What Is the Difference Between Acne Blackheads and Whiteheads?

Reviewed on 2/26/2021

What are acne blackheads and whiteheads?

Acne whiteheads are small white bumps on your skin that occur when your pores are clogged and the skin is closed over them. Acne blackheads are small black dots on your skin that occur when the clogged pore remains open and is exposed to air, causing it to darken.
Acne whiteheads are small white bumps on your skin that occur when your pores are clogged and the skin is closed over them. Acne blackheads are small black dots on your skin that occur when the clogged pore remains open and is exposed to air, causing it to darken.

Acne is a skin condition that is especially common in teenagers but can affect you at any age. Your skin is covered in tiny pores and hair follicles called comedones. Acne occurs when these follicles get clogged with oil. Without treatment, your skin may become inflamed or infected from bacteria.

Whiteheads and blackheads are both considered comedonal acne. Both occur when pores become clogged by dead skin cells and oil.

Whiteheads are small white bumps on your skin that occur when your pores are clogged and the skin is closed over them. Blackheads are small black dots on your skin that occur when the clogged pore remains open and is exposed to air, causing it to darken.

What are the symptoms and signs of acne blackheads and whiteheads?

Whiteheads and blackheads do not cause any negative symptoms aside from their appearance. They are not painful unless your condition progresses and your skin becomes inflamed because of bacteria trapped under the skin. You can differentiate blackheads and whiteheads based on their appearance.

You can recognize a blackhead by the dark appearance of your pores. Despite common misconceptions, a blackhead isn’t filled with dirt but with accumulated oil and skin pigment

You’ll recognize a whitehead because it will be a small white bump on the skin, which can develop into a pimple.

What are the causes of acne blackheads and whiteheads?

Sebaceous glands under your skin produce sebum, an oil that lubricates your skin and hair. Sometimes changes in hormone levels can cause these glands to produce more sebum than your skin needs. 

At the same time, your skin is regularly shedding the top layer of dead skin cells. These skin cells can clog your pores, causing blockages that prevent sebum from rising to the surface.

Whiteheads and blackheads are both caused by clogged pores. The difference between the two is whether or not the skin closes or remains open and exposed to air where the clog occurs.

There are many myths about what causes acne, including poor diet, stress, and dirt. While each of these can be contributing factors to your acne worsening, none of these things cause you to develop whiteheads or blackheads.

What are the stages of acne blackheads and whiteheads?

Occasionally whiteheads occur first and then the skin opens up, exposing oil in your skin to air and causing the oil to darken through a process called oxidation. Whiteheads and blackheads can also occur separately from one another, depending on if your pores are open or closed when they get clogged.

Whiteheads and blackheads can remain in your skin without causing other problems. However, if sebum traps bacteria under your skin, infections may occur, leading to inflammatory acne.

QUESTION

Acne is the result of an allergy. See Answer

How do you diagnose acne blackheads and whiteheads?

A visual examination is sufficient for diagnosing blackheads and whiteheads. Your doctor will perform additional tests if either of these conditions progress into worsening acne that is painful or inflamed.

Treatments for acne blackheads and whiteheads

While an unhealthy diet does not cause whiteheads and blackheads, it can make your condition worse. Avoiding processed and sugary foods may decrease the number of breakouts you experience. 

Preventative measures will help prevent future breakouts and help clear your skin more quickly. You may want to: 

  • Avoid touching your face and don’t pick at or squeeze your whiteheads and blackheads.
  • Don’t over-wash your face.
  • Choose oil-free skincare products.
  • Manage stress and maintain a good exercise regimen.

Mild acne, including whiteheads and blackheads, is easily treatable with over-the-counter face cleansers and moisturizers. If your acne doesn’t improve or worsens while using these products, talk to your doctor about other options. They may refer you to a dermatologist for a more specialized treatment plan, including:

Prescription medications

These may include oral antibiotics to clear infections and other oral medications designed to treat acne from the inside. A dermatologist can also help you get prescription-grade skincare that contains higher doses of the active ingredients found in over-the-counter products. 

Skin treatments

For severe conditions, your doctor may recommend laser or light treatments to speed up your healing process. These treatments primarily serve to make scars from acne less noticeable, but they may also help prevent future breakouts.

Be consistent with your treatment and don’t get discouraged when you see whiteheads and blackheads pop up unexpectedly. Remember, it can take months to see your desired results when treating acne.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

References
American Osteopathic College of Dermatology: "Acne."

C.S. Mott Children's Hospital: "Acne."

Kids Health: "Why Do I Get Acne?"

News in Health: "Understanding acne."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Acne: What you need to know."

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors