheads by unclogging pores and killing bacteria. The best way to use these treatments is to introduce one at a night and adjust according to how your skin responds, They will only work when used regularly for a long period of time (at least 8-12 weeks).
For stubborn or more widespread whiteheads, prescription retinoids like adapalene and Tretinoin can also help remove them. For more severe whiteheads and acne or if the results of skincare are ineffective, you should consider seeing a dermatologist or other medical professional. They will check whether you need any professional treatments to get rid of your whiteheads. However, these please note that these treatments work best alongside a consistent and targeted skincare routine. Below we discuss all of these treatment options in detail.
Skincare Treatments for Whiteheads
Treating whiteheads effectively involves a combination of skincare practices and treatments tailored to unclog pores and prevent future breakouts. Here are some key skincare treatments for whiteheads:
- Gentle Cleansing: This is an important step to clean your skin and prepare it to absorb active skincare ingredients that treat acne. Using a gentle hydrating cleanser in the mornings will helps remove excess oil and skincare to clear the pores without irritating the skin. At night, double cleansing with an oil or balm followed by your morning’s hydrating cleanser will help remove sunscreen, makeup, grime and any pollutants which can all clog up pores.
- Beta Hydroxy Acids (BHA): Salicylic acid and other BHAs can penetrate the pores and exfoliate the skin. This helps dissolve the debris that causes blockages.
- Benzoyl Peroxide: Effective in killing bacteria, benzoyl peroxide can help treat and prevent whiteheads by reducing inflammation and unclogging pores. It is best used as a spot treatment for new whiteheads.
- Retinoids: Available both over-the-counter (as retinol or retinal) and by prescription (e.g Adapalene, Tazarotene and Tretinoin), retinoids accelerate skin cell turnover and control oil production. This helps prevent pores from becoming clogged. They also smooth the skin and even out skin tone if you suffer from scars, texture or hyperpigmentation.
- LED Masks: There is evidence that Light-emitting diode (LED) masks and devices can benefit skin prone to whiteheads. Blue LED light is known for its antibacterial properties, which can help in treating acne, while red LED light may reduce inflammation and promote healing. These masks are best used regularly as part of a targeted skincare routine for acne.
Professional Treatments for Whiteheads
These treatments, should only be done by dermatologists or other skincare professionals. They will help you decide which treatment or combination will work best for your whiteheads. They will also ensure that the treatment is done properly and avoid problems like scars, post inflammatory hyperpigmentation or infection. Here are some of the most effective professional treatments to help get rid of whiteheads:
- Chemical Peels: These involve the application of a chemical peel solution to the skin. Peels can be particularly effective for whiteheads as they clear out clogged pores and remove dead skin cells. Depending on the type of peel and extent of your whiteheads, you will likely require a course of peels 4-6 weeks apart.
- Manual Extractions: Dermatologists and aestheticians can perform safe extractions of whiteheads. This process involves the careful removal of the plug causing the whitehead using sterilised tools.
- Microdermabrasion: This procedure involves the physical exfoliation of the skin’s surface. It can help in treating whiteheads by removing the outer layer of dead skin cells to unclog pores.
- Laser Therapy: Certain types of laser treatments can be effective in treating acne. They work by reducing oil production or targeting and killing the bacteria that cause acne. like peels, you may need several treatments over a period of weeks or months depending on the type of laser and your whiteheads.
- Prescription Medications: For severe or stubborn whiteheads with other acne lesions, your doctor may need to prescribe topical or oral acne medications to help get rid of your whiteheads. These can include hormonal treatments (like birth control pills), antibiotics, spironolactone or isotretinoin if there is severe acne.
- Facials: Specialised treatments like hydrafacial can help in managing whiteheads and reducing acne. These often include a combination of cleansing, exfoliating, extractions, masks and serums.
How To Prevent Whiteheads
Prevention is key in the battle against whiteheads and other types of acne. You should firstly try to address the causes of your whiteheads. A doctor can help diagnose this and treat underlying causes like hormonal imbalance which will then stop breakouts. A good targeted skincare routine that includes gentle cleansing and regular exfoliation can also significantly reduce their occurrence and maintain the results of any professional treatments. It’s also important to consider lifestyle factors like diet and stress level which play a vital role in skin health and acne breakouts.
Dealing with whiteheads can be challenging, but with the right knowledge, it’s entirely possible to achieve and maintain clear skin. A targeted and consistent skincare is your best first line defence against whiteheads. It’s also important to avoid harmful (but tempting) practices like squeezing or popping whiteheads. These can lead to scars and further skin problems like hyperpigmentation. For stubborn or hard to treat whiteheads, there are a number of good professional skin treatments. However, what works best for you will depend on your skin type, the severity of the whiteheads and any underlying skin conditions. Also remember, that these treatments work best when combined with a good skincare routine. Lastly, if you have severe or non responsive whiteheads, consult with a skin professional early. They will help you choose the best treatment and ensure that you get safe, effective and long lasting results.
At City Skin Clinic, we are passionate about delivering personalised skincare. Our doctors offer safe and effective treatments like Tretinoin and Hydroquinone through our online skin clinic. We treat skin conditions like acne, hyperpigmentation, melasma and skin ageing. To start your personalised skincare plan, book a virtual video consultation or use our online consultation form. The journey towards great skin starts here.