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The Difference Between Blackheads and Whiteheads

The Difference Between Blackheads and Whiteheads

Blackheads and whiteheads, pimples and spots. Acne is a common problem for children reaching adolescence. It’s estimated that around 85% of people between the ages of 12 and 24 experience some level of acne outbreak. 

As your child’s body becomes a factory for the hormones that drive the push toward physical maturity, changes to the skin make them susceptible to the conditions that cause acne. Dr 2 Kids, Smita Tandon, MD and her team are acne specialists, ready to step in when home care can’t control this skin condition. 

Blackheads and whiteheads

Acne causes a number of changes to the skin, including red bumps called papules that may or may not have white, pus-filled tips. Deeper in the skin, larger lumps can form, the solid nodules and the pus-filled cystic lesions. 

Two other common changes are blackheads and whiteheads, both of which result from the plugging of hair follicles. Sebaceous glands in the skin produce an oily substance that forms an outer barrier for skin. During adolescence, the hormone surges can cause overproduction of sebum. 

The surface of your skin is constantly turning over skin cells, shedding the oldest cells, which can then become trapped in sebum, particularly when it’s overproducing. In turn, this mixture can start to pack hair follicles, the skin’s pores, blocking the normal route for sebum to get to the skin. 

Both blackheads and whiteheads form this way. The difference between the two is only the size of a pore opening. Blackheads turn dark because the cells and sebum inside the pore are open to the air, leading to their medical name, open comedones. This causes the melanin in the mixture to oxidize, and it darkens as a result of the process. 

Whiteheads typically form in smaller pores so that oxygen can’t reach the mixture below the skin, and in turn it won’t oxidize, medically called closed comedones. If acne bacteria are present under the skin, a red papule may form, causing inflammatory acne. Until then, both blackheads and whiteheads are surrounded by normally colored skin with little or no bump. 

Treating blackheads and whiteheads

On their own, blackheads and whiteheads are a mild form of acne, and it’s possible for these to exist without any papules, nodules, or cystic lesions. Since blackheads and whiteheads share a common cause, treatments are also the same for both. 

The target for treatment is the plugs of oil, skin cells, and bacteria. Over-the-counter products that open pores, dry out oils, and remove debris can help reduce the number and size of both open and closed comedones. Benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid are two common active ingredients in consumer acne cleaners. 

When home care isn’t enough, contact Dr 2 Kids, Smita Tandon, MD, by phone or online to arrange an appointment. Dr. Tandon will review your efforts and suggest additional treatments including prescription-strength medications when appropriate. Finding the ideal solution for your child may take some trial and error, so book your consultation as soon as possible for the best results. 

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