Acne is a common skin disorder that happens when oil glands become blocked and inflamed or infected.
Whiteheads (closed comedones), which are a specific type of acne, occur when pores become engorged with oil, dead skin cells and bacterial growth. However whiteheads form completely under the skin unlike their counterpart blackheads, which get dark and hard due to exposure to the air via open pores. They can occur anywhere on the face like forehead, nose, chin & cheeks.
Fortunately, most people can find relief from whiteheads by implementing changes in their skin care routine as well as utilizing specific medicated treatments if necessary.
What Causes Whiteheads?
The root cause of all whiteheads is pore blockage. However, there are many factors that can cause pores to become blocked, which include the following:
- Hormonal Changes
Individuals of all ages and genders suffer with whiteheads, but they usually affect people during times of rapid hormonal changes such as pregnancy, menopause, menstruation and puberty.
Hormone changes often trigger a release of excess oils (sebum), which mix with skin cells and dirt to form plugs that block pores and lead to breakouts. This is particularly true regarding androgens (male sex hormones, such as testosterone) which are produced by both men and women in varying amounts.
Women are prone to hormonal acne because they go through several stages of hormone related change during their lifetime. Women also often use medications that affect hormone balance such as birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy to control menopause symptoms.
Once past puberty, men usually only develop hormonal acne in response to taking substances such as anabolic steroids.
Some medications have an effect on the hormone levels in the body, which can send oil glands into overdrive, blocking pores. For example, some women notice an increase in the amount of acne they experience (usually around menstruation) when they come off of birth control.
Having a relative who suffers with whiteheads and other forms of acne increases the chance of an individual struggling with the condition at some point in their own life.
This is because the amount of oil produced by the body is largely influenced by heredity. Factors such as skin sensitivity and inflammatory response also stem from genetics.
However, no matter what propensity an individual’s skin has for developing whiteheads, they can fix the problem by making specific changes in order to control their skin’s response (diet, hygiene, etc).
- Wearing Makeup
A study revealed that using some cosmetics can lead to the development of whiteheads and other types of acne, specifically on the chin and cheeks. The lesions appear as small white bumps (also known as “grains”) which are more noticeable when the skin is stretched.
Simple ways to reduce the instance of whiteheads caused by cosmetic use, are by sticking to products that are non-comedogenic and oil-free, and applying makeup sparingly.
- Poor Skin Care Habits
A common cause of whiteheads and other acne is poor skin care habits such as not cleaning the face properly or often enough. Proper cleansing helps to remove dead skin cells and keeps pores free of excess oils, dirt and bacteria which lead to inflammation and acne. This is particularly important for individuals who wear makeup and other cosmetics on a regular basis.
- Spicy Food
Although not verified by science, many individuals believe that their whiteheads and other types of acne form and worsens when they consume spicy food. However, the reason why this happens is unknown and because of this, there is no guarantee of whiteheads going away simply by avoiding specific foods.
Home Remedies for Whiteheads
- Lemon Juice
Do a lemon juice treatment once a day to exfoliate skin and control oil production:
- Apply lemon juice to the face using a cotton ball.
- Wait fifteen minutes and rinse skin thoroughly with water.
- Facial Steam
Steaming the face opens up pores, allowing dirt and oil to be removed easily.
- Boil a pot of water and hold the face over the steam for five minutes.
- Pat the face dry with a towel.
- Apple Cider Vinegar
Remove excess oils and kill bacteria on the skin with the antiseptic and antibacterial properties of apple cider vinegar:
- Combine a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar with a cup of water.
- Use a cotton ball to apply the mixture to the face.
- Rinse after fifteen minutes.
Repeat once daily for best results.
- Baking Soda
Exfoliate dead skin and remove excess dirt and oil with baking soda:
- Combine baking soda and water to make a paste.
- Apply it to whiteheads and let it sit for at least five minutes before rinsing.
Repeat three times weekly for best results.
- Tea Tree Oil
- Use a cotton ball to apply tea tree oil to whiteheads.
Repeat daily for a month for best results.
Warning: Dilute tea tree oil to no more than ten percent strength before use, as it is very harsh in its pure form.
- Cornstarch and Vinegar
Absorb and remove excess oils with cornstarch and apple cider vinegar.
- Mix three tablespoons of cornstarch with one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to make a smooth paste.
- Apply the paste to the affected areas of the face and let it sit for twenty minutes.
- Scrub the paste from the skin before using a washcloth dipped in warm water to remove the remaining residue.
- Rinse with cool water to close pores.
- Oatmeal Mask
Exfoliate skin, open pores and remove excess oil and dirt with this oatmeal mask:
- Combine five tablespoons of powdered oatmeal, three tablespoons of yogurt, one tablespoon of honey and one tablespoon of lemon juice to make a smooth paste.
- Apply to the entire face, concentrating on the affected areas.
- Let the mask dry for 20 minutes before rising with water.
Do this treatment once or twice a week for best results.
- Honey and Cinnamon Mask
The antimicrobial and antibacterial properties of cinnamon and honey eliminate whiteheads at the source.
- Mix one teaspoon of honey, one teaspoon aloe vera gel and a pinch of cinnamon powder into a paste.
- Apply the mask to whiteheads only and let it dry for twenty minutes.
- Rinse completely with warm water.
- Honey, Lemon and Turmeric Mask
Remove dead skin calls and open pores with this turmeric, lemon and honey mask:
- Mix one teaspoon (each) of gram flour, honey, turmeric powder and lemon juice into a paste.
- Apply the paste to the entire face and let sit for up to ten minutes.
- Use a few drops of rosewater to scrub the face gently with open palms.
- Rinse completely with cool water.
Repeat twice a week for best results.
- Green Tea
Block androgen receptors and reduce oil production in the skin by drinking two to four cups of green tea every day:
- Steep one green tea bag in a cup of hot water for five to ten minutes before drinking.
- Twice a week, remove the contents of a used teabag before rubbing the bag on any whiteheads present.
Use raw honey (or Manuka honey) to eliminate bacteria that causes whiteheads.
- Apply a small amount of honey to whiteheads and let it sit for fifteen minutes before rinsing with warm water.
- Sugar Scrub
Exfoliate skin and remove oil and dirt with a sugar scrub:
- Combine a tablespoon of sugar with a tablespoon of honey.
- Massage it into the skin using circular motions.
- Let the scrub sit for several minutes before washing it away with clean water.
Repeat twice weekly for best results.
Remove whitehead causing bacteria from the skin and boost collagen production with cinnamon:
- Combine a tablespoon of cinnamon power and a tablespoon of oat flour with enough water to make a smooth paste.
- Massage the mask into the skin for a few minutes, then let it sit for approximately fifteen minutes before rinsing it away.
- Mix a teaspoon of honey, a teaspoon of aloe gel and a pinch of cinnamon powder into a paste.
- Apply it to the affected skin and let it dry for fifteen minutes before rinsing it off.
Repeat either treatment two to three times weekly for best results.
Warning: Do a patch test to check for cinnamon allergies before using this treatment.
- Gram Flour (Besan)
Get rid of dead skin, excess oil and unwanted facial hair with gram flour:
- Make a thick paste by combining two tablespoons of gram flour with half a teaspoon of turmeric powder and yogurt.
- Apply it to the face and let it dry completely.
- Rinse completely with warm water.
Repeat two to three times weekly for best results.
Use the natural salicylic acid in strawberries to exfoliate skin and unblock pores.
- Make a paste by combining three mashed strawberries with a tablespoon of honey.
- Massage the paste into the face and leave it on for fifteen minutes.
- Rinse completely with clean water.
Repeat once or twice weekly for best results.
- Sandalwood Powder
Remove excess oil from the skin and make whiteheads look smaller with sandalwood.
- Combine sandalwood powder and rosewater to make a thick paste.
- Apply to the affected areas of the face and let it dry for ten minutes
- Rise the mask away with warm water.
- Fenugreek Leaves
Use fenugreek leaves to get rid of whiteheads permanently (especially from the nose).
- Grind fenugreek leaves with enough water to make a paste.
- Apply the paste to the face before going to sleep and wipe it away the next morning.
- Rinse the skin completely with cold water.
- Aloe Vera
- Reduce the number of whiteheads present by applying aloe vera directly to the skin on a regular basis.
- Coriander Leaves
- Apply a paste made of coriander leaves to eliminate whiteheads naturally.
- Get rid of whiteheads by using the skin cleansing properties of yogurt.
- Use a mild cleanser to wash the face.
- Combine salt and toothpaste, and rub the mixture to the nose and chin for one minute.
- Rinse thoroughly with warm water.
- Apply a small mashed tomato to whiteheads and let it sit for half an hour before rinsing the face with warm water.
- Combine a tablespoon of lemon juice, a tablespoon of salt and two tablespoons of milk.
- Massage the face with the mixture using slow circular motions.
- Rinse the skin completely and pat dry with a towel.
- Combine four tablespoons of milk with a tablespoon of salt and massage into the skin using circular motions.
- After twenty minutes, rinse with cold water.
Repeat either treatment twice daily for best results.
- Potato Mask
- Blend several raw potatoes into a paste and apply it to the skin.
- Wait half an hour and then rinse it away thoroughly.
- Egg and Honey Mix
- With a fork, combine a tablespoon of warm honey, a tablespoon of organic yogurt, half a teaspoon of almond oil and one egg white.
- Apply to the face and let it sit for half an hour before rinsing with clean water.
- Clay Mask
Exfoliate dry and dead skin cells with a clay mask:
- Cover the affected areas with the mask and rinse with warm water after it dries.
- Warm Towel
To open up the pores, do this hot compress treatment before bed each night:
- Soak a towel in warm water and ring out the excess.
- Lay down, place the towel over the face and relax for a minimum of ten minutes.
- Corn Starch
- Apply a paste made of vinegar and cornstarch (using a 1:3 ratio) to whiteheads and wait approximately fifteen minutes before rinsing thoroughly with warm water.
- Make a paste by grinding a teaspoon of oatmeal, a few almonds and several drops of rose water together.
- Apply it to whiteheads and wait fifteen minutes before rinsing with cold water.
- Rice Scrub
- Make a scrub by grinding rice that has been soaked in water for a least five hours.
- Massage it into skin to remove dry, dead cells.
- Garlic, Lemon Juice and Orange Peel Scrub
- In a blender, combine two garlic cloves, three tablespoons of lemon juice and half a teaspoon of powdered orange peel into a thick paste.
- Cover whiteheads completely with the paste and let it sit for ten minutes.
- Use warm water to rinse the face thoroughly.
Repeat twice daily for best results.
- Sugar and Olive Oil
- Combine one teaspoon of sugar with a couple drops of olive oil.
- Use a soft toothbrush to rub it into the face for approximately seven and a half minutes.
- Rinse with cold water
Repeat weekly for best results.
Using rosewater on the skin every day or adding several drops to a mask eliminates whiteheads quickly.
- Apply rosewater all over the face using a cotton ball.
- Leave the rosewater to absorb into the skin.
- Soap and Salt Mix
- Combine half a teaspoon of salt with a tablespoon of liquid soap.
- Gently rub existing whiteheads with the mixture.
- Rinse the face completely with cool water.
Repeat several times in one day until the whiteheads come out (skip a day before repeating the application if it is not effective the first time).
- Green Gram Flour
- Combine one tablespoon of green gram flour and one tablespoon of jojoba oil to make a daily whitehead removing scrub.
These medicated solutions help to treat existing whiteheads while preventing additional breakouts:
- Benzoyl Peroxide Cream
The antibacterial properties of benzoyl peroxide make it extremely effective for fighting whiteheads and other types of acne. As a keratolytic agent, benzoyl peroxide works by removing dead skin from blocked pores while simultaneously killing any bacteria present.
Warning: Before use, read the label of benzoyl peroxide cream carefully to ensure it does not contain potential allergens. Limit benzoyl peroxide strength to a maximum of 2.5%, as using stronger formulations can lead to excessive irritation and peeling.
- Salicylic Acid
Like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid works by killing acne causing bacteria on the surface of the skin. Additional benefits of using salicylic acid include the fact that it prevents blockage of pores on the chin and nose (common sites for whiteheads) by slowing down the rate at which dead skin cells shed, and reduces the inflammation associated with acne lesions.
- Retinoid Creams
The high concentration of vitamin A in retinoid creams (such as Retin-A Micro) helps to unclog pores and increase the rate of skin cell turnover when applied to affected areas such as the nose and chin. This reduces the instance of whitehead development, while also smoothing out fine lines and wrinkles.
- Alpha Hydroxy Acids
Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHA’s), such as glycolic and lactic acid, dissolve the “glue” that holds skin cells together causing them to block pores. AHA’s also exfoliate the skin and keep pores open so sebum can easily flow to the surface of, which helps to prevent whiteheads and other types of acne.
Other Whitehead Removal Options
Along with the treatments above, individuals can remove large whiteheads by using a stainless steel comedone remover (also called an extractor tool), and the following steps:
- Open pores by first steaming the face.
- Boil water in a large pot.
- Use a large towel to form a tent over the head.
- Lean over the steaming pot of water for approximately seven minutes.
- Place the comedone remover over the whitehead and press down gently until it comes out of the skin. Repeat this step for each additional whitehead present.
- Use a cotton ball and rubbing alcohol to sterilize the skin around the extracted whitehead.
Whitehead Prevention Tips
Once whiteheads are eliminated using the natural remedies or medicated solutions outlined above, prevent them from coming back by using the following tips:
- Use a mild and non-abrasive cleanser to wash the face twice daily.
- Do not use skin care products that contain harsh ingredients or chemicals. Instead, choose organic soaps, toners, masks, moisturizers and astringents.
- Minimize the use of alcohol-based products and body sprays.
- Always use non-comedogenic lotions and cosmetics.
- Remove all traces of makeup and cosmetics from the skin before going to sleep each night.
- Avoid makeup and skin products formulated with oil as an ingredient.
- Never use oil to moisturize the skin of the face.
- Do not pick at or pop whiteheads.
- Every few hours, use oil blotting papers to remove excess oil from the face.
- Avoid spending too much time in the sun.
- Even after whiteheads clear, keep using topical medications to ensure they stay gone.
- Use skin toner (witch hazel is a good natural option) on daily basis to remove dirt and oil from the skin and reduce pore size.
- Use water-based moisturizers to keep oily skin hydrated.
- Remove dead skin cells and whiteheads by exfoliating weekly.
- Clean makeup brushes and other skin care tools regularly to avoid bacterial growth.
- Change pillow cases on a weekly basis.
- Consume a diet rich in vitamins A, E and C by eating nutrient dense foods such as broccoli, sweet potatoes, avocados, tomatoes, carrots and oranges.
- Wash hair on a regular basis (two to three times a week) to prevent oils from transferring to the skin.
- Avoid allergy producing foods as well as those that typically lead to breakouts.
- Drink eight glasses of water each day to keep skin hydrated and functioning optimally.
If whiteheads do not clear completely after approximately eight weeks of treatment, consult with a dermatologist to discuss more aggressive treatment options.