- Dermatologists warn that scarring and/or an increase in acne may result from popping whiteheads incorrectly
- There are a number of over-the-counter-products and prescription options available to help control and remove a whitehead
- When a dermatologist extracts a whitehead using specialised techniques the potential risk of scarring and breakouts are reduced
When a skin oil called sebum, combines with grime, bacteria, and dead skin cells inside a pore, it can develop into a whitehead, also known as a closed comedone.
Squeezing, or popping, a whitehead may appear to be a simple and straightforward way to getting rid of a closed comedone, but according to the American Academy of Dermatology a dermatologist, trained in the removal of whitehead, is the safest way to have one extracted.
Reasons to Avoid Popping Whiteheads
The consequences of popping a whitehead by yourself can negatively impact the skin:
- Touching the face with hands that have not been sanitized may contribute to more sebum, dirt, and bacteria working its way into the pores.
- Pinching and picking at the skin can dilate a pore. By prompting the pore to open, more acne-causing agents may enter the opening.
- Plucking too forcefully and/or scratching at a closed comedone with fingernails can create tiny abrasions where bacteria and grime can be introduced.
Whitehead removal scars
Dermatologists warn that scarring and/or an increase in acne may result from popping whiteheads.
When manually extracting a whitehead the risk that a pore can rupture is possible. If that happens, sebum, dead skin cells and bacteria can burrow beneath the outer layer of skin, deeper into the dermis. The inflammatory response that could follow might translate into a reduction in collagen production, the essential protein that provides the skin with its elasticity. The resulting residual scars can be difficult to treat and reverse.
Professional Whitehead Extractions
The removal of a closed comedone is best handled by a dermatologist. They lessen the potential risk of scarring and breakouts by using sterile equipment and specialized techniques.
While purchasing a comedone extractor is possible, getting a knack for how to remove whiteheads properly is the key. Without the correct skin preparation and aftercare, the small tool, that resembles a rod with loops that contain tiny lancelets attached at both ends, may result in irritation, scabbing and scarring.
If You Must Pop
If you absolutely must pop a whitehead the following tips should be adhered to:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water.
- Use a hot compress to warm and soften the skin in and around the whitehead.
- Squeeze gently on both sides of the whitehead until the pus has been extracted from the pore.
- Dab on a tiny bit antibiotic ointment over the popped whitehead to prevent infection and help with the healing process.
- Don’t force it. If a whitehead won’t pop, leave it alone. Squeezing too forcefully could cause scarring.
There are a number of over-the-counter-products and prescription options available to help control and remove a pimple, blackhead or whitehead. Depending on the severity of acne, the treatment can range from oral antibiotics to prescription and over-the-counter ointments.
A sound skincare routine that can reduce the chances of developing whiteheads includes:
- Washing your face twice daily with warm water and a gentle cleanser to remove impurities, dead skin cells, and extra oil from the surface of your skin.
- Investing in makeup and skincare products that are labeled non-comedogenic, designed not to block pores.
- Exfoliating to remove dead skin cells will help to unclog pores. Exfoliating products like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and alpha and beta hydroxy acids are designed to clean and weaken the ‘cellular glue’ that makes dead skin cells stick together to free up clogged pores.
- Introducing a retinol product into your skincare regime, If you’re not a sensitive skin type, or are dealing with eczema or psoriasis, retinoids can promote cellular turnover and help unclog blocked pores.
- Using clay masks to absorb excess sebum and keep the pores clean and oil-free.
There are stronger, prescription acne treatments, including stronger versions of salicylic acid, and oral and topical Retin-A, a prescription version of retinol.
Popping a whitehead on your own, though enticing, should not be your first treatment choice. Although attempting to unclog a blocked pore on one’s own may appear simple enough, if it is not done properly it can result in acne breakouts and scarring.
A regime of cleansing and exfoliation designed to keep pores clean is the best option to treat whiteheads.
- Sutaria AH, Schlessinger J. Acne Vulgaris. [Updated 2018 Nov 14]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2019 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459173/