Q: What causes whiteheads and how do I get rid of them?
A: Whiteheads are similar to pimples — small, hard and raised above the skin — but there’s no redness, swelling or contents that can be squeezed out. We caught up with Dr. Debra Jaliman, a dermatologist and author of Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist, on what causes them and the surefire ways to extract them.
What Causes Whiteheads
“Whiteheads form when dead skin cells, oil and bacteria are trapped within a pore,” says Dr. Jaliman. There are three factors that lead to this type of acne. One is the use of heavy, occlusive products that contain ingredients that slow down the evaporation of water from the skin and block pores. Another is genetics. Some people “have a genetic propensity to whiteheads because of hormonal fluctuations.” These can include menstruation, puberty, pregnancy or even menopause. The third factor has to do with how your skin cells turn over. “There are also people with genetic acne where they have a tendency to develop whiteheads because the epidermal cells are more cohesive and the pores are blocked because they don’t exfoliate normally.”
How to Get Rid of Whiteheads
Dr. Jaliman recommends looking for the following ingredients when purchasing acne products — benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid and retinol. For a lotion that hydrates and treats, try Obagi CLENZIderm Therapeutic Lotion ($74, obagi.com). This lightweight lotion easily absorbs into the skin and, with a 5% solubilized form of benzoyl peroxide, it zaps away the acne-causing bacteria under the pores.
“Also, sonic cleansing systems are helpful to exfoliate the dead skin,” Dr. Jaliman says. But she says the best treatment will require an office visit. “I think it’s best to have whiteheads extracted professionally after a full facial steaming.” The steam opens up the pores and a dermatologist or facialist is able to then extract the whitehead with a small tool called an extractor that gently presses on the whitehead.