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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Blackheads & Whiteheads explained

What is a blackhead?

Technically termed a comedo or comedone, a blackhead is an open pore clogged with debris (dead skin and oil or sebum). A comedone is dark or black because oil inside the pore reacts to the oxygen in the air (it oxidizes) and turns dark. Tiny specks of melanin (the dark pigment in your skin) are also present in blackheads, contributing to their color. Finally, dirt and debris from the air can darken the debris in an open pore. Blackheads are considered noninflammatory and contain no infection.

Why do blackheads occur? Blackheads form as a result of too much oil trying to get to the surface. The pore can only handle so much oil at one time. The result is congestion (clogging) and a blackhead or plug is formed. The reason for this excess oil can be hormonal, dietary, or genetic. Sometimes using a cream (moisturizer) that is too heavy can cause clogging. Alkaline soaps strip the skin of oil and water, sometimes making the oil glands pump more oil to compensate for the loss. This can create blackheads. 

What to do for blackheads:
  • Keeping the skin clean through daily cleansing is the first step for reducing the potential for blackheads. Since dead skin and oil clog the pores, getting rid of this surface debris will help maintain cleaner skin.
  • Exfoliation is another important step in keeping blackheads away. Regular exfoliation keeps the surface of your skin smooth and free from a buildup of accumulated dead cells. This, therefore, helps to keep the pores from clogging.
  • Finally, using a clay mask will deep clean open pores, helping to keep blackheads to a minimum. 

What is a whitehead? 

Whiteheads (also termed milia) are closed pores that are clogged. They contain the same debris as blackheads, but since there is no pore opening, the debris in a whitehead has nowhere to go. Because dead skin covers the opening to the pore, sebum doesn’t mix with oxygen in the air and therefore maintains its natural white or yellowish color. Thus the term whitehead. Milia are also considered to be noninflammatory.

Why do whiteheads occur? Whiteheads can form for similar reasons as blackheads: hormones, genetics, and heavy creams. I have found clients who consume large amounts of dairy products (mainly milk) tend to form a lot of whiteheads. The forehead seems to be the primary place for these dairy-induced milia to show up. Dehydration can sometimes cause whiteheads. When the dead cell buildup is thick, layers of dead skin easily cover the pores, creating milia.

What to do for whiteheads. Since whiteheads by definition are closed pores, an opening must be made in order for the debris to come out. Therefore, I recommend having milia professionally removed. I am not a proponent of self-extracting, especially in regard to milia or any other closed pores. In the case of whiteheads, self-extraction can lead to disaster. Trying to extract whiteheads without creating an opening will force the debris farther down into the follicle wall, causing the potential for infection and a much more noticeable problem.

Usually a whitehead continues to grow, like a snowball rolling down a mountain, continuing to collect debris that has nowhere to escape. Large milia are easier for an aesthetician to extract. The debris will be forced to the surface due to its ever-increasing size, and through professional extraction it can be removed for good.

The simple rule to follow for self-extracting is this: open pores with blackheads are usually extractable, whiteheads are not (because they are closed pores). If you cannot not extract your blackheads and (just say no!) whiteheads, you must follow some simple rules. Please read:
For even more information, see: