- Whiteheads on the forehead typically appear in clusters of small, raised white or yellowish areas of skin.
- Whiteheads occur when dead skin cells clog pores, leading to a buildup of sebum that becomes covered by a layer of skin.
- Cleansers that contain benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid are effective in treating whiteheads.
Whiteheads, also known as closed comedones, are a form of acne that develops when dead skin cells or other debris clog the skin’s pores. This clog prevents sebum—naturally produced by sebaceous glands—from reaching the surface of the skin.
As it hardens, sebum along with other debris, blocks the pores and attracts bacteria, leading to the formation of a comedone. If the clog remains open to air, it will begin to darken, creating an open comedone, or blackhead; If skin grows over the plug, it will retain its white color and form a closed comedone or whitehead.
The forehead is particularly prone to whiteheads due to its elevated levels of sebum production. This, along with certain habits that can impact the area, such as wearing hats or makeup, create the perfect environment in which whiteheads can thrive.
A variety of issues contribute to the development of whiteheads on the forehead, including skin care routine, environmental factors, lifestyle habits, genetics and hormonal fluctuations – particularly during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause.
The forehead is part of the T-zone, the area formed by the forehead, nose and chin, which produces more sebum than the rest of the face due to a higher concentration of sebaceous glands. As a consequence, the forehead is a prime spot for whiteheads to appear.
Sweat and oil from the scalp and hair can also contribute to the formation of whiteheads on the forehead, particularly for those with long hair or bangs. Wearing hats can also impact the area in a similar fashion; hats absorb oil, sweat and bacteria, and can then transfer these substances across the forehead, encouraging whitehead formation.
How to Treat Whiteheads
There are a number of natural remedies, over-the-counter (OTC) products and prescription treatments that can effectively reduce and prevent whiteheads from forming on your forehead.
If you are particularly prone to whiteheads, an effective skin care routine is essential to prevent whitehead outbreaks on an ongoing basis.
- Wash your face using a mild cleanser and warm water, every morning and evening.
- Refrain from abrasive scrubs that can cause skin irritation, particularly if you have sensitive skin.
- Exfoliate two times per week to remove dead skin that block pores; sensitive skin types should only exfoliate once per week to avoid irritation.
- Use skin care products and makeup labeled noncomedogenic, as these do not clog pores.
- Clean objects that regularly come into contact with your face including pillowcases, smartphones and hats, to prevent the transfer of oil and bacteria to your forehead and face.
Home remedies are popular solutions for many seeking to clear up whiteheads using simple, natural ingredients. While these natural remedies are purported to effectively prevent and treat whiteheads, there is currently little scientific evidence to support these claims.
- Tea tree oil penetrates the blockage to help disinfect pores and dry out whiteheads.
- Aloe vera is renowned for its wound-healing abilities. It is an effective healing agent, and can also offer soothing relief when used in tandem with more abrasive acne treatments that irritate the skin.
- Witch hazel is an astringent that can effectively shrink pores. It is also an anti-inflammatory that may help heal whiteheads by both shrinking and drying them out.
- Sea salt can be combined with warm water to help simultaneously dry whiteheads and kill bacteria.
- Aspirin when crushed and mixed with water is a popular and effective acne treatment; it is closely related to salicylic acid.
- Lemon juice contains citric acid which not only kills bacteria but also tightens the skin.
- Green tea is an astringent with antibacterial properties.
- Apple cider vinegar is acidic and works as an astringent that can dry pores.
There are a number of effective over-the-counter (OTC) treatments to help prevent and treat whiteheads. Note that some OTC options will take several months of regular application to produce noticeable results.
- Benzoyl peroxide helps to cleanse the forehead of bacteria and excess oil, providing noticeable results in as little as one week. While its powerful drying effects make it ideal for oily skin, those with naturally dry skin should avoid using benzoyl peroxide.
- Salicylic acid (SA) removes dead skin cells and oil that can clog pores and cause whiteheads. It dries out existing whiteheads to help shrink and eliminate them, and tightens pores to prevent whiteheads from forming. While it can be used for any skin type, SA is ideal for those with oily skin.
- Retinol is a vitamin A derivative that encourages the skin’s natural cell turnover rate, helping to reduce the amount of dead skin cells on the face. It also works to dissolve clogged pores which is especially effective for treating whiteheads. It is important to note that retinol may cause skin dryness for those with sensitive or dry skin.
- Exfoliants not only make the skin smoother, but can also remove dead skin cells. Physical exfoliants use abrasive materials to scrub away dead skin cells, while chemical exfoliants such as glycolic and SA dissolve the bonds of skin cells to allow for proper skin shedding. While those with sensitive skin should limit exfoliation to once per week, other skin types can benefit from 2 to 3 times per week.
Prescription medication and whiteheads
If OTC products aren’t effective, you may want to speak to a dermatologist about prescription options, including oral and topical Retin-A, a stronger version of retinol. There are also antibacterial medications such as oral and topical antibiotics, as well as prescription strength SA and azelaic acids that can kill the bacteria that causes acne.
When performed correctly, popping a whitehead at home can provide relief, however, proper extraction can be difficult.
While a whitehead can be popped using clean hands, a sterilized comedone extractor can offer better results with fewer risks. This small metal tool resembles one arm of a tweezer with a circular section at one end. For proper whitehead extraction, encircle the whitehead with the tool and apply light pressure.
If light pressure is not enough to pop the whitehead, do not apply additional pressure. Give the whitehead additional time to reach the surface of the skin, as safe whitehead extraction can only be performed on whiteheads that are raised and appear close to the surface.
In certain cases, dermatologists can also pop whiteheads using specialized tools and techniques. Their expertise and sterilized equipment lessen the potential risks associated with popping whiteheads.
When popped incorrectly, whiteheads can spread bacteria and oil to surrounding pores causing breakouts. It can also force oil and bacteria deeper into the skin, causing further damage that can potentially lead to scarring.
The forehead is particularly prone to whiteheads due to its high density of oil producing glands and its close contact with oil and sweat from hair.
While certain natural remedies such as tea tree oil and witch hazel may help to prevent and treat whiteheads, OTC products are typically more consistent and effective.
Products containing benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are particularly effective at addressing whiteheads on the forehead. For those with more severe cases of whiteheads or who find home remedies or OTC medication to be ineffective, speak to your dermatologist to discuss options that are available to you.
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