We’ve all been there. Peering into a mirror only inches away from your face and scrutinising the tiny dots all over your nose. Are they pores, pimples, or dirt? Either way, that pore strip you’re plastering on your nose can’t seem to clear it, and you’re frustrated. What you may be dealing with are blackheads or whiteheads—little spots that don’t ever seem to go away despite frequent cleanses, pinching or pulling out. So what are they, and what can you do about them? We go beneath the surface and ask aesthetic doctor Dr Rachel Ho.
Blackheads and whiteheads are similar—the former are known as open comedones, while the latter are closed comedones. Essentially, they occur when all the nasty gunk on your face—oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria—clogs your pores. Whiteheads are covered by a layer of skin (hence ‘closed’), while blackheads are not. “Heat and humidity have been implicated in the worsening of acne due to increased oiliness,” says Dr Ho—an unfortunate reality for us Singaporeans. Both forms of acne exist inside skin follicle openings, which is precisely why it can be so tricky to remove them without the proper products.
The good news is, blackheads and whiteheads can normally be treated with over-the-counter skincare products. Dr Ho explains that seeing a dermatologist would only be necessary “if your acne is not responding or getting worse; or has already developed papules, pustules, or cysts”, in which case medications will be required.
The best ingredients to look out for
When it comes to treating blackheads and whiteheads, Dr Ho suggests four main ingredients to keep an eye out for. The first on her list: benzoyl peroxide. It has anti-bacterial effects against C. acnes (a bacterium linked to acne), reduces inflammation and can have comedolytic benefits as well. Next, retinols, which are keratolytic and have anti-inflammatory effects to reduce acne. Similarly, azelaic acid is anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. Finally, exfoliating acids. As the name implies, these remove the top layer of dead skin, trapped dirt, and excess oil in the pores.
Keeping blackheads and whiteheads at bay once you’ve gotten rid of them is the next hurdle. And—while it can be extremely tempting to—avoid picking at them. Instead, to give your pores a good cleanse, Dr Ho advises washing your skin with a gentle cleanser twice a day to ensure they’re gone for good. Incorporating the aforementioned ingredients will be vital in battling those bothersome blackheads.
Below, see Vogue Singapore and Dr Ho’s product recommendations for managing blackheads and whiteheads.
1 / 5
Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos™ Glycolic Night Serum
This powerful night serum features a blend of acids—glycolic, tartaric, lactic, and citric—to exfoliate your skin and get rid of grime and dead skin cells that could build up.
Drunk Elephant T.L.C. Framboos™ Glycolic Night Serum, $200, available at Sephora.
2 / 5
Avène A-OXitive NIGHT Peeling Cream
Avène’s mighty peeling cream is touted as equivalent to 3 professional peel sessions and only needs to be applied once daily. Simple and effective.
Avène A-OXitive NIGHT Peeling Cream, $55.71, available at Amazon.
3 / 5
Paula's Choice CLEAR Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment 2.5% BP
The Paula’s Choice clearing treatment contains 2.5% benzoyl peroxide, an important ingredient in combating acne. It clears pores, reduces redness, and fights bacteria—everything you need in one treatment.
Paula’s Choice CLEAR Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment 2.5% BP, $33, available at Paula’s Choice.
4 / 5
The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%
With a 10% concentration of azelaic acid, this creamy and gentle formula promises to even skin tone and reduce the appearance of blemishes.
The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%, $21.90, available at Lazada.
5 / 5
CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum
Formulated with encapsulated retinol, liquorice root, and ceramides, this serum tackles acne marks and soothes the skin.
CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum, $32.17, available at Amazon.