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How do I get rid of whiteheads?

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Perhaps not as well known as their counterparts, blackheads, whiteheads are a common type of spot that can cause annoying bumps on the skin.

Although common (most of us have had one or two whiteheads in our lifetime) they can affect different people to differing degrees. Some may only suffer the occasional one, whilst others may struggle to clear their skin of them and suffer them on a regular basis.

So what are whiteheads and how do they form? And more importantly, how can we get rid of them and help to prevent them from returning? Here’s the Sönd lowdown on whiteheads.

What are whiteheads?

Whiteheads are a type of spot that can be common on acne prone skin, but can also appear on the skin of those who don’t necessarily suffer with acne breakouts.

They differ from blackheads as unlike blackheads that have a visible dark head, whiteheads appear as small white, raised bumps on the skin. They’re generally not filled with pus like other acne type spots and pustules can be.

Whiteheads can appear anywhere on the body, but they’re more common on the face across the T zone, that is, the forehead, nose and chin areas, that are more prone to oiliness. They can also form on the chest, neck, back, shoulders and upper arms.

How do whiteheads form?

Both blackheads and whiteheads are caused by the same thing - a buildup of dead skin cells and other cellular debris, dirt, old makeup, grime, pollution and sebum (the waxy, oily substance produced by the skin).

This buildup causes a plug within the skin pore, leading to a blackhead or a whitehead. Blackheads occur because the plugged pore isn't covered by a layer of skin, allowing the air to get to it, causing oxidation and discolouration, hence, a visible, dark coloured blackhead.

In the case of a whitehead, the plugged pore is covered by a thin layer of skin. Therefore, the plug isn’t exposed to the air and won’t oxidise or discolour, hence a whitehead. This means that arguably, a whitehead is more difficult to remove than a blackhead, since it’s covered with a thin layer of skin.

Hormonal changes can also cause the formation of whiteheads since the hormones can cause an increase in the amount of sebum the skin produces. This can be especially prevalent during pregnancy, menstruation, pregnancy and the menopause, and excess sebum can lead to a higher prevalence of both whiteheads and blackheads.

Should I pop whiteheads?

Like blackheads, whiteheads can be extremely annoying, but popping them (or attempting to pop them) isn’t advised by top beauty therapists or skin specialists. Doing so can cause the surrounding skin to break, leading to more inflammation and stressed out skin.

However, we know how tempting it can be to pop a spot. So, if you simply can’t resist, then you’ll need to do it carefully. First up, avoid any whiteheads that look red or inflamed, or too far under the skin such as a cyst. These will be too difficult to squeeze and will more often than not, look worse after a few minutes of prodding in front of the mirror.

The experts then advise cleaning the area with a gentle exfoliant such as salicylic acid to prepare the skin. Then, warm the skin with a warm cloth for a few minutes to help to open the pores.

Using the pads of your fingers over the top of a tissue placed over the whitehead (never, ever, use your fingernails, however tempting, they’ll break the skin) use a firm hand to apply pressure either side of the whitehead. It might help to stretch the skin away from the whitehead to begin with, before applying pressure. If after a few attempts, it doesn’t pop, then leave well alone!

Failing that, see a skin specialist or therapist that specialises in ‘extraction facials’, a facial where your therapist will expertly squeeze any spots they think are worthy of being squeezed.

How to get rid of whiteheads

Getting rid of whiteheads for good, so that you don't have to worry about squeezing them or not, is possible. The best way to care for an non conformist skin, is to use skin care developed with stressed out skin in mind.

The Sönd range of cleansers and day and night moisturisers was developed with exactly that in mind. We use only natural, plant derived ingredients and alkalising silica salts that support and nourish the skin.

Skin prone to whiteheads won’t react kindly to skin care products that strip the skin of its natural oils or products that will clog the pores with excess oils. Our skin care products are ideal as they’re the perfect pH balance for the skin.

Using products such as these will help to get rid of the whiteheads that can build up around the nose and on the forehead and chin. This is a better approach (treating the whole area holistically with the right skin care products) than squeezing individual spots and potentially aggravating the skin.

Getting rid of whiteheads on the eyelids

Whiteheads can form on the eyelids, and this is one place you definitely don’t want to be squeezing. In fact, they’re probably not even whiteheads, instead being skin lesions called milia, a type of tiny cyst.

These usually disappear on their own, but if you’re concerned, speak to your GP or optician for further advice.

Getting rid of whiteheads on the body

Some people notice a collection of whiteheads causing bumps on their upper arms. This is a condition called keratosis pilaris, caused by a buildup of keratin, a protein found in the hair, in the hair follicles of the skin.

Gently exfoliating the area with a loofah or a product containing glycolic acid can help to get rid of whiteheads on the arms.

Best of luck!

Hannah de Gruchy BSc(Hons)

About Author

Hannah de Gruchy is a freelancer writer who specialises in health and wellness. She has a keen interest in the biology of skin and loves using her words to help separate the real science of skincare from the pseudoscience of some skincare brands. Hannah has a degree in Human Biology and many years’ experience working in laboratories around London. Using this experience, Hannah enjoys turning complex science into interesting, engaging and easy to digest pieces to read. In her spare time, Hannah runs, practices yoga and loves cooking plant based foods.

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