Preventing Blackheads, Whiteheads, and the Grey in Between: Tips and Tricks

What are Blackheads and Whiteheads?

Blackheads and whiteheads are common types of acne that occur when hair follicles become clogged with oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria. Blackheads are open comedones that appear as small, dark spots on the skin, while whiteheads are closed comedones that manifest as small, flesh-colored bumps. Both can occur on the face, chest, back, and shoulders and are often the result of excess oil production, hormonal changes, and certain medications. These types of acne can be stubborn and frustrating to deal with, but understanding their causes and effective treatments can help manage and prevent their appearance.

The Grey in Between

The grey in between blackheads and whiteheads is known as greyheads or grey spots. These blemishes occur when pores become clogged with a combination of sebum, dead skin cells, and bacteria. Unlike blackheads, greyheads have a partially blocked opening, which allows a small amount of air to enter and oxidize the trapped debris, resulting in a grey or brownish color.

Blackheads and whiteheads are better known as open and closed comedones, respectively. Blackheads are open comedones that form when the pore is partially blocked, allowing the trapped debris to be exposed to air and oxidize, turning black in color. On the other hand, whiteheads are closed comedones where the pore is completely blocked, preventing the trapped debris from being exposed to air and remaining white in color.

Sebum, an oily substance produced by the sebaceous glands, plays a crucial role in the formation of these blemishes. When sebum production is excessive, it can mix with dead skin cells and become trapped within the hair follicle, leading to the formation of blackheads, whiteheads, or greyheads.

In conclusion, greyheads, along with blackheads and whiteheads, are common types of skin blemishes caused by the build-up of sebum and dead skin cells within the pores. Understanding the differences between these blemishes can help in effectively managing and preventing their occurrence.

Causes of Blackheads and Whiteheads

Blackheads and whiteheads are common skin issues that can be frustrating to deal with. Understanding the root causes of these pesky blemishes is key to preventing and treating them effectively. From poor skincare habits to hormonal changes, various factors contribute to the formation of blackheads and whiteheads on the skin. By identifying these causes, individuals can take proactive steps to keep their skin clear and blemish-free.

Oily Skin

Oily skin is often caused by genetics, hormonal changes, and using the wrong skincare products. Genetics plays a significant role in determining skin type, and those with a family history of oily skin are more likely to experience it themselves. Hormonal changes, such as those during puberty or pregnancy, can also lead to an increase in oil production. Additionally, using skincare products that are too harsh or not suitable for your skin type can exacerbate oily skin.

The potential consequences of oily skin can include acne, enlarged pores, and a shiny complexion. Excess oil can clog pores and lead to the development of acne and blackheads. Enlarged pores are common in those with oily skin, as the buildup of oil and debris can stretch the pores. The excess oil also contributes to a shiny complexion, which can be particularly pronounced in the T-zone (forehead, nose, and chin).

It's essential for those with oily skin to use appropriate skin care products and maintain a consistent skincare routine to manage oil production and prevent potential consequences. Cleansers and moisturizers designed for oily skin can help to regulate oil production and keep the skin balanced.

A good-quality clay mask will “suck up excess oil from the skin,” Dr. Parks says. He recommends using clay masks “once a week, to help keep your pores clear and keep sebaceous filaments at bay.” And, for a deep pore cleanse, he suggests trying ClarityRx Rehab Mediterranean Detoxifying Mud Mask or Revision Skincare Pore Purifying Clay Mask.

Clogged Pores and Dead Skin Cells

Exfoliating the skin is essential for removing clogged pores and dead skin cells, which can lead to a dull complexion and skin issues such as acne and blackheads. Using gentle exfoliating products, such as a chemical exfoliant or a physical exfoliant, helps to unclog pores and remove the build-up of dead skin cells. This process improves the skin's texture and allows for better absorption of skincare products.

The use of a chemical exfoliant, such as alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), can effectively dissolve the bonds holding dead skin cells together, promoting cell turnover and revealing fresher, smoother skin. Similarly, a physical exfoliant with gentle beads or granules can physically slough off dead skin cells.

After exfoliating, it is crucial to follow up with a non-comedogenic moisturizer to keep the skin hydrated without clogging the pores. This helps maintain the skin's natural moisture barrier and prevents further clogging.

In conclusion, regularly exfoliating the skin is an important step in any skincare routine to remove clogged pores and dead skin cells, promoting a healthier and more radiant complexion.

Hair Follicles and Sebaceous Glands

The skin is made up of various structures, including hair follicles and sebaceous glands. Hair follicles are small pouches in the skin from which hair grows, while sebaceous glands are attached to hair follicles and produce sebum, an oily substance that helps keep the skin and hair lubricated.

Sebaceous filaments are small accumulations of sebum and dead skin cells around a hair follicle, which can often be mistaken for blackheads. Blackheads, on the other hand, are a specific type of acne lesion caused by the clogging of a hair follicle with excess oil and dead skin cells.

The appearance of pores on the skin is primarily influenced by the hair follicles and sebaceous glands. When these structures become clogged with sebum and dead skin cells, they can appear larger and more noticeable, leading to the formation of sebaceous filaments and blackheads.

In summary, hair follicles and sebaceous glands play a significant role in the appearance of pores and the development of sebaceous filaments and blackheads. Understanding the function of these structures can help in managing these common skin features.

Overproduction of Sebum

The overproduction of sebum, the oily substance produced by the sebaceous glands in the skin, can be caused by a variety of factors. Hormonal imbalances, such as those that occur during puberty, pregnancy, or menopause, can lead to increased sebum production. Genetics also plays a role, as some individuals may simply produce more sebum than others. Additionally, stress can trigger the release of hormones that stimulate sebum production.

Symptoms of overproduction of sebum can include oily skin, clogged pores, and acne. The excess sebum can create an environment that is conducive to the growth of acne-causing bacteria, leading to breakouts and inflammation.

Complications of overproduction of sebum can include persistent acne, which can lead to scarring and emotional distress. Oily skin can also be prone to attracting dirt and pollutants, leading to further skin issues.

It is important to seek medical advice for the treatment of the overproduction of sebum. A healthcare professional can recommend skin care products and medications to help control sebum production and reduce acne. They can also provide guidance on managing hormonal imbalances and stress to help address the underlying causes.

Treatments for Blackheads and Whiteheads

Blackheads and whiteheads are common types of acne that can be frustrating to deal with. Fortunately, there are a variety of treatments available to help clear up these pesky blemishes and improve the overall appearance of your skin. From over-the-counter products to professional treatments, there are options to suit everyone's needs and budget. Read on to discover the most effective treatments for blackheads and whiteheads, and say goodbye to these bothersome skin issues for good.

Have a blemish that looks like a blackhead but won't pop? Although their dot-like looks can be deceiving, there are some ways to tell whether that blackhead that won't go away is actually a sebaceous filament. “Blackheads, as the name implies, are typically black in color and raised,” Dr. Rohit Kakar, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist, says. “Sebaceous filaments, on the other hand, are yellowish and have the appearance of a darkened pore. If a blackhead is removed, it likely will not reappear again whereas a sebaceous filament is a normal part of your skin and will reappear in about 30 days.”

Cleansers Containing Salicylic Acid or Glycolic Acid

1. Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash: Contains 2% salicylic acid

2. CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser: Contains 0.5% salicylic acid

3. Mario Badescu Glycolic Foaming Cleanser: Contains 3% glycolic acid

Using facial cleansers with salicylic acid or glycolic acid can provide various benefits. Salicylic acid helps to exfoliate the skin and unclog pores, making it effective for treating acne and reducing oiliness. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, which can help calm redness and irritation.

Tea tree oil is an essential oil that people often use to treat acne. A small 2016 study suggests that tea tree oil may also help with oily skin.

Remember pores can overcompensate if cleaned with overly harsh synthetic cleansers, producing more oil than before in an attempt to play catch up with dehydrated skin. The key to healthy skin is the quality not the quantity of care given. With this in mind, consider using natural products a few times a week; for example, our range of vegan and cruelty-free coffee scrubs. By scrubbing away dead skin and oils, they help to keep acne away, all the while imparting a deep, healthy glow to the skin.

On the other hand, glycolic acid is a type of alpha hydroxy acid that promotes gentle exfoliation, helping to remove dead skin cells and improve skin texture. It can also help to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, making it suitable for anti-aging purposes.

Both ingredients can also help to minimize the appearance of sebaceous filaments, which are often mistaken for blackheads and can give the skin a congested and uneven look.

Overall, incorporating facial cleansers with salicylic acid or glycolic acid into a skincare routine can help to achieve a clearer, smoother, and more balanced complexion.

Pore Strips to Remove Sebum Plugs

Pore strips are a popular method for removing sebum plugs, or sebaceous filaments, from the skin. However, it's important to understand the potential risks and limitations of using pore strips. While pore strips can effectively remove excess sebum and debris from the pores, they can also cause irritation and damage to the skin. Pore strips can also be too harsh and may strip away natural oils, leading to dryness and potential long-term damage to the skin's moisture barrier. Additionally, the results from pore strips are only temporary, as sebaceous filaments will naturally refill the pores over time.

Instead of relying solely on pore strips, it's important to consider alternative methods for addressing sebum plugs. These can include frequent cleansing, gentle exfoliation, and the use of clay masks to help control sebum production. It's also crucial to understand that forcibly removing sebaceous filaments can be damaging to the skin and lead to scarring or infection. Thus, it's important to approach skincare with caution and consider the long-term health of the skin when addressing sebum plugs.

Clay Masks to Draw Out Impurities

1. Aztec Secret - Indian Healing Clay

This deep pore cleansing mask utilizes 100% natural calcium bentonite clay to draw out impurities and toxins from the skin. Its clarifying formula is particularly effective at absorbing excess oil and keeping pores clear.

2. Origins Clear Improvement Active Charcoal Mask

Formulated with activated charcoal, this mask is highly effective at absorbing excess oil and removing impurities from the skin. It helps to clarify the skin and minimize the appearance of pores, making it an ideal choice for those with oily or combination skin.

3. L'Oréal Paris Pure-Clay Mask Detox & Brighten Treatment

Infused with charcoal, this creamy clay mask works to draw out the build-up of impurities, dirt, and pollution, while also promoting a brighter, more radiant complexion. Its oil-absorbing and clarifying properties make it a great option for keeping pores clear and sebaceous filaments in check.

4. Innisfree Super Volcanic Pore Clay Mask

This popular Korean skincare mask contains volcanic clusters from Jeju Island, known for its powerful ability to absorb sebum and impurities from the skin. It effectively diminishes the appearance of pores and helps to keep the skin clear and balanced. Its clarifying formula makes it suitable for those looking to address oily skin concerns.

Hydroxy Acids to Exfoliate Dead Cells

Hydroxy acids, such as glycolic acid and salicylic acid, are effective exfoliants that work by breaking down the bonds between dead skin cells, allowing them to be easily sloughed off. Glycolic acid is a type of alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and works by gently exfoliating the skin's surface, while salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid (BHA), penetrates deeper into the pores to remove dead skin cells and excess oil.

Using hydroxy acids for exfoliation offers several benefits, including improved skin texture, reduced appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and a more even skin tone. Additionally, these acids can help unclog pores and reduce the likelihood of breakouts.

For at-home chemical peel pads containing these exfoliating acids, it is recommended to look for products with a concentration of 5-10% glycolic acid and 2% salicylic acid. Proper application involves gently swiping a pad across clean, dry skin, avoiding the delicate eye area. It is advisable to start with using the pads 2-3 times a week and gradually increasing the frequency as tolerated, up to daily use, for optimal results. However, it is essential to use sunscreen during the day, as hydroxy acids can increase sun sensitivity. Overall, incorporating hydroxy acids into a skincare routine can effectively exfoliate dead skin cells, revealing a smoother, more radiant complexion.

Prevention of Blackheads and Whiteheads


Preventing blackheads and whiteheads is an important part of maintaining clear and healthy skin. These common types of acne can be frustrating to deal with, but by implementing some simple strategies and habits, you can effectively reduce the likelihood of them occurring and keep your skin looking its best. From proper skincare routines to lifestyle changes, there are various ways to prevent blackheads and whiteheads and achieve clear, radiant skin.

Blackheads, meanwhile, should be removed so you can keep your pores clear — otherwise, they'll continue to grow larger in size — but only by a professional who is well-versed in extraction methods. “Many people try to extract their own blackheads by squeezing them, but that can cause great damage to the skin,” David J. Goldberg, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and a Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Mount Sinai, says. “Since blackheads are made of hardened oil and cell debris, they can require a lot of pressure to remove.”

Skincare Routine

Establishing a consistent skincare routine is essential for preventing the build-up of oil, dirt, and dead skin cells that can lead to blackheads and whiteheads. Regularly cleansing and exfoliating the skin, using non-comedogenic products, and incorporating acne-fighting ingredients like salicylic acid into your routine can help keep pores clear and minimize the appearance of blemishes.

Diet and Hydration

Maintaining a healthy diet and staying properly hydrated can also play a role in preventing blackheads and whiteheads. Consuming a balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while minimizing processed and high-sugar foods, can help reduce inflammation and keep skin clear. Additionally, drinking an adequate amount of water helps flush out toxins and keep the skin hydrated, reducing the likelihood of clogged pores.

Avoiding Triggering Factors

Identifying and avoiding triggering factors that can contribute to the formation of blackheads and whiteheads is crucial in preventing breakouts. These factors may include certain skin care products, environmental pollutants, and habits like touching your face or using dirty cell phones. By being mindful of these triggers and making necessary changes, you can greatly reduce the risk of developing these types of acne.

Keeping Skin Hydrated

Hydrated skin is essential for maintaining a healthy and glowing complexion. One effective way to keep the skin hydrated is by using a gentle exfoliant like Paula's Choice SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Liquid Salicylic Acid Exfoliant. This exfoliant helps to remove dead skin cells and excess oil, allowing for better absorption of moisturizers and serums, ultimately promoting hydrated and radiant skin.

The key benefits of salicylic acid in maintaining skin hydration and promoting a healthy skin barrier are numerous. Salicylic acid exfoliates the skin by penetrating deep into the pores, unclogging them, and promoting the shedding of dead skin cells. By doing so, it helps to keep the skin clear and free from blemishes, making it easier for moisturizers to penetrate the skin and keep it hydrated. Additionally, salicylic acid has anti-inflammatory properties, helping to soothe and calm the skin, thus contributing to a healthy skin barrier.

In conclusion, incorporating a gentle and effective exfoliant like Paula's Choice SKIN PERFECTING 2% BHA Liquid Salicylic Acid Exfoliant into your skincare routine can help to keep the skin hydrated, clear, and healthy, thanks to its powerful combination of exfoliation and hydration-promoting properties.

Developing a Healthy Skin Care Routine

A healthy skincare routine starts with cleansing the skin to remove dirt, oil, and makeup. Choose a gentle cleanser that is suitable for your skin type, and use it twice a day – in the morning and before bedtime. After cleansing, it's important to exfoliate to remove dead skin cells and unclog pores. Use a gentle exfoliator 2-3 times a week for best results.

Once the skin is cleansed and exfoliated, it's time to moisturize. Choose a moisturizer that is suitable for your skin type and apply it after cleansing and exfoliating, as well as throughout the day as needed. In addition to these steps, incorporating a clarifying face mask into your routine can help keep pores clear and sebaceous filaments in check. Look for a mask that contains oil-absorbing charcoal and/or clay to help keep excess oil at bay.

In summary, a healthy skincare routine consists of cleansing, exfoliating, moisturizing, and incorporating a clarifying face mask with oil-absorbing ingredients. Following these essential steps can help you maintain clear, healthy-looking skin.