February 20, 2015 Makeup.com Spotlight

Ask a Pro: What's the Difference Between Black Heads and White Heads

Here at MDC, we would love to think that we have all the answers for you. However, there are certain issues that require the insight of a pro. Today we asked Boston-based dermatologist Dr. Emmy Graber to help us with a question we’ve been asking ourselves for quite some time: What’s the difference between a white head and a black head? Take it away Doc!

Gazing in the magnifying mirror gives us the opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with our skin. It also gives us the horrifying experience of noticing those tiny little black spots or white bumps on the skin. These tiny-but-terrifying imperfections are black heads or white heads, which are technically clogged pores. While they aren’t as large as big acne cysts, they still can still occur fairly regularly and can be pretty pesky. Read on to know the difference between a white head and a black head, how to treat them and how to prevent them.

blackhead and whitehead

What’s the Difference?

Both black heads and white heads are clogged pores, but the opening of the pore is different in each. 

Black heads:
In a black head, the part of the pore at the surface of the skin is stretched and open. The black color is dead skin cells, bacteria and oil stuck down in the pore (yuck!). Because the top part of the pore is open, the scientific term for a blackhead is an open comedone (pronounced “comb-ee-doan”).

White heads:
A white head is also a clogged pore, except, unlike a black head, the top of the pore is not stretched open and exposing the clogged portion. The pore is still clogged, but the surface of the pore is closed so dermatologists call this a closed comedone.

What Do I Do About Them?

Whatever you do, don’t squeeze them!  Squeezing either one of these bad boys may seem satisfying in the moment, but is a bad idea in the long run. Over time, repeatedly squeezing black heads or white heads only makes pores larger and larger. There are a lot of easy ways to treat your blackheads and white heads:  

  • Wash your face with a cleanser featuring salicylic acid (try Kiehl’s Blue Herbal Cleanser) to break up material stuck in the pores. 
  • Another option is an at-home glycolic acid peel (try Patricia Wexler, M.D. Exfoliating Glyco Peel System) that will both help unclog your pores and brighten your complexion. 

How To Prevent Them

Talk to your doctor about prescribed solutions like vitamin A-based creams that will prevent pores from becoming clogged as well as the formation of larger acne lesions. If you want to avoid a trip to the dermatologist’s office, try a cream that contains lipohydroxy acid (like La Roche Posay Effaclar System) which can also treat and prevent pimples. And don’t think that washing your face more frequently is going to prevent black heads and white heads.  For breakout prone skin, washing twice a day, no more and no less, is ideal.

What are your methods for keeping black heads and white heads far away?
Sound off in the comments below. 

Photo: thinkstock



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