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?
- What Causes Whiteheads?
- Whiteheads vs. Milia: What’s The Difference?
- How To Get Rid Of Whiteheads
- How Long Does It Take For Whiteheads To Go Away?
- The Bottom Line
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:
- 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.
- Location: Whiteheads can pop up everywhere. Milia seeds usually occur around the eye area.
- Lifespan: Whiteheads disappear within a 4 weeks. Milia seeds hang around for weeks or even months!
Related: How To Prevent And Treat Milia Seeds
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.
- CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser ($14.99): available at Dermstore, Feel Unique, Ulta and Walmart
- Clinique Take The Day Off Cleansing Balm ($29.00/£24.00): available at Feel Unique, Nordstrom, Sephora and Ulta
- Paula’s Choice Perfect Cleansing Oil ($25.00): available at Paula’s Choice
Related: How To Choose The Best Cleanser For Your Skin Type
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.
- Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos Glycolic Night Serum ($90.00): (it has salicylic acid, too!) available at Cult Beauty, Sephora and SpaceNK
- Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid ($29.00): available at Dermstore, Look Fantastic and Paula’s Choice
- The Inkey List Beta Hydroxy Acid (£9.99): available at Cult Beauty and Feel Unique
Related: Why Salicylic Acid Is Key To Spot-Free Skin
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.
- Facetheory Azeclear Azelaic Acid Serum A15 (£24.99): Available at Facetheory
- Paula’s Choice 10% Azelaic Acid Booster ($36.00): Available at Dermstore, Net-A-Porter and Paula’s Choice
- The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% (£5.50): Available at Asos, Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty and Feel Unique
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.