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What Are Whiteheads and How Do You Deal With Them?

Tackle this blemish with the right skin care.
December 14, 2023

We’ve all been there before — you wake up, head to the bathroom and look in the mirror before getting ready, only to notice a whitehead has taken up residence on your face. Whiteheads are a common skin care concern that many have experienced at some point and if this blemish type is a concern for you, you probably have some questions. 

If you’re wondering how to get rid of whiteheads and whether or not popping whiteheads is a good idea (it’s not) you’re not alone. Along with that, you probably wonder what products you should use if you have whiteheads and what’s the best skin care routine to prevent them. Those are all valid questions — and we have answers. So keep reading for everything you need to know about whiteheads.

What Are Whiteheads?

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), oil, dead skin cells and bacteria can build up in pores, blocking them and causing a whitehead or blackhead to form. If the pore appears more white, that’s a whitehead and if the pore stays open and appears black, that’s a blackhead. These pesky blemishes are pretty common but the good news is that there are steps you can take to help manage whiteheads, as they’re a pretty mild form of acne.
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What Do Whiteheads Look Like?

Whitehead stay true to its name and appears as a raised bump on the skin with a white dot in the center. The raised skin may look red or inflamed depending on your complexion with an enlarged or small white center that is usually filled with fluid that gives this blemish its white color. 


What Causes Whiteheads?

Similar to other forms of blemishes, whiteheads are formed when the sebaceous glands — which are responsible for oil creation on the skin — become irritated or inflamed. The Cleveland Clinic confirms that inflammation can occur from excessive sebum (oil) production, product buildup on the skin that clogs pores and increased bacteria on the skin. All of these things create a dirty layer on the skin that clogs pores and creates the whiteheads that many know all too well.


What Happens If You Pop a Whitehead?

If you’re trying to figure out how to remove whiteheads, note that you shouldn’t pop your whiteheads to get rid of them. As tempting as it is, doing this can worsen acne by spreading bacteria, delaying natural healing and creating acne scars. If you got ahead of yourself and already started picking, you’ll want to treat the area afterward to combat dark spots and acne scarring. 


Use a dark spot serum like L’Oréal Paris Bright Reveal 12% [Niacinamide + Amino Sulfonic + Ferulic Acid] Dark Spot Serum, to reduce dark pigmentation from post-acne marks along with sun spots and other forms of dark spots. Follow up this serum with a lightweight moisturizer and sunscreen for the ultimate post-acne skin care routine. Reach for L’Oréal Paris Bright Reveal Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Daily UV Lotion for its lightweight, anti-aging formula that also helps reduce the appearance of dark spots while protecting skin against the sun’s dangerous UV rays.


Along with daily SPF, remember to take additional sun protection measures, like limiting your amount of time in the sun during peak hours, seeking shade when you’re outside and wearing a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.

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What Ingredients Help With Whiteheads?

According to the AAD, two ingredients to look for in skin care products if you have whiteheads are retinoids and exfoliating acids like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. You can find these ingredients in skin care gels, lotions, creams, soaps and toner pads — all of which can be used to tackle whiteheads on your nose, chin or any other spots. 

Niacinamide is sometimes used to help reduce whiteheads, specifically when the blemish gets inflamed and some soothing is needed to curb irritation. While niacinamide is not used to treat acne outright — confirms the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) — it is often found in acne skin care to minimize post-acne marks and improve skin texture. 

Keep in mind that it can take a few weeks to notice results from acne skin care products, so be consistent with your skin care routine. The AAD points out that sometimes acne skin care products can be drying to the skin, so follow the directions on the packaging, which should tell you how much to use. 

How to Prevent Whiteheads

There are a few steps you can take to help reduce your chances of getting whiteheads in the future, according to the AAD. For starters, look for skin care products that are oil-free and non-comedogenic as well as alcohol-free to avoid irritation. 

You should also avoid squeezing or picking at whiteheads, scrubbing the skin or using harsh exfoliants. Another important factor is to develop a solid skin care routine that can help to keep whiteheads at bay.

3 Skin Care Steps to Help Prevent Whiteheads 

In addition to the information you learned above about using acne skin care products formulated with salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, here are a few other tips you can incorporate into your skin care routine to help banish whiteheads.
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1. Cleanse Your Skin Morning and Night

The first step in your skin care routine — regardless of whether or not you have whiteheads — should always be washing your face. Try using a gentle micellar water or facial cleanser to rid skin of any residue that may be clogging your pores, leading to blemishes like whiteheads. 

Use a face wash like L’Oréal Paris Revitlift Derm Intensives 3.5% Glycolic Acid Cleanser which eliminates all traces of dirt, sweat, oil and makeup. This cleanser is also formulated with glycolic acid and salicylic acid to gently exfoliate and resurface skin while minimizing pore size, for a smoother complexion.

2. Add a Treatment to Your Routine

Salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide treatments are great chemical exfoliating options along with retinoids for treating whiteheads, according to the AAD. All types of exfoliation are not made equally — a chemical exfoliant can do wonders for your acne while a physical exfoliant like a scrub may make your acne worse and cause skin irritation. As for how often to use these treatments, start slow so you don’t irritate your skin and build up use as your skin tolerates it. 

3. Try a Face Mask

Another skin care step you can take is adding a face mask to your routine. If you have acne-prone skin, try the L’Oréal Paris Pure-Clay Detox & Brighten Face Mask. Formulated with three types of clay and charcoal, this face mask cleanses pores and draws out impurities from oil, dirt and pollution —- making it a great product to add to your routine to help prevent whiteheads. 

Apply an even layer of the face mask to clean, dry skin, leave it on for 10-15 minutes, then rinse off thoroughly with lukewarm water and pat dry. 

Next: How to Handle the Different Types of Blemishes for a Clearer Complexion

Photo: iStock

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