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blackheads vs whiteheads

Blackheads vs whiteheads—you might have none of them. Or if you’re like most people, you have them both. But how can you tell which is which?

Knowing the difference between blackheads vs whiteheads can help a lot in getting rid of them. 

Because yes, you’ll need different ways to get rid of each.

With that said, let’s get on with it!

Blackheads vs Whiteheads: What’s the difference?

Apart from the name, blackheads and whiteheads differ a lot in appearance.

Blackheads appear as dark spots on the skin. 

Whiteheads appear as tiny bumps that appear white or flesh-colored.

You might wonder why they differ so much in appearance. You’ll better understand this after learning how blackheads vs whiteheads form.

blackheads vs whiteheads

How Blackheads and Whiteheads Form

Both blackheads and whiteheads are what we call comedones.

Comedones (singular: comedo) are small bumps that can appear dark or black (blackheads) or skin-colored (whiteheads) [1]. 

They form when hair follicles (aka pores) become clogged. The clog begins with dead skin cells. These cells naturally rise to the surface above the follicles. The body then sheds the dead cells. 

But when we produce excess sebum, our skin’s natural oil, dead skin cells can get stuck. They stick together to form a plug in the follicle. 

This is also what we know as the early stage of acne. Also, having only blackheads and whiteheads means you have mild acne.

The next stage comes when comedones become infected by the acne bacteria, Cutibacterium acnes [2]. This makes them develop into papules (red, hard bumps) and pustules (pus-filled bumps).

Now, why the difference in color between blackheads vs whiteheads?

That’s because blackheads are open comedones. Meanwhile, whiteheads are closed comedones.

Since blackheads are open, the plug in the pores easily comes into contact with air. A chemical reaction then occurs where melanin (skin’s natural pigment) becomes oxidized and turns the clogged pore black [1]. 

Now, whiteheads are closed. So, instead of turning black, the skin covers the plug, which makes whiteheads look flesh-colored.

Blackheads vs Whiteheads: How can you get rid of them?

Blackheads vs Whiteheads

Okay, now we know what makes blackheads vs whiteheads different. But how can we get rid of them?

Starting a Skin Care Routine

If you don’t have a skin care routine yet, that’s the first step you need to work on. 

A basic skin care routine will help keep your skin clean, moisturized, and protected from the sun. 

For blackheads and whiteheads specifically, keeping your skin clean helps a lot. 

By washing with a gentle cleanser:

  • You’re helping avoid any dirt from contributing to clogged pores. 
  • You’re helping shed off stubborn dead skin cells when you massage gently while cleansing.
  • You’re helping keep sebum production in check and not in excess.

Plus, it’s better to have a basic skin care routine in place before adding extra steps to your routine. 

Exfoliating (Responsibly)

The best weapon against dead skin cell build-up is exfoliation. 

Exfoliation resurfaces all the clogs in the pores and prevents dead skin cells from building up. 

And when I say exfoliation, I mean chemical exfoliation and not physical exfoliation. 

So, no facial scrubs or scrubbing tools. These can put extra stress on your skin and cause damage in the long run.

Chemical exfoliation makes use of chemical exfoliants in the form of serums and peels.

A couple types to look out for are AHAs and BHAs.

AHAs (alpha-hydroxy acids) are water-soluble and only clean the skin on the surface. They can't penetrate deep into the pores. This makes them more effective for getting rid of whiteheads.

BHAs (beta hydroxy acids), on the other hand, are oil-soluble molecules. It means they can reach deeper into the skin and clean the pores thoroughly. That’s why BHAs, specifically salicylic acid, will be great for getting rid of blackheads.

Take note though that exfoliants can be very drying. So, it’s best to already have a moisturizer that works for you.

I talk about exfoliating in-depth in this post.

Using Benzoyl Peroxide and/or Retinol

Both benzoyl peroxide and retinol are known as topical treatments for acne.

Benzoyl peroxide (BP) is a powerful bactericide that can eradicate the overgrowth of acne bacteria. But what makes it useful for blackheads and whiteheads is its keratolytic properties. 

The same properties can also be found from retinol, a derivative of vitamin A. 

Keratolytic properties make it possible for BP and retinol to break down the outer layers of the skin [3]. This helps in reducing the thickness of comedones.

Like exfoliants, BP and retinol can also be drying. So, again, make sure you have a moisturizer in your routine.

Blackheads vs Whiteheads: How can you prevent them?

blackheads vs whiteheads

Apart from doing the steps above, here are tips you can follow to avoid blackheads and whiteheads:

  • Choose oil-free and non-pore clogging skin care and cosmetic products. These types of products can help you keep your pores clean. 
  • Don’t sleep with makeup on. The remaining foundation, blush, and powders will find their way into your pores and mix with your sebum—a one way trip to breakout city.
  • Don’t touch your face throughout the day. Our hands touch so much throughout the day, including dirt and bacteria that can wreak havoc on our skin.
  • Keep hair off your face. When your hair touches your face, pore-clogging ingredients from hair care products can transfer to your skin.
  • Resist popping and picking at your pimples. It can seem so satisfying to squeeze out the clogs. But that will only damage your skin. You might even end up pushing the clog deeper into your pores.


I hope this helps you deal with those pesky blackheads and whiteheads!

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