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Blackhead vs Whitehead Pimple: What’s the Difference?

It’s the absolute worst. You just get home from a date that you thought was pretty great, and then you see it. There’s a giant, glaring whitehead staring at you in the mirror. Did it ruin your night? Is there any chance of a second date while you were sporting this abomination?

Most guys have some version of that story, but the real problem is what’s missing. A lot of guys are completely unaware that blackheads can be just as big a turnoff as whiteheads. You may have had a date you thought was great end up being a dead end. If you’re looking for answers, check your face for blackheads. The truth might be hiding in plain sight. 

The truth is that guys need to know how to deal with blackheads and whiteheads, so we’re going to shatter any mystery and make sure you know what you’re doing from this day forward.

What Are Blackheads and Whiteheads?

The truth is that these two things have more in common than not. They are two of the most prevalent forms of acne, so this lesson starts by learning more about acne in general. Acne forms when bacteria gets closed into the pores of your skin. Typically, it will feed on skin oils and other naturally occurring elements. As the bacteria grow, they can overfill the poor. This causes a buildup of waste products (known as sebum), and that can create pressure and minor swelling in your pores.

Let’s pause for a second. This all sounds disgusting, but it’s something that happens to every single human being on the planet. The stuff that comes out of acne can have an odor, and some people are grossed out by all of this, but compared to other things going on in your body, this is pretty tame. Hopefully, you can believe that enough to get through all of this without feeling sick.

Unpause. Any time you get a single clogged pore that has a sebum buildup and fills said pore, you have a pimple. When you get a bunch of pimples, it’s often called acne. If we’re being technical, any version of a pore clogging in this way is under the umbrella term “acne.” Blackheads and whiteheads are only two of many ways this can present.

blackhead vs whitehead

The Differences Between Blackheads and Whiteheads

Now that we know how the two types of pimples are alike, we can get into the differences. 


The most obvious distinction is appearance. Each of these forms of acne gets its name from the appearance. A blackhead looks like a small black dot in your skin. At a glance, it can be easy to confuse with dark stubble, but the blackhead will be surrounded by light discoloration (which is sebum just below the surface of the skin). The black part of the acne comes from the melanin in the mixture being oxidized. This is possible because blackheads are not closed off. They are clogged pores, but they’re still exposed to open air.

Whiteheads form similarly, but the acne is not exposed to the air. Instead, whiteheads form in closed follicles. Because of that, the melanin can’t oxidize, and everything remains white. More specifically, the whitehead gets its name because the sebum buildup starts to push its way through the closed pore.


Exposure to air makes a big difference in experiencing whiteheads and blackheads. Blackheads typically remain smaller, and they build up much less pressure under the skin. The lack of discomfort and symptoms allows blackheads to go unnoticed. If left alone long enough, they can grow to a much larger size than your average whitehead.

With whiteheads, you get more symptoms, and they are often harder to ignore. The pressure that builds up in the closed follicle can cause swelling, redness, discomfort, and even headaches. When the whitehead is treated and the pressure subsides, relief can come frequently. 

There’s a second element to whiteheads. The increase in pressure and lack of exposure to air makes them more susceptible to infection. It’s why every doctor and dermatologist in the world tells you not to pop them. When you do, the skin is breached, and the infection risk goes up significantly. With blackheads, the risk of infection is much lower (although the recommendation is still to not pop them).


Because blackheads and whiteheads are so similar, they can be prevented with the same techniques and products. For the most part, washing your face is the means of keeping them from forming. More specifically, there are products and tips that can expand beyond sim0ply washing your face.

Benzoyl Peroxide

This is the active ingredient in a lot of acne treatments. The peroxide kills the bacteria on the skin and helps to dry out pores. When you wash with benzoyl peroxide on a regular basis, you’ll keep the primary risks for forming acne at bay. On top of that, the potent chemical mixture can help reduce existing acne. It won’t always be a fast-acting cure, but it does serve as a double-hitter — simultaneously preventing and treating acne.

blackhead vs whitehead what's the difference

Salicylic Acid

This is another big player in skincare and hygiene. Salicylic acid shows up in a lot more than simple acne treatments. It can help your skin remain soft and looking young (according to the commercials). The concept is that the acid can break up oil and dead skin cells, making them easier to wash away. This minimizes pore clogging, and it gets rid of the stuff that feeds the bacteria that cause acne.

Salicylic acid is also good for promoting cell turnover. This makes it easier to clear pore-clogging materials and keep your face pristine.

Wash Your Hands

It’s overlooked, but there’s wisdom in washing your hands. While your face will get exposed to bacteria just by existing in the world, touching your face makes things worse. You transfer new microbes into the biome on your face. You also spread microbes around. Since we all know that we’re going to touch our face throughout the day (no matter how hard we try not to), the real solution is to keep your hands cleaner. This lowers the spread of bacteria, and it makes you less at risk of developing acne as a result of spreading bacteria to your face.

Wash Your Face Correctly

We couldn’t completely leave it out. If we’re going to discuss acne prevention and treatments, then this is a key thing to do. The lesson is one you have hopefully heard before. You can’t just run water over your face when you shower. You need to use one of your effective soaps with an active ingredient. More importantly, you need to learn how to exfoliate.

When you exfoliate once a week, you actively unclog pores. This is the very best way to prevent any type of acne. Also, pay attention to that time period you just read. You don’t need to exfoliate every time you shower. Once a week is usually good enough.

Seeing a Doctor

If you have acne that is particularly bad and disrupting your life, you can see a doctor. Dermatologists have clean methods of clearing the buildup that won’t lead you to an infection. They can also take care to prevent scarring when they go to work. It’s much better than popping it yourself and rolling the dice.

In fact, that brings us to an important final point. You’ve heard this plenty of times, and it’s repeated for a reason. Do not pop your zits. It doesn’t matter if they’re black or white (Thanks, Michael Jackson!). Popping zits is not sanitary. It does give you the risk of a skin infection, even if you’re skeptical. It’s much more likely to create scars when you do that. You can treat acne with topical products and good hygiene. When that’s not enough, you should probably have a dermatologist take a look anyway. 

Now you know all about blackheads and whiteheads. You know how to deal with them, and, more importantly, you know what not to do. This should be enough to get you by. So, clean your face, get your game on, and have some fun looking your best out there.



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