Hi, hello, and welcome to my all-time favorite topic: whiteheads. Even though these pus-filled bbs are one of the more, uh, frustrating forms of acne to deal with, they also happen to be one of the easiest to treat (woo!). And, nope, the treatment doesn’t involve any picking or popping—it’s all about finding the right products that actually work with your skin, instead of against it. Sound impossible? I promise you it’s not, as long as you know where to start. Keep reading to learn how to get rid of whiteheads fast, along with the very best (and dermatologist-approved) products to try ASAP. But first! A little background reading:
What causes whiteheads on your face?
Before you learn how to treat whiteheads, it’s important to know what causes them in the first place.“Whiteheads are formed when skin cells stick together and trap oil under the skin’s outermost surface,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital. They’re most commonly caused by hormonal changes, clogged pores, and/or irritation. So, all the fun things.
An important distinction: The difference between whiteheads and blackheads is that with a blackhead, the oil is exposed to the air and oxidizes (think of how a banana oxidizes and turns black when air hits it); whereas with whiteheads, the oil is covered by a thin layer of skin, trapping it within the pore until you get a visible white bump.
How do you get rid of whiteheads?
Acids! Yummy, yummy acids. “The most common ingredient used to treat whiteheads is salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid (BHA) that works to open up your pores,” says Dr. Zeichner. That, BTW, is great news for you, because there are so many good salicylic acid products on the market right now, among other whitehead-fighting ingredients like glycolic acid (an alpha hydroxy acid) and retinol.
Just know that while active ingredients are super effective, they can also be pretty drying. A good rule of thumb is to stick to one whitehead treatment at a time (no doubling up on medicated cleansers, serums, and toners, pls) and use it once every two to three nights until you know your skin can handle it. Got it? Good. Now keep scrolling for what you really came here for: the best whitehead treatments of all time.
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Best Spot Treatment for Whiteheads
Kinship Pimple Potion Retinal + Salicylic Acid Acne Treatment
A teeny-tiny dab of this fast-acting spot treatment is all you need to zap your whiteheads. It’s got one powerhouse of a formula—shout out to the blend of pore-clearing and oil-zapping ingredients like 2 percent salicylic acid and vitamin A—and the silky, lightweight texture dries down quickly (no greasy residue, TYVM).
Best Moisturizer for Whiteheads
BeautyStat Universal Pro-Bio Moisture Boost Cream
Here’s the thing: If you’re treating your whiteheads with active ingredients every few nights, the last thing you want to do is top it all off with a harsh or irritating moisturizer. Remember: Your skin is going to need some extra hydration. Instead, go for a face cream that’s moisturizing, gentle, and fragrance-free—like this one from BeautyStat.
Best Peel Pads for Whiteheads
Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel
PSA: These peel pads are def too strong for sensitive skin types—so if that’s you, keep scrolling along. But if you aren’t easily irritated, you’ll love this powerful formula. It’s got a whopping five alpha and beta hydroxy acids (including salicylic, glycolic, and lactic) and retinol (a godsend for preventing clogged pores), so your whiteheads are in good hands.
Best Face Mask for Whiteheads
Bolden Clear Skin Clay Sulfur Mask
Uh, yeah—your whiteheads stand zero chance against this face mask. Thanks to a combination of bacteria-fighting sulfur and oil-zapping bentonite clay, the formula works to treat (and prevent) whiteheads and breakouts fast. A little goes along way, though, k? Start with a dime-sized amount, adding a little more should you need it.
Best Salicylic Acid Cleanser for Whiteheads
The Inkey List Salicylic Acid Acne + Pore Cleanser
Remember when I said your moisturizer needs to be extra gentle? Same goes for your face wash (think: you want something creamy and basic). But if you’re looking for something with a bit more of a whitehead-fighting kick, sub in this salicylic acid cleanser every three days. It’s also got anti-inflammatory zinc and skin-soothing allantoin.
Best Drugstore Whitehead Treatment
Neutrogena Rapid Clear Acne Eliminating Spot Treatment Gel
Those with acne-prone, oily, and combination skin can look to this budget-friendly solution to treat whiteheads and zits as they pop up. Just smooth a small dot on clean skin and the salicylic acid- and witch hazel–spiked formula will work to minimize your whiteheads over time. Pro tip: Try doing your whole skincare routine (moisturizer included), wipe your zit clean with a cotton swab, and then smooth this bb on.
Best Retinoid for Whiteheads
Differin Acne Gel Treatment
According to dermatologist Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, MD, retinoids not only normalize skin cell turnover but also have anti-inflammatory properties, improve skin texture, and tone with regular use. “Adapalene, a type of retinoid, is generally more tolerable and gentle compared to other retinoids,” she says, adding that Differin (adapalene) is also “photo-stable, so it can be used during the day or at night.” Another pro? It works to prevent skin cells from sticking together (aka the root cause of clogged pores).
Best AHA Cleanser for Whiteheads
Mario Badescu Glycolic Foaming Cleanser
This cult-favorite cleanser eradicates whiteheads with a high dose of glycolic acid, an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) that Dr. Zeichner says will dissolve excess oil and exfoliate dead cells. Just keep in mind that the formula is too harsh for nightly use, so you’ll want to alternate it with a creamier, more hydrating cleanser (like CeraVe Hydrating Facial Cleanser) every two to three nights.
Best Exfoliator for Whiteheads
For those dealing with serious (or long-standing) acne concerns, dermatologist Joyce Imahiyerobo-Ip, MD, recommends trying chemical peel treatments. “In-office chemical peels contain higher concentrations of acids than what you can find in over-the-counter products,” she says. “The acids found in the peels will literally dissolve the plugs that are causing your blackheads and whiteheads.” Basically, no plugs equals no whiteheads. On a similar note, a chemical exfoliant like Glossier’s Solution can help remove pore-clogging dead cells via alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), beta hydroxy acid (BHA), and polyhydroxy acids (PHA).
Best Pimple Patches for Whiteheads
Peace Out Acne Healing Dots
I know, I know. A super-inflamed, painful-to-the-touch pimple is just begging to be popped. But seriously—don’t do it. Instead, enlist the help of Peace Out’s Acne Spot Dots—a hydrocolloid patch that’s infused with acne-fighting ingredients (salicylic acid, vitamin A, and aloe vera). Not only will it protect your zit from bacteria, but it’ll also minimize the size of your whitehead(s) overnight.
Best Serum for Whiteheads
Cosrx AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid
This K-Beauty serum has gone viral on Reddit, thanks to its powerful blend of glycolic acid, apple water (a natural AHA), and skin-brightening niacinamide. If you’re new to AHAs, work the formula across clean skin once every three nights before transitioning to nightly use. Pro tip: Active ingredients work best if you wait 30 minutes before layering on moisturizers or oils.
Best Sunscreen for Whiteheads
Supergoop Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40
Regardless of which acne treatments you choose, be warned that almost all of them can make your skin ultra sensitive to the sun, which means you absolutely need to layer on the sunscreen in the mornings (yes, even if you use your acne products at night). Supergoop’s Unseen Sunscreen—a weightless, scentless, oil-free, broad-spectrum formula—works on a variety of skin tones without leaving behind a weird, chalky residue.
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