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  • Whiteheads are small, white bumps that appear just under the surface of the skin.
  • They are caused by oil, dead skin cells and other debris that clog up your pores.
  • There are many effective over-the-counter treatments and home remedies to address whiteheads.

What Are Whiteheads?

Whiteheads are one of the most common concerns encountered when examining skin issues.

They look like small, white or yellowish bumps that develop just beneath the top layer of your skin. They are basically a mild form of acne.

Whiteheads

You can get whiteheads on any part of the body, but they are most commonly found on the face, particularly on the patch of skin between your chin and lower lip. They also commonly appear on the back, chest and neck.

What Causes Whiteheads?

Whiteheads occur when your pores (the tiny openings on the surface of your skin) get clogged with oil, bacteria or dead skin cells. If the blocked pore stays open, oxidation turns the oil black, creating a blackhead. If the pore closes over, it becomes a whitehead.

The exact causes of acne and whiteheads are still not fully understood. Researchers believe there are a number of contributing factors, including:

Whitehead Treatments

Whiteheads can be frustrating to deal with because they will often keep reappearing for no apparent reason. Thankfully, there are a number of effective treatments for preventing or removing them, each with their pros and cons:

  • Over-the-counter products: Can be very effective at treating whiteheads, but may take some time to find a product that suits the unique needs of your skin.
  • Natural treatments: Contain ingredients that are supposed to be gentle on the skin, although their effects and benefits have not been well studied.
  • Home remedies: Simple and affordable, but it’s important to avoid using ingredients that may damage your skin. Home remedies tend to be less effective than commercial products.

Active Ingredients to Look for In Whitehead Treatments

The most effective treatments usually contain active ingredients that have been scientifically proven to reduce oil production and exfoliate the skin.

For best results, look for skin care products that contain the following ingredients:

Salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is a beta hydroxy acid widely used in a range of skin care products, including creams, gels, toners and some moisturizers. It works by reducing the body’s natural oil production and removing debris from the pores that can lead to whiteheads. Research published in Clinical Therapeutics found that the side effects of salicylic acid are mild and only affect a small minority of users.

Benzoyl peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide helps prevent the buildup of bacteria and excess oil, making it very valuable for treating whiteheads and other types of acne. In fact, benzoyl peroxide can help reduce acne lesions by 13-34%, according to a study published in the Journal of Dermatology. Benzoyl peroxide is found in many products, including cleansers, lotions, gels and face masks.

Glycolic acid

Glycolic acid is an alpha hydroxy acid derived from plants. It is an excellent exfoliator and works by gently removing the surface layer of dead skin cells to reduce the risk of clogged pores. It is commonly used in cleansers, serums, exfoliants and peels.

Vitamin A

A powerful natural antioxidant, vitamin A is used in many natural skin care products. Consuming Vitamin A supplements is believed to promote general skin health while topical vitamin A creams and oils can be used to treat acne directly.

Vitamin C

Renowned for its ability to alleviate inflammation, vitamin C-based products can prevent breakouts and reduce the risk of scarring. Vitamin C also supports the general health of your skin, combats signs of aging, and can even undo certain effects of sun damage.

Products To Try:

Natural Treatments for Whiteheads

Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil is a natural anti-inflammatory that can help reduce the risk of developing whiteheads, acne and other skin issues. Studies have that tea tree oil can reduce both the total number and severity of acne lesions, making it a valuable ingredient for treating mild to moderate acne.

Aloe vera

Valued for its strong antibacterial properties, aloe vera can reduce the risk of skin infection and support the body’s natural healing processes. It also helps keeps your skin moisturized, which is important for maintaining skin elasticity and reducing the appearance of fine lines.

Products To Try:

» Learn more about other natural acne treatments and if dermatologists believe they work.

DIY Home Treatments

For oily skin types, use apple cider vinegar

A popular ingredient in the natural health community, apple cider vinegar may have a role to play in treating whiteheads. Due to its natural acidity, apple cider vinegar can help remove oil from your skin and keep your pores free of debris.

  • Mix two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with eight ounces of warm water.
  • Apply mixture to affected skin and leave for 20 minutes.

For dry skin types, use raw honey

Honey has anti-inflammatory qualities that can prevent the swelling and redness that is sometimes associated with whiteheads. It also helps you retain moisture, allowing you to avoid the dryness caused by other acne treatments.

  • Heat raw honey in the microwave for 10-15 seconds until it is slightly warm.
  • Apply to skin and leave it on for 15 minutes.

Use facial steam for all skin types

Steam improves your circulation and relaxes your pores, allowing them to open up and expel oil, dead skin cells or any other debris they may be clogged with.

  • Pour boiling water in a bowl.
  • After applying a cleanser, hold your face over the bowl and put a towel over your head to trap the steam.
  • Steam your face for approximately 10-15 minutes before moving on to the rest of your skin care routine.

Treatments Don’ts

Don’t squeeze whiteheads

Try to avoid touching, squeezing or popping whiteheads. Doing so disrupts the lining of your skin cells and can cause bacteria and oil to spread to the surrounding area, which may lead to redness and inflammation.

Don’t scrub whiteheads

Using harsh exfoliants or aggressively scrubbing whiteheads irritates the skin and causes inflammation which could make the breakout worse.

Don’t use lemon juice

Lemon juice is often recommended as an effective treatment for whiteheads. However, the naturally high acidity of lemon juice can damage your skin and increase sun sensitivity.

How to Prevent Whiteheads from Occurring

While there are many ways to treat whiteheads, ideally you should aim to prevent them from occurring in the first place. Below are a few tips to reduce the risk of developing whiteheads.

  • Keep your face clean with a gentle cleanser.
  • Exfoliate once or twice a week.
  • Don’t leave makeup on overnight.
  • Don’t use oily or comedogenic products.
  • Change your sheets and pillow cases regularly.

Skin care routine for whiteheads

  1. Wash your face in the morning with a gentle cleanser.
  2. Apply toner.
  3. Apply anti-whitehead product to dry skin.
  4. Apply moisturizer.
  5. Apply sunscreen.
  6. Apply foundation.

If All Else Fails, Speak to a Dermatologist

There are many home remedies and commercial products you can use to get rid of whiteheads, but if all else fails it might be time to talk to an expert.

An experienced dermatologist can use their expertise to formally evaluate your skin and provide you with recommendations tailored to your needs and specific skin type. You can find one in your area using our doctor search tool.

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References

Zander, E; Weisman, S. (1992) Treatment of acne vulgaris with salicylic acid pads. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1535287

Kawashima, Makoto; Nagare, Toshitaka; Doi, Masaharu. (2017) Clinical efficacy and safety of benzoyl peroxide for acne vulgaris: Comparison between Japanese and Western patients. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5697687/

Kotori, Merita Grajqevci. (2015) Low-dose Vitamin “A” Tablets–treatment of Acne Vulgaris. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4384860/

Enshaieh, S; Jooya, A; Siadat, AH; Iraji F. (2007) The efficacy of 5% topical tea tree oil gel in mild to moderate acne vulgaris: a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17314442

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