I think we can all agree that, when it comes to acne, whiteheads really take the spotlight for being the most annoying. For starters, they can hurt like hell and it seems almost impossible to get rid of whiteheads, but they’re also really hard to conceal with make-up, thanks to their angry red base and protruding white mound.
They’re also really common, with reports that 95% of people aged 11 to 30 are affected by acne to some extent. So if a constellation of raised, pallid dots has appeared on your forehead, chin or cheeks know that you’re not alone in your quest to get rid.
Not sure why whiteheads have popped up, or how to make them disappear? WH called upon the experts to find out how to treat and prevent whiteheads – so that you don’t have to freak out about your breakout.
Here’s the low down on the causes, treatments and how to prevent congestion from the get-go.
READ MORE: Salicylic Acid: Why You Need This Hero Ingredient In Your Skincare Routine
What are whiteheads?
‘Whiteheads, also known as closed comedmones, are a blocked pore filled with sebum, dead cells and bacteria. Unlike a blackhead, the material is trapped under the skin. Lots of factors contribute to why you get them, including use of incorrect products, over-exfoliation, stress and hormones,’ explains Dr Ifeoma Ejikeme, Medical Director at Adonia Medical Clinic and spokesperson for Etre Vous.
Why do I get so many whiteheads?
1. Stress and hormones
‘A stressful event leads to a physiological response in the body which we call the ‘flight or fight response’ – it prepares our bodies to flee from danger,’ Dr Stephanie Munn, Clinical Lead for Dermatology, Bupa Health Clinics, previously explained to WH.
So, how does that play into your face? ‘The stress hormones cause the release of chemicals which increase blood flow to the skin. This can trigger both rashes and redness, while the same hormones can lead to breakouts.’
Kalyan Botanicals Bamboo Charcoal & Tea Tree Soap
2. Hair products
These can also be the source of a spotty forehead. Often containing ingredients like coconut oil or cocoa butter, gels, pomades, sprays and other products can mix with debris on your forehead and clog your pores, as can dandruff.
Similarly, if you have a fringe, keep it clean. ‘Hair will rub against the forehead skin causing irritation and potentially contributing to break-outs (acne mechanica)’, says Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist. ‘If your hair is oily, this may further aggravate the problem’, she adds.
READ MORE: 9 Ways To Repair Damaged Hair
3. Wearing a cap or helmet
If you sweat while wearing them and then leave them to their own devices, they become a breeding ground for bacteria. The cloth that touches your forehead should be sanitised on a regular basis.
4. Touching your face
‘Touching the face, using mobile phones against the skin and repeatedly using make-up brushes that have not been washed are also thought to increase the risk of whiteheads developing. In acne, often a particular area of skin (e.g. the more sensitive areas such as the jawline and area) are more prone to whiteheads,’ says aesthetic doctor, Dr David Jack.
Are blackheads and whiteheads the same?
‘Whiteheads occur when dead skin cells, oil (sebum) and dirt become trapped in the pores, they differ to blackheads as they are closed within the pore, whereas blackheads can be pushed or squeezed out,’ explains Dr Giuseppe Aragona, GP and Online Doctor for Prescription Doctor.
Should you squeeze whiteheads?
‘The worst thing to do is to pop whiteheads at home without really knowing what you’re doing,’ explains Dr Sophie Shotter, from Illuminate Skin Clinic.
‘The material is trapped under the skin squeezing will only further traumatise the skin, leading to redness in light skin types and hyperpigmentation in darker skin types. Instead, focus on optimising your routine to reduce the inflammation in the current spot and preventing further spots,’ adds Dr Ejikeme.
How do you get rid of whiteheads?
1. Pair salicylic acid and niacinamide
It’s a good idea to pair together with salicylic acid with niacinamide. Salicylic is the only acid that’s oil-soluble, which means it’s able to infiltrate the pore lining to flush out dirt, oil and dead skin debris.
However, this type of exfoliation can lead to irritation, which is where niacinamide (vitamin B3) comes in. A superhero vitamin if ever there was one, it’s usually well tolerated by the skin and has a whole host of benefits.
‘It’s used in skincare because of its ability to be a strong “cell communicator”,’ explains Dr Janet Mason, in-house skin expert at skincare brand Q+A. ‘This essentially means that it’s able to chemically “speak” to all sorts of skincells, instructing them to make more new, healthy cells.’
She adds that niacinamide is a fantastic anti-inflammatory – helping to reduce acne, redness and discomfort. Like any good relationship, these two ingredients also share the same end goal: evening out skin tone.
READ MORE: Here’s Exactly What To Eat For Glowing Skin, According To Aestheticians
2. Use beta hydroxy acids
‘Products containing beta hydroxy acids (BHAs) like salicylic acid are my go-to for skin with whiteheads. This will help to clear the pore, minimise the risk of infection within it, and also help regulate oil production within the skin long-term,’ says Dr Shotter.
Lelive Save our Skin (SOS) Peach + Aloe aha/bha Exfoliator
3. Try a pimple patch
‘There are also great pimple patches which you can apply to your skin overnight to help reduce whiteheads. In this situation, Dots for Spots are my favourite. You can also see a skin professional for extractions,’ she adds.
Vice Reversa Pimple Patch
4. Or an alpha hydroxy acid
‘Deploying AHAs (such as glycolic and lactic acid), which reduce sebum production and increase cell turnover on the skin,’ says Dr Jack.
REN Summer Limited Edition Daily AHA Tonic
5. Clean your pillowcase
‘Time and sleep are always the best healers, however, there are steps you can do to encourage whiteheads to disappear quicker. Ensure you sleep with a clean pillowcase, as bacteria can sit on the pillow all night. Turn your pillow over daily and wash them often,’ says Lisa Harris, Celebrity Facialist.
6. Give Benzoyl Peroxide a go
‘The key to treating whiteheads will also help to prevent the formation of others,’ Dr Adil Sarwar, aesthetic doctor & founder of Skin Science Clinic.
‘Some of the ingredients below are accepted as dermatologists globally as the gold standard,’ he adds. ‘Benzoyl Peroxide – available in many different forms, the maximum strength I would recommend 10%. By its own decomposition benzoyl peroxide releases bacteria which eliminates bacteria and prevents future breakouts. Cheap formulations can stain clothes, so be careful,’ clarifies Dr Sarwar.
7. Dose up on retinol
‘Adding a retinol serum to your routine will help promote cell turnover preventing future clogged pores from becoming whiteheads,’ explains Medical Director Melissa Wood from Skin Emporium.
Exuviance Retinol Serum
R 1 205
Do whiteheads go away on their own?
‘With time (up to seven days) the majority of whiteheads will resolve on their own, but not in all cases. It is better to be pro-active and try some of the treatments listed above. This minimises the risk of the whitehead progressing to a nasty cyst,’ says Dr Sarwar.
How do I get rid of whiteheads on my forehead?
As well as the skincare ingredients mentioned above, beta carotene-rich foods will also help alleviate forehead whiteheads. Think yellow-orange fruits and vegetables such as carrots, apricots, butternut squash and mango. They all contain vitamin A, which your body converts into retinol to help keep collagen levels in skin cells balanced and promote healthy cell growth.
READ MORE: Review: ‘I Tried Catrice’s R170 TikTok-Viral Foundation On My Dry, Pigmented Skin’
5 products that treat whiteheads
1. Best drugstore treatment for whiteheads: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo+
This non-comedogenic formula gets to those clogged pores to clear acne, blackheads, and whiteheads – all thanks to Zinc PCA which regulates bacteria and sebum production and micro-exfoliating LHA (lipo hydroxy acid).
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo+
2. Best peel treatment for whiteheads: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel
A word of warning, this peel is hardcore so if you have uber sensitive skin then steer clear. However, if your skin is made of stronger stuff then this powerful formula should be your go-to. Brimming with five types of acids (including salicylic, glycolic, and lactic) as well as retinol, whiteheads don’t stand a chance.
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta® Universal Daily Peel 5 applications
3. Best face mask for whiteheads: Uma Deeply Clarifying Face Mask
Perfect for sensitive skin types, this natural based formula unites natural antibacterials, antioxidant-dense oils and botanicals to draw out the bacteria and gunk in whiteheads while also regulating your skin’s oil levels and calming inflammation.
Deeply Clarifying Face Mask
R 1 065.20
4. Best overall treatment for whiteheads: Kate Somerville Eradikate
This does exactly what it says on the tin. Formulated with the highest possible level of sulphur, this hero treatment goes to town at waging war on whiteheads and helping to reduce future ones so that they’re unable to rear their unwelcome heads.
Kate Somerville EradiKate Acne Treatment
5. Best face wash treatment for whiteheads: La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Cleansing Gel
This super effective wash helps to wash away daily grime build up without disturbing the skin’s acid mantle thanks to spot fighting zinc PCA and the brand’s soothing signature thermal water.
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel
*This article was originally published on Women’s Health UK
READ MORE ON: Acne Skin Skin Issues skincare