Knowing the difference between blackheads and whiteheads might seem black and white… But there’s more to these breakouts than meets the eye.
In order to distinguish between blackheads and whiteheads, you have to start by understanding what they are. 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 closes at its surface, 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. A good way to distinguish whiteheads from papules and pustules is to remember that whiteheads aren’t inflammatory acne. They may appear red on their edges, but they won’t appear swollen or as bigger bumps beneath the skin.
What’s A Blackhead?
Some people think that blackheads are just dirt stuck inside our pores, but this actually isn’t true. 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 closing up 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, they can turn into inflammatory acne. This happens because P. acnes bacteria feeds on sebum and sebaceous glands, making blackheads and whiteheads a perfect breeding ground for inflammatory or cystic acne.
Now that I know what blackheads and whiteheads are, how do I get rid of them?
For starters, blackheads and whiteheads can both be treated with similar ingredients — salicylic acid, retinol, and benzoyl peroxide are all active ingredient powerhouses that work to unclog pores. SLMD's 30-Day Acne System contains products with each of these ingredients, providing an easy straight forward routine to effectively fight acne. If you are sensitive to Benzoyl Peroxide, the SLMD Sensitive Skin Acne System, is another option for you, containing Sulfur Lotion, as an alternative treatment step.
Salicylic Acid Cleanser is great way to tackle blackheads and whiteheads. Salicylic Acid is a beta hydroxy acid that that crystalizes to a small enough size allowing it to settle down within pores to clean them from the inside out, thereby preventing the accumulation of dead skin cells, debris, and oil which provide the perfect environment for pimples to live in. Retinol Serum is a staple acne treating product because it exfoliates skin and encourages cell turnover, clearing away current blackheads and whiteheads, and preventing future ones from popping up. BP Lotion is formulated with Benzoyl Peroxide that attacks bacteria, treating blackheads and whiteheads and keeping them from turning into inflammatory acne!
If you’re a fan of our founder Dr. Sandra Lee aka Dr. Pimple Popper, you’re familiar with the slew of internet videos showing the many ways to extract blackheads and whiteheads. Despite her viral videos, even she asserts that you should resist popping. Improper blackhead and whitehead removal techniques can cause further inflammation, scarring, and even more breakouts. If you insist on extracting and can't keep your hands off — 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 that’s also been properly cleaned. Make sure you apply antibacterial treatments immediately after extraction, like SLMD's Salicylic Acid spot treatment — making sure your skin remains clean is crucial in preventing further breakouts.