Last Updated May 15th, 2019
What Are Comedones?
Take a close look at your bare face under bright light. Unless you are exceptionally blessed or have been particularly diligent about skin care, chances are you have at least a few bumps, large and small, scattered across your facial skin. Some of them may be the same color as the rest of your skin while others may be darker, or black in color. These bumps or lesions on your skin are called comedones. You may know them by the more commonly used terms ‘blackheads’ and ‘whiteheads’.
Typical locations for comedones are the forehead, nose, and chin. Those that are extremely tiny are known as micro-comedones. Comedones appear when your hair follicles become blocked with dead skin cells and sebum. They tend to give rise to acne if left unattended. Sometimes, they are accompanied by inflammation too. The good news is that it is possible to avoid them and to treat existing ones.
What Are The Different Types Of Comedones?
There are two main types of comedones, namely, open and closed comedones. Blackheads are open comedones. Although these appear as though they are black because of trapped dirt, this is not so. In fact, the sebum that is clogging the opening of the hair follicle is mixed with a debris of dead cells. When the accumulation of sebum is exposed to air, it becomes oxidized. This oxidation is responsible for the black coloration of an open comedo. When this is trapped beneath a layer of skin cells, what you get is a whitehead or a closed comedo.
What Causes Them To Appear? Is There Something Wrong With My Skin?
Sebum is an oily substance that your skin naturally produces in order to lock in moisture and protect the surface of your skin from harmful microbes. This substance is produced by sebaceous glands that drain into hair follicles. Now, any condition that leads to over-secretion of sebum or the trapping of sebum within the follicle can potentially give rise to comedones. For instance, the opening of the hair follicle may be blocked due to excessively greasy makeup products. Also, during puberty, the skin tends to produce more sebum than otherwise. This is why adolescents are more prone to comedones and acne.
Can They Give Rise To Worse Problems?
Blackheads and whiteheads tend not to go away on their own. In fact, if they are left as they are, you could end up with pimples, pustules or cysts, all different forms of acne. This happens when bacteria get mixed into the accretion in your comedones. Bacteria are naturally present on the surface of your skin and this is normal. However, when they come into contact with the comedone, they tend to thrive on the trapped oil and what you eventually get is a localized infection. In order to avoid acne scarring, one must be careful not to pick at the bump or squeeze it or pop it. This can end up releasing the pus and bacteria only to spread further along your skin and cause a bigger acne eruption.
What Should One Do About Them?
If you have blackheads and whiteheads on your skin, do not attempt to pick at them yourself. You could end up with permanent scarring. Instead, visit an aesthetician to extract them for you. He or she will use an instrument known as a comedone extractor to clear away the accumulation in an effective manner without leaving behind scars. The process may hurt just a little but it is very quick and safe.
In order to prevent further comedone formation on your skin, you must take care to follow a regular skincare regimen. Cleanse your face regularly to remove makeup or sunscreen at the end of the day. Cleansing in the morning is a good practice, too, because sebum can build up overnight as you sleep. Take care to use a cleanser that is not too alkaline (higher pH) as this can end up drying out your skin at which point it will go into overdrive and produce a great deal more sebum which will only worsen your problem. If you continue to face problems, visit your dermatologist for a prescription topical application to help increase cell-turnover.
Since comedones are caused by an excess of sebaceous gland secretion, it is always wise to keep your oil intake in check. Avoid deep fried and oily foods. Similarly, refrain from consuming sugar. It is not advisable to wash your face frequently with soaps and face wash as it tends to irritate your skin that can worsen the situation.
Blackheads and whiteheads are early stages of acne formation on your skin. You may notice that you tend to have more of them during puberty or when you fail to cleanse your skin properly and on a regular basis. If you use makeup, ensure that you remove it thoroughly at the end of the day. Otherwise, you could end up with blocked follicles that develop into comedones or acne.
- Comedone is a term used to describe both blackheads and whiteheads.
- Whiteheads are known as closed comedones and consist of oil, dead skin, and bacteria. Blackheads are open comedones which look dark because of exposure to air.
- Cortisol, produced by the adrenal glands in stressful situations, can cause excess production of oils and result in more comedones.
- Acne affects more than 80% of teenagers and young adults and is more common in men because of more androgens.
- Contrary to widespread myth, comedones are not caused by dirt but by excess production of oil by sebaceous glands.
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Dos and Don'ts
- Use apple cider vinegar to treat blackheads and whiteheads since it has anti-microbial properties.
- Cleansers which contain salicylic acid are good for comedone removal since they have exfoliating and antiseptic properties.
- Cut down on dairy- product consumption.
- Don’t use strong cleansers, especially the ones containing alcohol, to get rid of comedones. These cleansers increase the production of oil through the sebaceous glands and lead to even more comedones.
- Don’t pick on the comedones with your nails. It leads to scarring and may even transfer bacteria on your facial skin. Use a comedone extractor to safely remove them.
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