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The Best Ways To Treat Whiteheads, Once And For All

The Best Ways To Treat Whiteheads, Once And For All

They might not be inflamed like pimples, or ‘dirty’ looking like their blackhead cousins, but nobody wants to deal with whiteheads.

Whiteheads can plague pretty much any skin type and can strike at any time of your life. But, like any type of acne, all is not lost when you’re armed with intel (and intel is incoming, don’t you worry), patience (sorry, we can’t help with that one) and the right tools to help eliminate those pesky skin bumps. Those, we can also do.

Here's everything you need to know about whiteheads, including what they are, what causes them and how to win the battle… as well as the war.

What Exactly Are Whiteheads?

Like pimples and blackheads, whiteheads are a form of acne most often found on the face, back or chest. According to the AAD, acne is the single most common skin condition in the country, affecting around 50 million people every year and often continuing from adolescence into adulthood. So, remember, if you’re suffering right now, you are not alone.

Acne, in all its various shapes and sizes, occurs when sebum and dead skin cells collect at the surface of the skin, clogging up the pore and forming a kind of hard plug that makes said pore swell and become raised.

What happens next determines the type of acne that rears its ugly head (or not, as the case may be!)… If the pore stays closed, it produces a white or pale yellowish bump called a whitehead. If it opens at the surface and becomes exposed to air it oxidizes, turns dark and becomes a blackhead. And if it becomes inflamed it becomes what we regularly refer to as a pimple. Pimples range in severity and can be pretty innocent (pink and tender) to extremely angry, painful and filled with pus.

All fun stuff. Not!

So, What Causes Whiteheads?

Contrary to many ridiculous old wives’ tales, whiteheads are not caused by chocolate or poor cleansing habits. Same goes for any type of acne. Their cause is solely thanks to excess sebum combining with keratin and dead skin cells. This little cocktail of 'gunk' then gets stuck in your pores and results in all sorts of acne-related problems.

However, there are many triggers and lifestyle factors that increase your risk of developing whiteheads. Your genes, for one thing (darn those parents of yours!). Then there are other factors like heavy, buttery moisturizers which can sit on the surface of your skin and block your pores; a diet that’s high in sugar and processed carbs, and wayward hormones – which is why puberty, menstruation and the menopause are such major times for breakouts.

5 Of The Best Ways To Deal With Whiteheads

So, what can you do to help prevent clogged pores and help stop whiteheads in their tracks? And what about when they still manage to break their way through your smooth complexion? What can be done then? Well, here are five of our favorite ways to cope with whiteheads.

And PS: if blackheads and pimples are more your jam, these tips work across the entire acne board. You’re welcome.

1. Never Squeeze Your Whiteheads

Yes, it’s tempting and weirdly satisfying to prod, poke, pick and squeeze whiteheads. But don’t. This can spread bacteria which, in turn, makes matters far worse in the long run. It can also lead to scarring. Which is not cool.

Whiteheads tend to disappear and heal much faster if you keep your fingers away. However, if it does look ready to pop, you can apply a warm flannel then gently press the surrounding skin away (not towards) the whitehead to help it drain. A gentle touch is the key here, however, and if it nothing shifts, leave well alone and let nature take its course.

2. Know That Regular Cleansing Is Vital

The best way to stop sebum (and other debris like makeup and sweat) from building up on the surface of your skin? Easy, a good cleansing routine. Of course, stripping your skin of every last drop of oil and moisture will make your skin flare-up even more, so don’t go down that road. It’s so 80s!

Instead, choose finely balanced cleansing products like Tea Tree Super Cleanser + which contains purifying, acne-busting goodies like tea tree oil and witch hazel, combined with healing champs like MSM and chamomile, and hydrating wonderkids like aloe vera and botanical oils.

Cleanse every morning, every night and again after working out (one word: sweat!), using warm, not hot water and concentrating on any problematic areas like around your nose and over your forehead. You won’t see results immediately, but trust us, make this cleansing routine a daily habit and your skin will soon thank you.

3. Add A Little Retinol To Your Night Time Routine

Retinol is the gold-standard of anti-aging skincare. But did you know it also makes for a pretty mean acne-fighting machine?

Retinol is an over-the-counter derivative of vitamin A that increases cell turnover by attaching itself to nuclear receptors in the center of your cells. Without getting too technical, this is where genetic information is stored and where major cellular functions are processed. Once attached to these receptors, retinol activates certain genes to accelerate cell turnover and help encourage dead skin cells to shed more efficiently. This helps keep your pores from clogging up and breaking out. Pretty neat, huh? As you can probably guess, we’re big fans over here.

Try our Retinol Facial Serum or Retinol Moisturizer if you want to get in on the action.

Just remember, as great as retinol is, it’s very potent and extremely active, so always patch test any new product first, then start using it slowly by applying it just two or three evenings a week to clean, dry skin. As you build tolerance, you can then work up to nightly use.

4. Avoid Abrasive Scrubs & Harsh Chemicals

Like squeezing whiteheads, it’s tempting to want to throw all sorts of scrubs, astringent lotions and products that contain drying alcohols at them. Massive mistake. This can seriously compromise your skin’s barrier function which invites all manner of other issues to the party. Think irritation, redness, itching and all sorts. Remember, skin-friendly, plant-powered products are always best.

5. Embrace The Powers Of Salicylic Acid

Exfoliation is super important for ensuring those dead skin cells don’t get stuck at the surface of your skin. But you’ve got to be kind as you exfoliate because too much can over-stimulate your sebaceous glands and can make matter worse.

Instead of harsh scrubs, we recommend sticking with exfoliating acids that work specifically on breaking down dead skin cells, without any need for unnecessary pressure or friction.

Salicylic acid, for example, is a total shoo-in for oily, problematic skin as it not only dissolves the ‘glue’ that binds dead skin cells together, but it’s oil-soluble which means it’s able to penetrate into your sebaceous glands to loosen sebum and unblock pores. We combine this oily skin hero with all manner of balancing, brightening and soothing ingredients in our 6% AHA, BHA + PHA Liquid Exfoliant. We recommend you add to cart immediately.

Still not able to get on top of your whitehead situation? Then check-in with a skincare professional for further advice and/or recommendations. There are plenty of options out there, from hormone therapy to laser treatments, so don't lose heart, you've got this.

More About This Article

Georgia Gould

Georgia Gould

Georgia is an award-winning beauty writer who has been in the business for over 20 years. British-born, she began her career as a magazine beauty editor in London before moving to San Francisco, CA in 2012 where she now continues her love as a freelance writer and editor. As well as her editorial work, Georgia has created content for many high-profile beauty brands, including Clarins, L’Oréal, Procter & Gamble, Simple and TRESemmé. Her passions include retinol (obviously), golfing, skiing and walking her beloved Schnauzer, Dave.