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How To Get Rid of Whiteheads In 9 Simple Steps

woman picking her skin

No matter how comprehensive your skincare plan is, zits happen. Even when you think you’re doing everything right, acne can crop up and ruin your plans, especially when those plans include photos.

Is there anything worse than waking up the morning of your friend’s wedding, or of a big party, or any outing when you know your friends will be snapping pictures left and right, and seeing a big blemish in the middle of your forehead?

Oh, wait. We just thought of something. Not just a pimple, but a great big whitehead in the middle of your face. We’ll answer for you: there’s almost nothing worse.

While acne of any type is more common in your teen years, it can get you at any time. But whether you struggle with occasional pimples or recurring breakouts, there are some things you can do to manage and reduce the day-ruining problem of whiteheads.

What are Whiteheads?

Whiteheads may be familiar to you as a high school enemy. They look exactly how they sound — like raised white bumps on the skin. We probably all have been in a situation where we were having a conversation with someone who had a whitehead somewhere on their face… and so know the struggle that comes with trying not to stare. Suffice to say; whiteheads are hard to ignore!

What Causes Whiteheads?

Much like any other type of acne, whiteheads start to form when your pores get clogged with dead skin cells, oil or even dirt. The problem with whiteheads is that they’re trapped within the closed pore — this is also known as closed comedones.

They’re most commonly found on your face, but you can get them on your back, shoulders, and upper arm. It’s also possible to get whiteheads due to friction in places where things are often rubbing — like where your backpack sits, for example, or around thicker hemlines of tight shirts.

What Makes Whiteheads Different?

We put several different skin blemishes under the “acne” umbrella, so no worries if you’re not totally sure how to distinguish. Although whiteheads are fairly distinctive and easy to spot because they are named for their appearance, there are two other main types of acne that you’re probably familiar with.

Most of what we call pimples are papules, which are red in appearance and tender to the touch. They often have (sorry) pus at the tips. The other type is blackheads. Blackheads form around hair follicles that are clogged with oil or dead skin cells. Unlike whiteheads, when blackheads form, the pore opens to the skin's surface.

The things clogging your follicle then oxidize and darken. This is what gives blackheads their name — the dark, black color. Although they aren’t pretty, blackheads are pretty easy to treat, blackheads tend to be the least irritating type of acne because they aren’t usually inflamed, and you can treat them without breaking the skin — you just need to push out the gunk (again, sorry) clogging them up in the first place.

How Can You Prevent Whiteheads?

Preventing whiteheads is very similar to preventing any type of acne. Because whiteheads form when your pores get clogged, the first line of defense is regularly washing your face. You should at minimum wash your face daily — but it’s ideal for washing your face twice a day.

That way, you get rid of the grime of the day, and you take care of any bacteria or dirt that accumulated overnight. (You might be thinking, “what dirt?” because you clean your sheets on a very regular basis. If you’re not thinking that, another way to help fight acne and whiteheads is to start doing that.)

When you wash your face, you’ll want to use lukewarm water. It’s tempting — especially in the winter — to start your day with hot water, but more room temperature is definitely best. This will be gentle on your face while still opening your pores up enough to get an excellent clean and help fight whiteheads before they even happen.

You can also fight whiteheads by keeping things that come into contact with your face regularly clean. We’re not just talking sheets. We also mean your phone, your headphones, and lately, we really mean your mask if you wear one when you’re out and about. If you use a reusable fabric mask, be sure you’re switching out the filter as recommended, and also make sure you’re washing and rotating your reusable mask daily. If you use disposable masks, make sure you do what it says on the tin: dispose of them after use.

Lastly, avoid touching your face! Even if you’re great about washing your hands, it’s impossible to do it all the time, and your hands are the biggest way we transfer dirt and bacteria to our faces.

How Do You Treat Whiteheads?

If you already have whiteheads or have had them before and you’re worried they’ll make another appearance, you’re probably wondering what you do to get rid of them. Luckily, it’s a pretty easy process and not all that different from what you should do to keep them away in the first place.

Step One

Go through all of your cosmetics and skincare products. It can be really satisfying to buy a pricey cream or kind of makeup that you only wear on special occasions and make it last for a long time… But all of these products have expiration dates!

Get rid of any products that are past theirs. Check the manufacturer’s website or general guidelines for how long the product type should last when in doubt. Old makeup or skincare creams can get infected by bacteria or go off after too long, and this could be one of the underlying causes of your whiteheads.

Step Two

Do not squeeze or irritate the whitehead. If you’re used to blackheads or even pimples, it can be tempting to try to squeeze or pop the whitehead — but therein lies only madness. All this will do is make your skin red and angry since the whitehead is trapped beneath the skin in a closed pore. You’ll need to get to the whitehead very gently, which brings us to…

Step Three

Exfoliate, but gently! When you’re frustrated with your skin or have blemishes that disturb the texture, the instinct can be to try and just… scrub them away, but unfortunately, this will have the opposite effect. You want to clean your skin and slough off any dead skin without irritating it. You’ll want something that deep cleans without roughing up your skin, like our Purifying 2-in-1 Pumpkin Pore Detox Mask and Scrub. This detox mask can be used one to three times a week, and once a week if you have sensitive skin.

Step Four

Wash your face. Our Clear Skin Cleansing Bar is specifically formulated to help beat back breakouts while still being gentle on your skin. Because the name of the game with trying to control whiteheads is getting your pores clean and clear without irritating your skin, a deep cleanse is crucial to getting your glow back, and the Clear Skin Cleansing Bar tackles two steps in one go, allowing you to both cleanse and exfoliate simultaneously.

We’d recommend looking for a cleanser that uses Glycolic Acid or Lactic Acid, which are Alpha Hydroxy Acids. AHAs are chemical exfoliants, which will help you to shed surface skin and clean deep into your pores.

Step Five

Get into toner! Toner is an often ignored step in the skincare process but can be super helpful if you’re struggling with annoying breakouts. After you’ve cleansed and exfoliated, swipe some toner across your face to get rid of any lingering impurities and give your fresh, receptive skin a hit of other helpful ingredients. Witch Hazel or Tea Tree Oil is a common toner. Our Witch Hazel brightening & pH balancing toner is packed with antioxidants to help you let it glow, no matter your skin type.

We also love Clear and Even Tone Clarifying Glycolic Pads, which gives your skin one more hit of Alpha Hydroxy Acid to ensure you have a clean slate going forward.

Step Six

Now that your skin is really clean apply some Clear Complexion Acne Serum and Spot Treatment directly to your whiteheads. Let this sit and dry before moving on to the next step.

Step Seven

One of the best all-rounder steps in your skincare regimen for any skin problem: moisturizing. Although Alpha Hydroxy Acids are great for your skin’s appearance and texture, they can be drying, especially when you first start to use them. It’s essential to keep your skin hydrated when treating acne to avoid other problems by irritating it.

If you’re worried that oily skin is to blame for your whiteheads, you’ll want to get a moisturizer specifically formulated for oily skin. Our Shineblock™ Oil Control Moisturizer SPF 30 has the bonus of also taking care of Step Eight.

Step Eight

Apply sunscreen! Always. No matter what the weather is, no matter what skincare difficulty you’re dealing with, you’ll want to be sure you’ve loaded up with SPF all day, every day. It will protect your skin from sunburn, which can cause other negative side effects, and keep you looking young and fresh. Tanning can be tempting, but it’s not worth it for the age lines.

Step Nine

In the evening, repeat certain steps as deemed necessary! Not everyone will need to do all of these steps twice each day, and only you know your skin well enough to make this determination. It is generally recommended to cleanse and tone again in the evening, but you may not need to exfoliate this time around, for example.

You can also have some variety in the products you’d like to use here, for instance, if you’d like to swap out your typical moisturizer for something richer to use overnight, or if you’d like to add retinol or retinoid into the mix to help resurface your skin while you sleep.

But the basic idea is you’ll want to do this routine twice a day — exfoliate, cleanse, tone, treat and moisturize before you tuck yourself into bed, dreaming of clearer skin and better days ahead.

In Conclusion

Whiteheads are an annoying but often inevitable part of life. If you’re desperate to say goodbye to these pesky bumps or are racing against the clock to clear your complexion before your next social event, don’t panic. With these easy steps, you’ll be able to get your skin back to a clear, glowing state in no time.