We all dream of waking up each morning to see perfectly clear skin in the mirror, having left our blackheads and whiteheads back in high school. However, an increasing number of women experience blackheads and whiteheads well into their 30s, 40s, and 50s. So the question is, what exactly are they and how can we treat them? Though there is no solution to completely eliminate blackheads and whiteheads, we can take small steps to improve the overall health of our skin and reduce their appearance.
Both blackheads and whiteheads are a form of acne called comedones resulting from a clogged hair follicle. An overproduction of oil in the skin, exaggerated by a hormonal imbalance, weakened immune system, or plain old genetics, causes the hair follicle to clog with oil (sebum) and bacteria. Though most commonly found in the T-zone of the face (forehead, nose, and chin), blackheads and whiteheads can appear anywhere on the body.
So if they are both clogged pores, what makes blackheads black and whiteheads white? The answer is simple—oxygen. Blackheads—open clogged pores—have a distinctive yellowish, black color due to a chemical reaction that takes place between the oil and its exposure to oxygen. Whiteheads—closed clogged pores—appear as white “balls” under the skin, because the oil and bacteria get trapped under the skin and therefore lack exposure to oxygen.
Skincare professionals can use special tools and techniques to extract blackheads and whiteheads from the skin. While esthetically beneficial, extracting one blackhead does not prevent blackheads from developing in the future. Implementing healthy skin practices routinely yields the best result for the healthiest blackhead- and whitehead-free skin.
- Wash your Face Daily. It may feel like all you need to do is scrub, scrub, scrub the blackheads and whiteheads away. Unfortunately, overwashing the face strips skin of its essential oils, irritates the skin, and worsens the existing condition of the skin. Limit washing your face to twice a day with a gentle cleanser. Find more information on the best techniques to wash your face and the best products to use in my article Which Way Should You Wash.
- Exfoliate Weekly. Chose a gentle exfoliant that contains salicylic acid. This type of acid breaks the glue-like bond between the sebum and the pore. Exfoliate about one or two times per week. Find more information on choosing the best exfoliant for your skin in my article Exfoliate: Reinvigorate Your Skin.
- Incorporate Retinol. In addition to its benefits as a popular anti-aging product, retinol is a great addition to your blackhead- and whitehead-fighting regimen. It helps remove dead skin cells and regenerate new, healthy skin cells. Start by applying a retinol product just twice a week before bed to allow your skin time to adjust. Then ease your way to every other night. Please note that retinol makes skin sensitive to sunlight, so be sure to apply and reapply SPF throughout the day.