4 Reasons Why You Keep Getting Whiteheads and Precisely How to Get Rid

Perdita Nouril
·6-min read
Photo credit: Nyimas Laula - Getty Images
Photo credit: Nyimas Laula - Getty Images

From Women's Health

As far as acne goes, whiteheads take the top spot for being the most bothersome. Painful and tricksy to conceal, they're also the most common type of this complexion complaint. So, if a constellation of raised, pallid dots has appeared on your forehead, chin or cheeks know that you're not alone in your quest to get rid.

Not sure why whiteheads have popped up or how to make them disappear? WH called upon the experts to find out how to treat and prevent the annoying issue, so that you don't have to freak out about your breakout.

Here's the low down on the causes, treatments and how to prevent congestion from the get-go.

What are whiteheads?

'Whiteheads are also known as closed comedmones are essentially a blocked pore filled with sebum, dead cells and bacteria. Unlike a blackhead, the material is trapped under the skin. Lots of factors contribute to them including use of incorrect products, over-exfoliation, stress and hormones' explains Dr Ifeoma Ejikeme, Medical Director at Adonia Medical Clinic and spokesperson for Etre Vous.

What causes whiteheads?

1. Stress and hormones

The stress hormones cause the release of chemicals, which increase blood flow to the skin. This can trigger both rashes and redness, while the same hormones can lead to breakouts.

2. Hair products

These can also be the source of a spotty forehead. Often containing ingredients like coconut oil or cocoa butter, gels, pomades, sprays and other products can mix with debris on your forehead and clog your pores, as can dandruff.

Similarly, if you have a fringe, keep it clean. 'Hair will rub against the forehead skin causing irritation and potentially contributing to break-outs (acne mechanica)', says Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist. 'If your hair is oily, this may further aggravate the problem', she adds.

3. Wearing a cap or helmet

If you sweat while wearing them and then leave them to their own devices, they become a breeding ground for bacteria. The cloth that touches your forehead should be sanitized on a regular basis.

4. Touching your face

'Touching the face, using mobile phones against the skin and repeatedly using make-up brushes that have not been washed are also thought to increase the risk of whiteheads developing. In acne, often a particular area of skin (e.g. the more sensitive areas such as the jawline and area) are more prone to whiteheads,' says Dr David Jack.

Are blackheads and whiteheads the same?

'Whiteheads occur when dead skin cells, oil (sebum) and dirt become trapped in the pores, they differ to blackheads as they are closed within the pore, whereas blackheads can be pushed or squeezed out,' explains Dr Giuseppe Aragona, GP and Online Doctor for Prescription Doctor.

How do you get rid of whiteheads?

'You should also be treating your internal system to ensure the best environment for your overall wellness, skin and the prevention of whiteheads,' explains Marie Reynolds, skin and wellness expert.

Usually linked to the digestive system, whiteheads on the forehead might signal difficulty breaking down certain foods. It can also indicate liver problems, stress, or an irregular sleep schedule.

'Taking supplements is recommended to help and also prevent any type of breakout' adds Reynolds. Her Liver Rescue is a liver cleanse. 'If the liver is overtaxed with toxicity it will throw out impurities in the skin, commonly whiteheads,' adds Reynolds.

Eradic8 is a good anti-sporadic to aid candida overgrowth typically shown as small whiteheads around nose, mouth and forehead

Should you squeeze whiteheads?

'The worst thing to do is to pop whiteheads at home without really knowing what you’re doing,' explains Dr Sophie Shotter, from Illuminate Skin Clinic.

'The material is trapped under the skin squeezing will only further traumatise the skin leading to redness in light skin types and hyperpigmentation in darker skin types. Instead, focus on optimising your routine to reduce the inflammation in the current spot and preventing further spots,' adds Dr Ejikeme.

How do you get rid of whiteheads without popping them?

'Products containing BHAs like salicylic acid are my go-to for skin with whiteheads. This will help to clear the pore, minimise the risk of infection within it, and also help regulate oil production within the skin long-term,' says Dr Shotter.

'There are also great pimple patches which you can apply to your skin overnight to help reduce whiteheads. In this situation, Dots for Spots are my favourite. You can also see a skin professional for extractions,' she adds.

'Deploying AHAs (such as glycolic and lactic acid), which reduce sebum production and increase cell turnover on the skin,' says Dr Jack.

'Cleanse the skin of all dirt and oil both morning and evening using warm water and a flannel. Exfoliate twice a week using a non-invasive scrub which will work to remove any dead skin cells as well as dirt and oil that has become trapped deep within the pores. If you are already suffering with whiteheads, be gentle around the area affected as the skin can become sore and if you start scrubbing this could promote scarring,' says Dr Aragona.

'The key to treating whiteheads will also help to prevent the formation of others' Dr Adil Sarwar, aesthetic doctor & founder of Skin Science Clinic.

'Some of the ingredients below are accepted as dermatologists globally as the gold standard' he adds. 'Benzoyl Peroxide - available in many different forms, the maximum strength I would recommend 10%. By its own decomposition benzoyl peroxide releases bacteria which eliminates bacteria and prevents future breakouts. Cheap formulations can stain clothes so be careful clarifies Dr Sarwar.

'Adding a retinol to your routine will help promote cell turnover preventing future clogged pores becoming whiteheads,' explains Medical Director Melissa Wood from Skin Emporium.

Do whiteheads go away on their own?

'With time (up to seven days) the majority of whiteheads will resolve on their own but not in all cases. It is better to be pro-active and try some of the treatments listed above to remove the dead skin layer enclosing the blocked pilo-sebaceous unit. This minimises the risk of the whitehead progressing to a nasty cyst' says Dr Sarwar.

'Time and sleep are always the best healers, however, there are steps you can do to encourage whiteheads to disappear quicker. Ensure you sleep with a clean pillowcase, as bacteria can sit on the pillow all night. Turn your pillow over daily and wash them often,' says Lisa Harris, Celebrity Facialist.

How do I get rid of whiteheads on my forehead?

As well as skincare ingredients mentioned above, beta carotene foods will also help alleviate forehead whiteheads. Think yellow-orange fruits and vegetables such as carrots, apricots, butternut squash and mango. They all contain vitamin A, which your body converts into retinol to help keep collagen levels in skin cells balanced and promote healthy cell growth.

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