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Blackheads vs. Whiteheads

Knowing the difference between blackheads and whiteheads might seem black and white… But there’s more to these breakouts than meets the eye.

Both blackheads and whiteheads are classified as noninflammatory acne — what you might call the building blocks of more severe acne breakouts. Blackheads and whiteheads are types of comedones, aka clogged pores. Our pores house hair follicles and sebaceous glands, which produce our skin’s natural oil, or sebum. When these hair follicles become filled with excess oil and dead skin cells, blackheads and whiteheads form.

What is a Whitehead?!

When a clogged pore is closed, the dead skin, bacteria, and sebum trapped within that pore collects and appears as a firm white bump at the surface of the skin.

Whiteheads, which are usually pretty small, are known as closed comedones. They may appear red on their edges, but they won’t appear swollen or or bigger like papules and pustules, also known as inflammatory acne.

What Is A Blackhead?

Blackheads are also clogged pores, filled with the same dead skin, sebum and bacteria as whiteheads. But when a clogged pore remains open (as opposed to closed like a whitehead) the dead skin cells and sebum are exposed to the air.  This mixture contains melanin, which turns black when it oxidizes, causing it to form what is known as a blackhead, or open comedo (singular for comedone).

When additional bacteria — specifically P. acnes bacteria — invades blackheads and whiteheads, this is when they can turn into inflammatory acne. P. acnes bacteria feeds on sebum and sebaceous glands, making blackheads and whiteheads a perfect breeding ground for inflammatory or cystic acne.

How to treat blackheads and whiteheads?

For starters, blackheads and whiteheads can be treated with similar ingredients — salicylic acid, retinol, benzoyl peroxide, and glycolic acid are all active ingredient powerhouses that work to unclog pores. SLMD's 30-Day Acne System contains products formulated with the first three ingredients and breaks them down into an easy, effective, straight forward routine. 

You can find Glycolic Acid, along with Salicylic Acid and Lactic Acid, in SLMD’s Resurfacing Acne Swipes, a great addition to your skincare routine if you’re looking to start regularly exfoliating — which has been proven to prevent noninflammatory acne and dark spots/hyperpigmentation. These should be used after cleansing and before using a treatment product like Retinol Serum or BP Lotion, for those using the Acne System.

Why these ingredients?

  • Salicylic Acid crystalizes and settles deep within pores to clean them from within, preventing the accumulation of dead skin cells, debris, and oil which provide the perfect environment for pimples to live in.
  • Retinol is an acne treating staple because it helps to refine pores by encouraging cell turnover.  
  • Benzoyl Peroxide reduces redness and inflammation, and attacks bacteria before blackheads and whiteheads are able to turn into more severe acne.
  • Sulfur stops the growth of acne causing bacteria and regulates oil production, without irritating the skin. 
  • Glycolic Acid is made up of tiny molecules that smooth the skin’s surface, clear out clogged pores, and stimulate collagen production. 

If you’re a fan of our founder Dr. Sandra Lee aka Dr. Pimple Popper, you’re most likely familiar with her videos showing the many ways to extract blackheads and whiteheads. Even she asserts that it is always best to keep your hands off (as picking can lead to scarring and more irritation), but if you absolutely can’t — make sure you are doing it carefully. To properly pop that whitehead or extract that blackhead, make sure you’ve thoroughly washed your hands and face, and opt for a comedone extractor tool (like this one) that’s been properly disinfected. Also, be sure to apply an antibacterial treatment immediately after extraction, like SLMD's Salicylic Acid Spot Treatment — to make sure that skin is clean and less likely to result in future breakouts.

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Sulfur Lotion
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Sulfur LotionRegular price$30sensitive skin acne treatment

BP Spot Treatment
Free Gift

BP Spot TreatmentRegular price$25max strength acne cream

Salicylic Acid Cleanser
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Salicylic Acid CleanserRegular price$25everyday exfoliating face wash

Sensitive Skin Acne System
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Sensitive Skin Acne SystemRegular price$75BP-free acne routine

Salicylic Acid Spot Treatment
Free Gift

Salicylic Acid Spot TreatmentRegular price$25on-the-go acne treatment

Resurfacing Acne Swipes

Resurfacing Acne SwipesRegular price$35exfoliating & brightening pads

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