Healthy pores that function normally will produce normal amounts of sebum (oil) that is easily and evenly distributed to the surface of the skin. When there is too much oil, pores get blocked and blackheads and whiteheads are formed.
Blackeads - usually found in people with oily skin - form when the oil in the clogged pore is exposed to the air, causing the sebum (oil) to turn black (a process called oxidation). Whiteheads - usually found in people with dry skin – are formed when the blocked oil remains below the surface of the skin whereit is not exposed to the air, forming a white bump (whitehead) under the skin.
Blackheads and whiteheads can be difficult to deal with – they make the skin look dull and mottled and can eventually lead to more serious forms of acne if the clogged pore gets infected.
Of course, the first instinct nearly everyone has when they see any kind of blemish, is to squeeze it. Once squeezed and the fat plug is forced out, inflammation occurs and possible infection from the acne bacteria (Propionibacterium acne).
There are things you can do to help control blackheads and whiteheads before they lead to more severe cases of acne. The first line of defense, however, is prevention through daily hygiene; treatments based on the appropriate removal of the dead cell build up that is responsible for the clogged pores; and professional extraction.
Ways to Treat Blackheads and Whiteheads
The first step in treating blackheads or whiteheads to to avoid picking at the skin. This alone can do more damage to the pore and cause a more severe problem. A consistent regimen for cleaning the skin is also critical. Without consistent hygiene practices, it will be difficult to maintain a clear skin. Other remedies include over-the-counter products, and in severe cases, prescription creams and medicines obtained from a licensed Dermatologist or Medical Doctor.
- Use gentle, water-soluble cleansers. Avoid using bar soaps - these can clog pores and irritate the skin, causing skin cells to flake off and accumulate in the pore – blocking it.
- Exfoliate the skin. Use salicylic acid gel or liquid to help remove the excess skin cells from the skin’s surface and exfoliate inside the pore, allowing the oil to flow through normally. These products also help to increase skin cell turnover. Over time, salicylic acid based products will help to unclog your pores and eliminate blackheads; however, you will need to continue using them even after your skin is clear. Take care not to over-exfoliate – removing too many skin cells distrupts the normal order of things and can hurt the skin.
- Absorb excess oil. Help control surface oil with a variety of oil absorbing products. This approach helps control blackheads in people with oily skn (it won’t work on whiteheads since surface oil is not the problem). Absorb oils with clay masks applied twice a week, oil-absorbing sheets, and oil-controlling make-up etc
- Benzoyl peroxide has an antibacterial effect and may also decrease the chemical reaction that changes the lining of the hair follicle. This may help reduce the clogging that causes blackheads and whiteheads and can help prevent the formation of others.
- Extraction of blackheads and whiteheads by a professional Esthetician is the safest way to remove the blemishes. Techniques might vary, but they are trained not harm or damage to the pore. Blackheads can be removed by using a device called a comedone extractor. This is a small, metal, circular instrument that is centered on the blackhead and pushes down the surrounding skin, causing the plug to extrude. When used in conjunction with topical treatments, professional extraction is an effective way to manage blackheads and whiteheads.
- Tretinoin (Retin-A) is the mainstay of treatment for blackheads and whiteheads. Tretinoin is a derivative of vitamin A and works by increasing cell turnover which causes the skin cells to regenerate faster. It helps expel the plugged material returning the pore to normal. Tretinoin can be irritating, so specific instruction on how to use this product must be obtained by a Medical Doctor.
- Antibiotics – prescriptions for topical or oral antibiotics might be required if some of the blackheads and whiteheads are infected, but generally they do not help unless infection is present.
If your acne is mild – with only occasional breakouts, there are a number of at home remedies that are very effective.
- Treating Mild Acne at Home (healthyskinsolutions.com)
- Acne Laser Treatment: Is it Effective? (healthyskinsolutions.com)
- Microdermabrasion (healthyskinsolutions.com)