If you have small white bumps on your face that aren’t red and inflamed, but are still creating texture on your skin, you are probably experiencing closed comedones, also known as whiteheads.
Closed comedones are pimples in their earliest stage, small skin colored or white bumps on the skin’s surface that mostly refuse to be popped. Are closed comedones getting under your skin? Keep reading to learn more about these small bumps and how to treat them.
What Are Closed Comedones?
Your skin’s pores are like tiny tunnels that house hair follicles and sebaceous glands, which produce sebum, a natural oil to keep our skin moisturized.
Sometimes our pores can become clogged when a mixture of sebum and dead skin cells creates a blockage that becomes a closed comedones when it is trapped beneath the skin’s surface. Closed comedones are not red and inflamed or pus-filled like typical pimples or cysts, but they can be the precursor to more inflammatory acne.
While their counterparts, open comedones, or blackheads, are open and oxidized, closed comedones like to stay undercover and remain enclosed within the skin creating what often look like small clear skin bumps. The thin layer of skin stretches over the bump of the blocked pore which can give them their light or white appearance, hence the nickname “whiteheads”. They might have a slightly whitish top, but they don’t come to a pus-filled head like inflamed pustules.
What Causes Closed Comedones?
Ever wonder why tiny white bumps pop up on your face? Several factors can contribute to the formation of closed comedones:
- Overactive Sebaceous Glands: Sometimes, these glands that produce sebum can get a little overenthusiastic, producing more oil than necessary. When there’s too much oil, there’s a higher chance of clogs.
- Dead Skin Cells: Our skin is continuously renewing itself, shedding old cells and making way for the new. But sometimes, these dead skin cells don’t quite make their exit as they should and end up hanging around, contributing to potential blockages.
- Cosmetic and Skincare Products: Certain products, particularly those that are heavy or oil-based, can contribute to pore blockage. Some skincare products and makeup might not suit your skin type, leading to congestion. It’s always a good idea to avoid pore clogging ingredients if you’re prone to whiteheads.
- Hormonal Fluctuations: Hormones play a significant role in our skin’s behavior. Ever noticed a breakout around your period? Changes in hormonal levels, such as during puberty, menstruation, or even due to certain medications, can lead to an increase in oil production, contributing to closed comedones.
Fungal Acne vs. Closed Comedones
While both closed comedones and fungal acne can appear as small bumps on the face, fungal acne, also known as Malassezia folliculitis or Pityrosporum folliculitis, stems from the skin’s natural yeast. Despite the misleading name and similar appearance, fungal acne is not truly acne.
Closed comedones are typically small, white or skin-colored bumps that appear on the forehead, nose, and chin. Fungal acne is caused by an overgrowth of yeast on the skin. It can cause small pustules that often appear on the chest, back, and shoulders, but can also occur on the face.
Key differences between closed comedones and fungal acne include:
- Appearance: Closed comedones are white or flesh-colored bumps, while fungal acne is usually red and itchy.
- Itchiness: Fungal acne is notorious for being itchy, whereas closed comedones usually aren’t.
- Uniformity: Fungal acne tends to appear as clusters of uniform-sized bumps, while closed comedones might vary a bit more in size and spacing.
- Location: Closed comedones typically appear in oil-prone zones such as the forehead, nose, and chin, while fungal acne often appears on the chest, back, and shoulders, but can also occur on the face.
- Inflammation: Closed comedones are usually not inflamed, while fungal acne is typically inflamed and red.
- Treatment: Closed comedones can be treated with over-the-counter acne treatments, while fungal acne does not respond to traditional acne treatments and requires antifungal medications.
If you are unsure whether the small bumps on your skin are closed comedones or fungal acne, you should see a dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment.
Closed Comedones vs. Milia
This duo of small, white, bumps on the face are often mistaken for each other. If you’ve ever noticed small, white, hard bumps on the skin near your eyes you might have had milia. They’re distinct from the softer bumps filled with sebum and dead skin cells that distinguish closed comedones.
Milia, sometimes referred to as “milk spots,” are pearl-like cysts that look like tiny white bumps near the eyes. Unlike closed comedones, milia aren’t related to pores or sebum production. Instead, they result from keratin (a protein naturally present in our skin, hair, and nails) getting trapped beneath the skin’s surface. They are usually found around the eyes and on the cheeks but can also appear on other parts of the body. They are also common on newborn babies because their skin glands are not yet fully developed.
Closed comedones and milia are both small, white bumps on the skin, but they have different causes and treatments. They are often found around the eyes and cheeks.
Key differences between closed comedones and milia include:
- Appearance: Closed comedones are small, white or skin-colored bumps, while milia are small, hard, white or yellow cysts that feel like tiny beads under the skin.
- Location: Closed comedones are typically found on the forehead, nose, and chin, while milia are often found around the eyes and cheeks.
- Treatment: Closed comedones can often be treated with over-the-counter acne treatments, while milia require more professional interventions, like lancing or extraction by a dermatologist.
If you have tiny white bumps near your eyes and don’t know whether they are closed comedones or milia, it is best to see a dermatologist for diagnosis and treatment.
Closed Comedones Treatment
These sneaky small skin-colored bumps are a common experience for many. But, just like any type of acne, there are effective ways to manage and even show them the door.
While you may want to know how to get rid of these tiny bumps on your face quickly, know that patience will be required to successfully treat closed comedones. So, let’s get into some solutions:
This common ingredient for acne treatment belongs to the beta hydroxy acid (BHA) family. Its unique talent? Diving deep into oily pores. Salicylic acid can penetrate pores and help exfoliate them from the inside out. Regular use can help dissolve the debris causing closed comedones, making it a top pick. Look for over-the-counter cleansers and leave-on treatments with salicylic acid.
Retinoids, derived from vitamin A, speed up cell turnover, helping to address existing closed comedones and prevent new ones from forming. However, be prepared for purging as the increased cell turnover brings the blockages to the surface. Whether it’s over-the-counter adapalene or prescription-strength tretinoin, always introduce slowly and wear sunscreen, as retinoids can make the skin more sun-sensitive.
AHAs (Alpha Hydroxy Acids)
This group of naturally occurring acids is often derived from plant sources; some common members of the AHA family include glycolic acid, lactic acid, and mandelic acid. The magic of AHAs lies in their ability to exfoliate by gently dissolving the bonds between dead skin cells on the surface. This promotes the shedding of dead skin layers, keeping them from trapping sebum and clogging pores and helping to prevent closed comedones.
Check to make sure your products don’t contain pore-clogging ingredients. Switch to non-comedogenic skincare and makeup products if needed, as these are designed to not clog pores in order to prevent closed comedones.
Professional Treatment and Extraction
Sometimes, a little professional help is needed to clear stubborn comedones. Dermatologists or trained estheticians can sometimes perform extractions using sterile instruments to remove closed comedones. It’s essential to leave this to the pros to avoid potential scarring or infections.
Dermatologists or skilled estheticians can also offer treatments such as chemical peels or microdermabrasion, helping with both the treatment and prevention of closed comedones.
While it’s more commonly associated with treating inflammatory acne, benzoyl peroxide can also be helpful for closed comedones by reducing acne-causing bacteria, preventing whiteheads from escalating into inflamed acne.
Benzoyl peroxide is available in many over-the-counter acne treatments. You can find benzoyl peroxide in varying strengths as an active ingredient in face washes, leave-on products, and spot treatments.
These tiny white bumps on your face might be small, but they can be annoying and persistent. Know that closed comedones are a common skin concern, and they’ll meet their match with knowledge, care, and professional help if needed.
Find the right treatment for your skin, be patient, and remember: every skincare journey has its bumps, but smoother days lie ahead.