prevent and get rid of whiteheads

How do you get rid of whiteheads?

They’re not the worst form of acne to deal with. They’re not as inflamed as angry red pimples or as obvious as dark blackheads, but that doesn’t mean you want them on your skin.

Good news: whiteheads are easy to treat (and without any popping too!).

Here’s how to prevent and treat whiteheads once and for all:

What Are Whiteheads?

Whiteheads are one of the most common forms of acne. Also known as closed comedones, they’re raised, have a white tip, and occur either on their own or in clusters. They often become inflamed, too.

Related: Blackheads VS Whiteheads VS Pimples: What’s The Difference?

What Causes Whiteheads?

Like all types of acne, whiteheads begin to form when your skin produces too much sebum. Blame it on fluctuating hormones (ah, the joys of being a woman!), pollutants, and certain types of medication.

Excess sebum gets stuck in your pores, where it mixes with bacteria and dead skin cells. This gooey mixture clogs your pores, enlarging them. Yet, rather than erupting on the surface (like a pimple), a whitehead stays trapped under the epidermis – hence their colour.

Related: Everything You Need To Know About Sebum (Why It’s NOT Your Skin’s Enemy)


Struggling to put together a skincare routine that banishes excess oil, acne, and whiteheads? Download your FREE “Best Skincare Routine For Oily Skin” cheat sheet below to get started (it features product recommendations + right application order):


Whiteheads vs. Milia: What’s The Difference?

Whiteheads look a lot like milia seeds. They’re both little raised white bumps on the surface of your skin.

But, there are three key differences:

  1. Cause: Milia seeds occur when keratin gets trapped in the follicle, forming a small, non-inflamed cyst under the top layer of your skin. Whiteheads are caused by excess sebum trapped into pores.
  2. Location: Whiteheads can pop up everywhere. Milia seeds usually occur around the eye area.
  3. Lifespan: Whiteheads disappear within a 4 weeks. Milia seeds hang around for weeks or even months!

Related: How To Prevent And Treat Milia Seeds

cerave hydrating cleanser

How To Get Rid Of Whiteheads

1. Cleanse Your Skin To Prevent Clogged Pores

Whiteheads happen when your pores get clogged. You can’t always prevent an overproduction of sebum, but you can remove makeup, pollutants, and all the crap that deposits on your skin during the day before they comfortable settle into your pores, too.

To find the best type of cleanser for your skin type, check out this quick guide. Make sure that your cleanser is powerful enough to remove every trace of dirt and grime, yet gentle enough not to irritate and dry out skin.

If after cleansing your skin feels tight or you find traces of makeup on a cotton pad, change your cleanser. It’s not doing its job right.

Best Picks:

Related: How To Choose The Best Cleanser For Your Skin Type

drunk elephant tlc framboos glycolic night serum

2. Exfoliate Skin To Unclog Pores

Whiteheads are a job for salicylic acid (BHA). Unlike other exfoliants (think scrubs and glycolic acid), salicylic acid is oil-soluble. What does this mean?!

While other exfoliants only exfoliate the surface of your skin, salicylic acid also gets deep inside your pores (right where the whiteheads is!), removing all the gunk that’s giving you acne.

If your skin is acne-prone, I recommend you use salicylic acid every other night (right after cleansing) to make sure your pores are always kept clean and free of gunk.

Other skin types, keep salicylic acid at hand for when a cluster of blackheads pops up on your skin. You can use it all over your face (if you’re not using any other exfoliant) or on the affected area only.

Best Picks:

Related: Why Salicylic Acid Is Key To Spot-Free Skin

paula's choice azelaic acid booster vs the ordinary azelaic acid suspension

3. Spot Treat Stubborn Whiteheads With Azelaic Acid

For most people, regular exfoliation is more than enough to prevent and get rid of blackheads.

But, if you’re dealing with a lot of acne or your whiteheads are super stubborn, add Azelaic Acid to your routine.

This naturally occurring acid works by speeding up cellular turnover (i.e. the skin’s natural exfoliating process). It’s particularly useful to treat acne in sensitive skin and get rid of all kinds of bumps, whiteheads included.

The only con? Its thick, highly unpleasant texture. If you can put up with it, you’ll see results.

Best Picks:

Related: Is Azelaic Acid The Best Treatment For Acne, Rosacea, And Dark Spots?

How Long Does It Take For Whiteheads To Go Away?

Skincare doesn’t work overnight. It usually takes around 4 weeks, especially if you have lots of acne/whiteheads for whiteheads to disappear. Keep at it. The more consistent you are, the sooner you’ll see results.

The Bottom Line

Whiteheads are just another form of acne. The easiest and fastest way to prevent and treat them is to cleanse your skin well and exfoliate with salicylic acid. If that alone doesn’t work, add Azelaic Acid to the mix.