Blackheads vs. Whiteheads: What’s the Difference?

Written by Monica Schepp, MPAS, PA-C, Certified Physician Assistant on September 14, 2018 3 Comments

blackheads and whiteheads

Blackheads and whiteheads are both types of clogged pores (comedones) that develop as skin pores become clogged with excess oil, dead skin cells, and other dirt or debris. Both are classified as noninflammatory acne: meaning they are closed lesions that often do not become infected with bacteria, and thus they will not elicit an inflammatory response from the immune system. The exact cause of both blackheads and whiteheads is unknown, but the development of both are influenced by a person’s unique hormones and genetics. Finally, whiteheads and blackheads are equally aesthetically undesirable and bothersome.

While sharing some characteristics, whiteheads and blackheads are visually very different.

What is a blackhead?

While often confused as dirt trapped in pores, a blackhead (or open comedone) is actually a clogged pore that is filled with oil and dead skin cells. The difference is that a portion of the clogged pore at the skin’s surface is open. This partial opening exposes the plugged material to oxygen, turning it black through the resulting oxidation. This gives blackheads their trademark “black dotted” appearance.

What is a whitehead?

A whitehead (or closed comedone) is also a clogged pore that gets plugged in the same manner as a blackhead. The difference is that the surface of the whitehead is completely sealed. The plugged material is trapped within the pore and does not come into contact with oxygen, so no oxidization occurs. Thus, the whitehead appears as a firm white bump.

Treating Blackheads & Whiteheads

Very important: resist the urge to squeeze or pop either whiteheads or blackheads. While seeming like a quick solution, popping your pimple can cause additional pimples, infection, scarring and other long-term issues. (Read more on that here).

Blackheads and whiteheads can often be treated effectively with similar over-the-counter ingredients found in high quality acne-focused skin care products like benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. They do, however, respond to different forms of treatments. For blackheads, it’s best to use an exfoliant along with an acne cleanser to fully unclog the pore and strip away plugged material. In the case of whiteheads, topical serums and lotions tend to work very well.

There are also professional in-office treatments that can help with more severe forms of acne, including acne facials, chemical peels, and light therapy. If needed, your dermatologist can also prescribe acne medications like Accutane.


While there is no sure way to completely prevent blackheads and whiteheads from forming, there are best practices for limiting their development:

  • Follow a sound skin care regimen
  • Use oil-free and non-comedogenic makeup and skincare products
  • Choose sheer powder foundation instead of heavy/greasy liquid foundation
  • Change your pillowcases and clean your phone often
  • Try not to unnecessarily touch your face
  • Always remove your makeup before going to sleep
  • Go with oil-free shampoo, conditioner, and shaving cream
  • Stay well hydrated
  • Eat a healthy well-balance diet
  • Try to reduce your daily stress


Monica Schepp, MPAS, PA-C

Monica Schepp, MPAS, PA-C, Certified Physician Assistant, graduated from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston where she obtained a Master of Physician Assistant Studies. Monica is certified by the National Commission of Certification for Physician Assistants and is licensed through the Texas Medical Board. Monica is a member of the Society of Dermatological Physician Assistants.

3 Responses to “Blackheads vs. Whiteheads: What’s the Difference?”

  1. Avatar Amanda says:

    Very informative! I like the info shared by you about blackheads and whiteheads. Thanks and keep sharing.

  2. Avatar Trisha says:

    But which ones are worse, blackheads or whiteheads haha 🙂

  3. Avatar Melinda says:

    Thanks for sharing your wonderful posts . You are doing great work! I just want to share my success story. Hope this helps. I’ve been using Retin-A (Tretinoin). Very happy I found ‘QACNE365’ in google and got retin-a ❤️. It is hands down the most effective anti-acne, anti-blackheads, anti-whatever skin flaw you may have. It is the only thing that has actually helped with my acne. People comment on my skin daily.

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