What is a Whitehead?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A whitehead is a type of acne similar to the blackhead. Both are also called comedones, though whiteheads may be called closed comedones. They form when hair follicles are blocked by a secretion called sebum and by dead skin cells. Blackheads are considered open comedones because the pore remains open, allowing this material to oxidize and change color. With whiteheads, a small amount of skin covers the pore, so that the material remains white.

Blocked hair follicles are a cause of whiteheads.
Blocked hair follicles are a cause of whiteheads.

This type of blemish tends to be smaller than a blackhead, but it is still fairly noticeable because of its color. Most dermatologists recommend that individuals not try to remove them unless they have experience using a comedone extractor. Instead, though it may take time, the best way to reduce whiteheads is by using a good exfoliating cleaner on the face. Exfoliants help to remove dead skin, which may reduce incidence of follicles being blocked by it.

Metal loop extractors are sometimes used for popping whiteheads.
Metal loop extractors are sometimes used for popping whiteheads.

Another way to work on eliminating whiteheads is to use an astringent to clean the face of excess sebum. Astringents with benzyl peroxide or salicylic acid may be most effective. Many people are able to eliminate both types of comedones, or at least reduce them, if they a follow daily skin cleaning regimen with an exfoliant and an astringent.

Popping pimples can lead to infection and cause scarring.
Popping pimples can lead to infection and cause scarring.

Some people really want to pop whiteheads, and since they are small they may not run much risk of scarring. It may help to use a warm compress on them for several minutes to soften the pimple. Individuals should not use their fingers on the area once its softened.

There are a number of cleansing products on the market to help reduce the occurrence of pimples.
There are a number of cleansing products on the market to help reduce the occurrence of pimples.

Instead, they should learn how to use a comedone extractor, or use two cotton swabs to place gentle pressure on the sides of the whitehead. When it is popped, an astringent should be used on it so that more sebum or bacteria is not spread to other parts of the skin. Even though these comedones can be popped, there is still some risk of scarring and most dermatologists do not recommend it.

If regular care of the skin is not helping to eliminate whiteheads, blackheads, or other forms of acne, individuals may want to visit a dermatologist. Dermatologists can prescribe topical and oral medications that can help get acne under control. Teens with acne should remember that they are not alone, since sebum production increases greatly in teenagers. Well over half of all adolescents face various forms of acne.

Reoccurring whiteheads should be brought to the attention of a dermatologist.
Reoccurring whiteheads should be brought to the attention of a dermatologist.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


I'm 25 and I've just started getting white heads and I pop them and I've never had any scarring. It's flipping painful to pop but it reduces the swelling quicker and gets rid of those ugly white dots all over the body.


@blackDagger - Oh, you can absolutely get whiteheads on your back!

Everybody has different problem areas for acne. Though the face is one of the most common areas for acne breakouts to occur, and the one that people talk about the most by far, some people have more trouble with body acne than face acne.

I myself mostly get acne on my back, chest and shoulders. My face only gets breakouts if I eat foods that I know cause flare ups for me -- particularly corn syrup and dark sodas.

One thing that will help your husband prevent whiteheads and acne on the back is for him to exfoliate his back when he takes a bath. Scrub in circular motions to wash away dead skin and any buildup in the pores before it becomes acne.

Yes, exfoliating face wash will work on the skin on the back, too, so definitely try it!


Is there such a thing as getting whitehead acne on your back? My husband often gets little pimples and blackheads on his shoulders and in the small of his back.

He’s clean and he washes every day, but he still gets these little outbreaks. The odd thing is that he doesn’t get many bumps on his face at all.

They don’t seem to bother him very much (except for when I pop them. I know, I know. I’m not supposed to do that. But it’s just so much fun to watch him squirm!)

I really would like to find a way to get rid of them, though. Can you use like a face wash on your back, do you think?


I really thought that once you got past adolescence, a white head outbreak was a thing of the past. Wrong!

I am 31 years old, and I still get break outs!

Particularly when it’s close to that time of the month, I get these explosions of pimples on my face, and sometimes even on my neck (can you say 'Yuk!').

I wash my face the same way and with pretty high dollar cleansers, but I just can’t seem to prevent these painful and downright embarrassing outbreaks.

Another time when they seem to be worse is when the weather warms up and I’m doing a lot more sweating than usual.

These nasty things make me feel like I not only look unclean, but that I might be missing some crucial part of to my hygiene regimen. It is incredibly humiliating for me!

Any suggestions?


There are so many different ways to treat acne, but not all of them work for everyone. Can you share some of your tips for taking care of whiteheads?

For myself I like to make my own facemask to treat my whiteheads. All you need to make it is to add some vinegar to cornstarch. Apply the mixture to your face for 15 minutes to half an hour then wash it away with warm water.

Another thing I find is that drinking of plenty of water and not eating fatty meat helps to keep my skin calm. I really think that good skin starts from what you are putting into your body. If you suspect certain foods may give you breakouts, try to avoid them for a few weeks and see if your skin changes.


If you suffer from a lot of whiteheads there can be some simple things you can do to lesson their numbers and treat the ones you already have.

Taking a supplement that has niacin, vitamin A and vitamin E, can help improve your skin from the inside out. People have reported that adding these to their daily health regime has a big impact on their acne.

Another natural treatment is to take orange peels and pound them until they are fairly soft. Then you can add them to water and use this is a wash for your face. Lemon juice is also useful to reduce the size of pimples.


Glycolic acid worked best for me as a whitehead treatment. In low doses, glycolic acid chemically breaks apart the glue holding dead skin cells on the skin’s surface. Because it dissolves these proteins, glycolic acid gives the skin a smoother appearance and a softer feel. Additionally, after the application of glycolic acid, acne products like moisturizers or serums can more easily penetrate the skin. I used an exfoliating scrub containing glycolic acid, and I noticed a difference.

Post your comments
Forgot password?