What Causes Blackheads and Whiteheads?

Blackheads on Nose

Blackheads and whiteheads are both types of acne lesions caused by the clogging of hair follicles (pores) with excess oil (sebum) and dead skin cells. These conditions are often referred to as comedones and are among the most common forms of non-inflammatory acne. The primary difference between blackheads and whiteheads is the state of the pore opening and the appearance of the clogged material. Here’s what causes them:

  • Blackheads (Open Comedones):
    • Excess Sebum Production: The sebaceous glands in the skin produce sebum, an oily substance that helps keep the skin moisturized. Excess sebum production can lead to the development of blackheads.
    • Dead Skin Cells: The skin continually sheds dead skin cells, and under normal circumstances, these cells are shed from the surface. However, in some individuals, dead skin cells can accumulate within the hair follicle.
    • Clogged Pore: When excess sebum and dead skin cells accumulate within a hair follicle, they can block the pore’s opening. In the case of blackheads, the pore remains open, allowing air to enter.
    • Oxidation: The combination of air exposure and melanin in the dead skin cells gives blackheads their characteristic dark color. It’s a common misconception that the black color is due to dirt.
  • Whiteheads (Closed Comedones):
    • Excess Sebum Production: As with blackheads, excessive sebum production can contribute to the development of whiteheads.
    • Dead Skin Cells: Accumulation of dead skin cells is a key factor in whitehead formation.
    • Clogged Pore: When sebum and dead skin cells clog a hair follicle, the pore’s opening becomes closed or nearly closed. This prevents air from entering, and the clogged material remains white or flesh-colored.
    • Bacterial Involvement: In some cases, the presence of bacteria, such as Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes), can play a role in the development of whiteheads, although it is more relevant in inflammatory acne.

Both blackheads and whiteheads can occur anywhere on the body but are most commonly found on the face, neck, chest, shoulders, and back. Factors that can contribute to the formation of these comedones include hormonal changes (such as during puberty or menstruation), certain medications, genetics, and dietary factors.

Managing blackheads and whiteheads typically involves proper skincare practices, such as cleansing the skin regularly with a mild, non-comedogenic cleanser, exfoliating to remove dead skin cells, and using topical treatments that contain ingredients like salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. In some cases, a dermatologist may recommend more advanced treatments, such as extractions or prescription medications, to manage persistent blackheads and whiteheads. It’s essential to avoid squeezing or picking at these lesions, as it can worsen the condition and lead to inflammation and scarring.

  • Recent Posts

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Tags