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White Heads: Causes, Prevention and Treatment

September 07, 2017

Almost everyone has had to deal with a white head at some point, and we all hate those little white/yellowish bumps. What causes those embarrassing blemishes? How can you keep from getting them? What should you do once you have one? Knowledge is power, and we have answers.

What Is a White Head?

White heads (also known as closed comedones) happen when oil, dead skin cells and bacteria become trapped in a hair follicle or pore. That gunk builds up and forms a soft plug inside the pore. If exposed to air, that plug becomes a blackhead. If covered by skin, it becomes a white head.

These annoying clogged pores usually measure between 1 and 3mm across and can appear anywhere on your body. Because they are the result of excess oil and skin cells, you will find them most often where you have the most sebaceous (oil) glands — that is to say, your back, shoulders, neck and face… particularly in the T-zone of the nose, chin and forehead.

They affect people of all ages, both men and women. Fortunately, they are considered fairly easy to treat.

What Causes White Heads?

We’ve gone over the basics: Dead skin cells, oil and bacteria become trapped in a follicle or pore. But what else contributes to white heads?

Hormonal changes during certain life stages and events can cause your body to increase oil production. More oil means more chances for oil to get trapped in pores. That’s why people tend to get more white heads — and acne in general — during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause.

Certain medications can also contribute to worsening acne. Ask your dermatologist if any prescriptions you are taking could factor into your skin problems. Genetics also play a considerable role in determining whether you’ll have white heads and other acne.

Although many people will tell you to avoid greasy foods to improve your acne, the truth is that those foods do not directly contribute to your white heads. There are some actions you can take to reduce your odds of facing these unsightly bumps, though.

How Can I Prevent White Heads?

There’s no one thing you can do to guarantee you’ll never encounter another pimple, but there are a few actions you can take to reduce the number of white heads you’ll have to deal with:

  • Use cosmetics with “noncomedogenic” labels. This means they are specially formulated not to block pores.
  • Always remove your makeup before sleeping — even if it is noncomedogenic.
  • Use oil-free moisturizers. The last thing you want to do to white heads is add more oil to your face.
  • Wash your skin… but not too much. Use a mild cleanser to wash once or twice a day. Any more than that can irritate the skin and might even make things worse. You risk stripping your skin of its natural oils, making your body feel it needs to increase oil production.
  • Wash your hair regularly. Oily hair that touches your face can contribute to breakouts. If you have long hair and can’t wash it before sleeping, pull it back away from your face for the night.
  • Change your pillowcase regularly. Dirt, oil and bacteria from your hair and face can build up on your pillowcase, leading to breakouts.
  • Don’t pick at them. You’ve heard this advice a million times, but it can be tough to resist when you have an important event and an unsightly bump in the middle of your face. Squeezing white heads can irritate or damage skin, possibly even leading to infections, scarring or dark spots. Absolutely not worth it.
  • Consult a certified dermatologist. They can help you come up with the best treatment plan for you.

What Are the Treatment Options?

There are a number of over-the-counter ointments, washes and treatments available. Those that contain benzoyl peroxide reduce oil while those containing salicylic acid attack white heads you already have.

If over-the-counter treatments aren’t doing the trick, it’s time to turn to a skin specialist. Make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist. They may prescribe topical or oral medications to treat your acne, or antibiotics to reduce inflammation. Options may also include chemical peels, laser therapy, extraction and lifestyle changes.

Your dermatologist can tailor a medical treatment plan to reduce the number of white heads you’ll get, to treat those that you already have and to improve scarring or skin damage from previous outbreaks.

If white heads are getting in your way, U.S. Dermatology Partners can help. Contact us today to consult with a board-certified dermatologist. Your skin and self-esteem will thank you for it.


Topics: acne, USDP National

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