Blackheads vs. Whiteheads: Everything You Need to Know

If you think your large, painful zits are your only problems when it comes to clear skin- think again.

Blackheads and whiteheads can also get in your way of having clear skin. And they can be just as stubborn as your large zits.

Now, you’re probably wondering: How do I get rid of them?

I’ll answer that in a bit. But first, let’s get to know blackheads and whiteheads better first.

The Difference Between Blackheads and Whiteheads

To give you a direct answer, they’re forms of acne.

Acne can be classified as either inflammatory or non-inflammatory lesions.

Inflammatory lesions are very painful, swollen, and red. Some examples include papules, pustules, nodules, and cysts.

Non-inflammatory lesions, on the other hand, are a type of mild acne which is also known as comedonal acne. They form when the pores get blocked with sebum and dead skin cells.

Now, this is where things get trickier.

In essence, blackheads and whiteheads are the same in that they are both clogged pores. But here’s how they differ from each other.

Blackheads are known as open comedones. Their “tip” is exposed to the air which gives way to the process of oxidation.

Think of it like an apple. When you cut an apple and expose it to air, it changes color.

That is oxidization and the same reason why blackheads develop their color.

Whiteheads, on the other hand, are called closed comedones.

They are also clogged pores but they don’t have any opening. Since there’s no way for air to get in contact with the impurities inside the pores, oxidation doesn’t happen and they remain white.

What Causes Them?

There are several sneaky causes of acne. Factors range from your diet, the cosmetic products you use, and even things you use on a daily basis.

But for blackheads, you are more prone to developing them if you have or you’re experiencing any of the following:

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    You produce excess body oil.
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    There are P. acnes bacteria (acne-causing bacteria) on your skin.
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    You’re undergoing hormonal changes or are taking birth control pills.
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    You’re taking certain drugs, like androge​​​​n or corticosteroids.

On the other hand, you are more prone to having whiteheads if:

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    Acne runs in your family.
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    You’re under a lot of stress.
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    You’re experiencing anxiety.
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    You wear too much makeup that could clog the pores.

When it comes to your diet, the foods to avoid are the same for any type of acne. Meaning, the same rules apply whether you’re dealing with inflammatory or non-inflammatory acne.

Take, for example, foods with a high glycemic index. It’s a system that measures how likely a particular food can affect your blood sugar level.

Think of it this way.

Whenever you eat foods with a high glycemic index, your body produces more insulin as a way to keep your blood sugar level low. This is actually a good thing but having too much insulin can create problems for your skin.

Too much insulin triggers your androgen hormones. This results in overactive oil glands which makes you more prone to breakouts.

So, it’s quite obvious to stay away from sugary foods to prevent acne. This means you have to limit that ice cream, chocolate, or even those smoothies that cool you down in the summer.

You can count junk foods as a cause of acne, too. Aside from having a high glycemic index, they have little or no nutritional value (that’s why they’re called junk food).

Potato chips, pizza, and fried foods are good examples. Even foods that have “low-fat” or “fat-free” on their labels can be considered as junk food.

How Are They Treated?

Treatments range from OTC to prescription products. But remember, our body chemistries are different so what works for one may not work for another.


Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are great for treating blackheads. They unclog the pores and kill acne-causing bacteria.

Prescription Vitamin A products (like adapalene and tretinoin) or OTC retinol creams are also a good option. They promote cell turnover and unclog the pores to make acne medications work better.

They can, however, increase your sensitivity to the sun so wearing a sunscreen is a must.

You can also try these DIY face masks for blackheads. Just limit their use to thrice a week to avoid irritating your skin even more.


Salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are great for treating whiteheads, too. But aside from these two, alpha-hydroxy acids like Mandelic and Glycolic acids are also an option.

Mandelic acid regulates oil production and is great for people with dry skin.

Meanwhile, glycolic acid removes the skin’s top layer to allow products to penetrate easier. It helps soften acne scars, too.

A word of caution:

AHAs can make you more sensitive to the sun. So, make it a habit to wear your sunscreen every single day.

Can They Be Prevented?

Fortunately, yes. But aside from prevention, the following tips can also be applied in case you’re already suffering these lesions.

Check out this list:

  • Use makeup and skincare products formulated for your skin type.
  • Opt for noncomedogenic products.
  • Change your linens at least once a week. They are full of bacteria, dirt, and oil that can get into your pores.
  • Clean your makeup tools at the end of each week.
  • Don’t go to bed without taking your makeup off.
  • Stop popping your acne and picking your blackheads and whiteheads. Doing so can cause acne scars.
  • Don’t give up on acne treatments too soon. It usually takes at least 4 weeks before you start seeing improvements.
  • Additionally, never stop using acne treatments once acne has cleared. Continue applying them to prevent future breakouts.
  • Avoid introducing too many products to your skin at the same time.
  • Don’t wash or scrub your face excessively as that can irritate your skin.
  • Always tie long hair in a ponytail or wrap it in a bun, particularly if you’ll be sweating a lot or before you get to bed.
  • Manage your stress.


Acne isn’t limited to those that pop out your skin. There are also whiteheads and blackheads you need to pay attention to.

Although they aren’t painful, they can still be damaging not just to your skin but self-confidence, too.

This is exactly where this handy guide can help you. By knowing what blemishes you’re dealing with, you’ll have a better chance of completely eliminating them.

How do you deal with blackheads and whiteheads? Let us know below!

Hannah Do

Hannah is the founder of ThankYourSkin. Having personally battled acne during her younger years, she aspires to provide an invaluable guide to anyone suffering from it.


  1. Hey thank you very much for clearing the air about whiteheads and blackheads. You have given very brief comparison between them along with their causes and treatment. Thank you for sharing your insights with us.

  2. Hi thank you for this article, i could get a kind of understanding the differences, that helps me make a review for some products which help getting rid of white heads and black heads

  3. Now I completely understand, what are blackheads and what are whiteheads. I little bit confused about that, but after reading your article, I completely understand now. Thanks for sharing!

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