Turn on your TV and you're bound to see commercials against blackheads and whiteheads. Xian Lim and Daniel Padilla make them sound like they’re such horrible things that can spell the end of the world as you know it (or, at the very least, send your date running away in a jiffy), but are they really as bad as the ads make them out to be?
For this issue of FHM Grooming Guide, we dive deep into blackheads and whiteheads, and we’d like you to come along for the ride. Keep reading to know more about those small, unsightly spots and bumps that can keep your face from being oh-so pogi.
WHAT ARE BLACKHEADS AND WHITEHEADS?
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A blackhead, or open comedo (comedo is the term used to describe a widened hair follicle filled with skin debris), happens when the opening of a pore gets clogged by bacteria and sebum—the oily substance that our skin constantly manufactures to help keep itself protected. Meanwhile, you get a whitehead, or a closed comedo, when the sebum and bacteria buildup has no opening to the surface of the skin (read: the pore is closed).
HOW DO THEY FORM?
Get a mirror and inspect your handsome mug. You see those tiny holes on your face, particularly near your nose area? Those are your pores, and they’re supposed to stay open and clean.
You see, your pores contain sebaceous glands, which produce sebum. Sebum keeps your skin waterproof and protects it from germs, and in order to do that, it has to go up to the surface of your skin through your pore openings. When your pores get blocked, that’s when you get blackheads and whiteheads. Gets?
WHY DOES IT SEEM THAT WOMEN IN GENERAL ARE MORE BOTHERED ABOUT IT THAN MEN?
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Your girlfriend, mom, or sister has a legit excuse to be more concerned about the state of their face. We mentioned that hormones can trigger extra oil production, and the fairer sex undergoes more hormonal changes than men. Menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause can all cause blackheads, whiteheads, and zits (plus all sorts of horrible things like bloodshed and pain and hunger pangs). It ain’t easy being a girl, y’know?
WHY ARE BLACKHEADS, WELL, BLACK?
As we've said, blackheads are formed by excess sebum, which contain melanin, the stuff that gives skin and your hair its color. Now, melanin turns dark when exposed to air. That’s why your blackheads are black. TL;DR: that’s not dirt, so you can stop scrubbing your face now.
WHERE DO BLACKHEADS AND WHITEHEADS USUALLY APPEAR?
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Your T-zone—that’s your forehead, nose, and chin—is most prone since it’s the oiliest part of your face, but you can get blackheads and whiteheads on any part of your body where pores might get clogged. That usually means anywhere from your hairline to your arms. Heck, some people even get them on their legs!
CAN THEY GET WORSE?
Bad news: Your blackheads and whiteheads can develop into full-blown pimples. Your clogged pores contain bacteria, including Propionibacterium acnes. When the conditions are right, P. acnes produces a substance that can make your pores inflamed, hence your zits.
Now that we've discussed the basics, let's move to the important topic of getting rid of these facial blemishes.
HOW CAN I FREE MY FACE FROM BLACKHEADS AND WHITEHEADS?
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Exfoliate! The key to clear pores is regular exfoliation. This involves the removal of dead skin cells from the surface of your skin, which greatly helps in keeping your pores unclogged. You can use a drugstore-bought scrub, or you can try making your own using baking soda and water. Scrub gently, since you’ll make things worse if you scrub too hard (or too often).
Use medicine Go to the drugstore for some acne-fighting gels or creams. The magic ingredients are salicylic acid, glycolic acid, or benzoyl peroxide.
Use pore strips If the urge to get rid of your blackheads and whiteheads is super uncontrollable, get some pore-cleansing strips (the women in your life should be able to help you in this department). Apply them on your blackheads and pull. It might hurt a bit, but your skin will feel incredibly clean after
Extract them If you’re more of a masochist, you can use a comedone extractor to get the gunk out of your face, but this is more dangerous (and painful!) and, if done wrong, can do more harm than good (read: it can cause small wounds). You can do it at home if you know how, but it’s better to go to a dermatologist if you really have to.
Visit your doctor A dermatologist should be able to get to the bottom of all your skin issues—after all, that’s what they spent years in school for. Aside from extracting your zits, blackheads, and whiteheads, they can also prescribe you a regimen you can follow to get skin that’s as smooth as a baby’s bum.
They say prevention is better than the cure so we've also come up with ways on how to avoid getting blackheads and whiteheads.
HOW TO PREVENT BLACKHEADS AND WHITEHEADS
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Mind your hair Since it also contains loads of germs and oil, your crowning glory can speed up the spread of blackheads and zits. Keep it away from your face (goodbye, bangs!) and go easy on the hair product.
Read the labels of your products Blackheads are caused by excess oil, so "oil-free" should be your magic word. You should also look for the term "non-comedogenic" which means that the stuff you’re buying won’t clog your pores.
Don’t touch them! Resist the urge to squeeze your blackheads and whiteheads because, chances are, it won’t make things better. The bacteria from your hands might also make the situation a whole lot worse.
Click here for the rest of our FHM Grooming Guide series!
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