Covid-19 Information



Whiteheads, also known as closed comedones, are a highly common skin condition typically affecting the skin on the face, neck, chest, and back, though they can occur elsewhere. There are many causes of whiteheads, including oily skin and irritation of the hair follicles. Whiteheads generally affect adolescents, though they can occur in individuals at any age. Whether it develops during puberty or adulthood, acne can be physically uncomfortable and emotionally troublesome. If you have whiteheads or are struggling with acne, a dermatologist in Gainesville with Gainesville Dermatology & Skin Surgery can help. Our team of Gainesville, FL, dermatologists provides patients with effective treatment for their skin's unique needs.

Contact our Gainesville dermatology practice today to schedule an appointment and to learn more about our acne treatments and other skin conditions.

What Are Whiteheads?

A whitehead, clinically known as a closed comedone, is a type of acne that forms on the skin when dead skin cells, natural oils, and bacteria build-up, become trapped, and plug the opening of a skin pore. This form of acne stays under the skin but produces a closed, raised, white bump on the skin. Unlike milia, which are small, white bumps on the skin caused by trapped keratin, whiteheads are typically filled with pus. Whiteheads can cause frustration and seem to develop at the worst moments. Fortunately, whiteheads can be prevented with clinical dermatology treatments and certain lifestyle changes.

What Causes Whiteheads?

The skin contains sebaceous glands covering the face and body, most of which are connected to hair follicles. A whitehead pimple generally occurs when a hair follicle or sebaceous gland becomes inflamed. This inflammation of the sebaceous gland/hair follicle can occur due to increased sebum (oils produced by the sebaceous glands) production, abnormal keratin formation, and an increase in acne-causing bacteria can cause acne to develop on the skin. The primary cause of whiteheads is clogged pores, which can occur for several reasons.

Hormonal changes are common triggers of acne, and puberty, menstruation, and pregnancy can increase the amount of sebum, or oil, produced from the pores. Certain contraceptives may also increase hormone levels and cause acne flare-ups. Whiteheads and acne may also be due to certain genetic factors and can appear following a high degree of friction, such as after using athletic gear. Whiteheads are not contagious and cannot be spread to another person through skin-to-skin contact.

Where Do Whiteheads Appear?

A whitehead can appear anywhere on your body. Whiteheads on the nose, whiteheads on the chin, and whiteheads on the forehead (collectively known as the T-zone) are particularly oily areas of the face and may be particularly prone to different types of acne. In addition to the T-zone, individuals can also develop acne on other regions of their face, chest, back, shoulders, arms, legs, and other skin-covered body areas. Acne can develop in people of any gender and almost any age. Even if an individual has never experienced issues with whiteheads during puberty, they may develop at some point during adulthood and beyond.

Whiteheads Vs. Blackheads

Whiteheads and blackheads comprise the same basic material, typically a combination of dead skin cells, sebum, and bacteria. The main difference between whitehead acne and blackheads is whiteheads are closed pores while blackheads stay open. Whiteheads are a mild form of acne and may be tender to the touch. White or yellow-colored bumps are the main characteristic of whiteheads.

Whiteheads are small but firm and often white or yellow. They tend to develop into pimples and close the opening of a pore. Like whiteheads, blackheads form when pores become clogged with a build-up of skin cells, sebaceous material, and bacteria. Blackheads are darker in color due to the oxidation of build-up clogging the pore and are a form of noninflammatory acne but can also turn into pimples.

Blackheads live within an open pore, which exposes the inside material to oxygen, and can be confused with sebaceous filaments, thin hair-like structures that line the inside of the pore and help oil travel to the skin's surface.

How Are Whiteheads Diagnosed?

Whiteheads on face and body skin are typically typically easily recognizable due to their characteristic appearance and features. Exposure of an open comedo (blackhead) to oxygen causes them to appear dark. Because whiteheads are closed, air doesn't reach them, causing them to appear white or yellow. If you have whiteheads or other severe types of acne, seeking whiteheads treatment from your dermatologist can help heal your skin condition and improve the appearance and health of your skin.

Whiteheads Removal

Removing whiteheads might be tempting; however, it is generally best to use extraction tools or visit your dermatologist to pop a whitehead, as improper removal techniques can lead to visible scarring or an unsightly or painful mark on the skin. What's more, picking or popping whiteheads can cause more harm in the long term. Using one's fingers to pick a whitehead can transfer dirt, oil, and bacteria to the whitehead and surrounding area from the hands. Unattended closed comedone extraction may result in additional clogged pores and subsequent whiteheads and acne.

With regard to treating whiteheads, your dermatologist will determine the best course of action for your skin's unique needs. Generally, topical retinoids are the first-line treatment for whiteheads; however, these can take multiple months before effects are seen. Topical retinoids are used to prevent acne and should not be used as a spot treatment on pimples. When topical retinoids are used, wearing sunscreen daily is critical, as the skin will become more sensitive to the sun. Individuals with inflammatory acne, such as red bumps and pustules on their face, may also be prescribed other whitehead removal products and closed comedone treatment options, such as oral or topical antibiotics. These antibiotics destroy excess skin bacteria, reducing redness and inflammation.

Certain non-prescription medications can get rid of whiteheads on the face and body. Some prescription and non-prescription medications might include the following. For more information about potential treatment options, please contact our dermatology clinic.

  • Salicylic acid
  • Azelaic acid
  • Benzoyl peroxide
  • Retinoids (vitamin A derivatives)
  • Prescription-strength retinoids
  • Chemical peels
  • Laser skin resurfacing

Should You Pop Whiteheads?

Popping whiteheads can be tempting. But, it is best to avoid squeezing your whiteheads, as squeezing them can cause several problems. Squeezing whiteheads can introduce bacteria into the whitehead opening, which can cause an infection, or onto surrounding skin, possiblly creating additional acne spots. In addition, you might irritate and inflame your skin. The skin is sensitive, and the nails are significantly stronger than the skin.

Using one's nails to pop a whitehead can damage and harm surrounding skin tissue. Last, popping a whitehead can cause scarring due to the damage caused by manual pressure. If the whiteheads are deeper within the skin, you might be unable to extract them properly. Instead, we recommend seeking professional whitehead treatment from your dermatologist.

Most whiteheads go away on their own, though it may take some time (sometimes up to a week). It's best to see your skin specialist at the first sign of whiteheads and subsequently follow their treatment recommendations, including products for whiteheads.

How To Prevent Whiteheads

If you have whiteheads, you should exercise care when managing them to avoid irritating them further. You can do this by not touching or picking at the whiteheads, being careful around whiteheads while applying skin care products, shaving, or performing other actions concerning your face or body, and regularly sanitizing items that touch your skin, including your cell phone, sports helmets, sunglasses, eyeglasses, clothing, sheets, pillowcases, and any other items. Often, preventing whiteheads can be difficult to achieve, if not impossible, during normal hormonal changes. But some things, such as the following tips, might help.

  • Schedule an appointment with your dermatologist for treatment
  • Wash your face daily with water and a dermatologist-recommended cleanser
  • Use skin care products and techniques as recommended by your skin specialist
  • Try to use non-comedogenic products and remove makeup at the end of each day
  • Routinely wash your hair
  • Keep hair products and your hair away from your face
  • Do not touch your face with your hands

Misconceptions About Whiteheads

There are several common misconceptions about whiteheads. Understanding what can and cannot cause acne is important for getting rid of and preventing whiteheads. Common misconceptions about whiteheads generally have little-to-no effect on whiteheads. These can include the idea that dirt does not cause acne, greasy foods don't cause acne, and being too rough with your skin can't irritate skin and worsen acne. How you choose to deal with your whiteheads can affect your skin's health. Acne and whiteheads can be frustrating to deal with and uncomfortable to live with. Fortunately, help is available. No matter what type of skin condition you face, our Gainesville dermatology professionals can help you achieve clear, healthy, and beautiful skin. Contact us today to start improving your skin!