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How to Get Rid of Whiteheads: 5 Remedies That Work

Trying to "pop" them will only make things worse.

Acne skinBERNATSKAYA OXANA/Shutterstock

There are two types of acne bumps

Whiteheads or blackheads are small, pin-sized acne bumps that look liked clogged pores. Meanwhile, big, red, swollen, or tender bumps are pimples. Many people call pimples whiteheads when they aren’t, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. The T-zone area of the face—your forehead, nose, and chin—is the most popular home for true whiteheads, according to Anna Bender, MD, a dermatologist at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine.

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So is there ever a good time to pop a whitehead?

Although some people might try to extract or pop whiteheads, Dr. Bender doesn’t encourage this remedy. “This is because it is often hard to tell the difference between a small and large acne bump,” she says. Never pop pimples, or large acne bumps, since that can burst the pimple under the skin causing redness and pain. Plus, you also risk infection or scarring by deeply squeezing, which is why Dr. Bender tells her patients to avoid any and all popping. If you happen to have a pimple instead of a whitehead, check out how to get rid of a zit overnight.

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A professional extraction is an option

It is possible to extract whiteheads, but if they don’t come out easily, your aesthetician or your dermatologist can open them, according to Dr. Zeichner. “Whiteheads are difficult to pick as they have a small connection to the surface of the skin,” he says. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to picking or popping acne.

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Try a spot store-bought treatment

Just because you shouldn’t pop whiteheads doesn’t mean you must tolerate them. Dr. Bender says one good quick-fix remedy is applying an over-the-counter benzoyl peroxide gel or salicylic acid gel to treat the whitehead overnight. Salicylic acid helps by opening up your pores, exfoliating the skin, and getting rid of dead skin cells. Benzoyl peroxide gel, on the other hand, kills bacteria and works quickly on acne, according to Allure.

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Use a topical cream

Another option is using a topical retinoid cream or gel such as over-the-counter Differin gel or prescription tretinoin cream which is prescribed by a dermatologist, according to Dr. Bender. “Topical regimens are the most effective way to tame whiteheads,” she says. Differin contains adapalene—a retinoid product that has a form of vitamin A which promotes skin growth and is also a strong antioxidant, according to Mayo Clinic. No matter what type of acne you have, topicals are often a popular treatment. This is what dermatologists recommend for treating every kind of acne.

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Use tea tree oil to spot-treat

How to get rid of whiteheads without chemicals? Tea tree oil is an anti-microbial, which helps to reduce levels of acne-causing bacteria on the skin, says Dr. Zeichner, and could be a good option for fighting whiteheads. Research shows this could be just as effective as benzoyl peroxide for clearing breakouts. Tea tree oil is in some cleansers and other skincare products, but the best bet is to use it for spot treatments. Wash your skin well before applying diluted tea tree oil to your whitehead with a Q-tip.

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Witch hazel is another natural remedy

Witch hazel is a botanical extract rich in tannins, Dr. Zeichner says. These compounds naturally have an acidic pH, which makes it an excellent skin toner. It also has astringent properties like reducing inflammation and tightening skin, that can help remove excess oil and treat acne. Wet a cotton ball with witch hazel and swipe it over your face, focusing on the whiteheads, twice per day.

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Prevent future whiteheads

How to get rid of whiteheads won’t be in your vocabulary if you don’t have any whiteheads at all. Of course, that’s the ideal situation. To do that, you have to do some preventative work. Dr. Bender recommends keeping up with a good acne regimen. This should include washing your face regularly with an oil-free cleanser twice a day, and using a topical prescription cream or gel at night, she says. It won’t hurt to add in these daily habits of people who never get acne, either.

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