Like most young adults, chances are at one point in your life you struggled or are currently struggling with a condition called acne. They broke out on your face or another part of your body, and you probably spent a lot of time trying to find a solution. As you probably know by now, there are different types of acne and they can be caused by different factors. Some are inflammatory, some are not. Some create bumps, while others create a small pustule. Here, we will explain acne blemishes, which are called closed comedones.
What Are Closed Comedones?
Closed comedones are a type of acne that doesn’t create pustules and usually aren’t inflammatory. You may know them by their common name – whiteheads,. If they are of the open type, they’re called blackheads. They create a bump under the skin’s surface, which is not inflamed and which does not hurt. This means that there is an abnormally high concentration of oil and skin cells in one location.
Known to break out on the chin and the forehead, there are also cases in which they were found on other parts of the body like the neck, shoulders and the back. The difference between closed and open comedones is usually the state of the pores.
If the pores are not open, it’s a closed comedone (whitehead).. If they’re open, the comedo is exposed to air and external matter and oxidizes, that is, it turns black. In some cases, bacteria can attack the comedones, inflaming it and turning it into a pimple.
Like other types of acne, closed comedones can be caused by both external and internal factors. Everyone gets them from time to time. But if you get them more often, you could be suffering from a type of acne called comedonal acne.
They are more common in people in their teens, as this is the period when the body goes through many changes, and when hormones can go haywire. A hormonal imbalance can cause our sebaceous glands to overproduce sebum (oil) that can lead to the formation of closed comedones.
Adults can get them too. Some studies have shown that smokers have a much higher chance of breaking out with closed comedones. Products like heavy creams, lotions, make-up, and essential oils, have also been found to cause them. Keep in mind that if they break out in different parts of your body, there is a good chance they are caused by something different.
Although not so often, closed comedones can also be caused by trapped hair follicles. These can prevent the skin from shedding the excess dead skin, so it clogs the pore and creates a bump.
Here are some other potential culprits:
- Genes – they can be hereditary. See if someone from your family is or has struggled with them. If yes, there is a good chance that this could be the cause of yours.
- Bad hygiene – people who do not take proper care have a much higher chance of developing closed comedones. Not washing our face properly or as often as we should, can lead to dead skin build up, creating the perfect ground for closed comedones to form.
They sound scary but rest assured that they are usually easier to deal with than other acne. Most people are tempted to pick on whiteheads, as they think they can make it pop out before any excess puss builds up inside. Well, not only does it not work that way, picking at comedones can actually create inflammation and lead to scarring. Don’t pick on them. Instead, try some of these methods:
Benzoyl Peroxide – it can help clear out the excess of dead skin cells you might have on your skin. This way, it will clear the path for oxygen to enter your pores, and for the oil to dissolve. And since some acne-causing bacteria are anaerobic, the oxygen will kill them, thus reducing the chance of further inflammation. You can start with a cream or a gel that has a lower percentage of benzoyl peroxide, use it for some time and see how your skin reacts to it. If you are unsure about the dosage and percentage, consult with your dermatologist.
Salicylic acid – similar to benzoyl, it helps clear your skin and remove the excessive dead skin cells. The difference is that salicylic acid can be effective against hormonal acne too, whereas benzoyl peroxide is much less effective and can sometimes worsen hormonal acne.
Same as with benzoyl peroxide, you can start with products that have a lower concentration, and work your way up. But make sure you have alternatives, as products containing higher percentages can be more expensive.
Glycolic acid – a sugar derivative, products containing it have been known to exfoliate the skin and improve natural exfoliation. Unlike salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide, it does not leave the skin dry, but moist thanks to its regenerative properties that can also smoothen and soften the skin.
Retinoids – commonly prescribed for almost all types of acne, retinoids are the usual go-to for this type of treatment. Retinoids are made from vitamin A derivatives, and they can increase skin regeneration and skin cell production, effectively pushing out the dead skin cells and excessive oil. Keep in mind that at first, your skin will most likely react to your retinoid product. You might see some redness and irritation, but this is considered normal. Start with smaller doses and let your skin adapt. Increase dosage to the prescribed amount when ready.
Some natural remedies can be used to treat closed comedones or help prevent them.
- Tea tree oil – known for its anti-inflammatory properties, this oil can be used to calm your sebaceous glands and prevent the overproduction of sebum.
- Witch hazel – considered to be one of the most used and popular choices for people suffering from acne. It contains tannines and gallic acid, which can help reduce inflammation and irritation, and also open up your pores and help the body naturally rid itself from the closed comedones.
- Other treatments
- Whitehead extraction – this is not something you should be doing yourself. Only a professional should extract comedones because if not done properly, the tissue can get infected or more inflamed, and leave a scar. This is a procedure that involves making a small incision or a little puncture on the spot where the closed comedo is, then by applying the right amount of pressure with their fingers (not too much, otherwise you can make it pop and tear some of the skin, which can leave a scar) and the contents of the comedo should come out.
There are some redness and swelling after the extraction, but this is normal and usually, they recede within a few hours.
Keep in mind that all these treatments come with potential side effects and downsides.
For example, people using benzoyl peroxide should perform a patch test to see if their skin is way too sensitive to it. As it can lead to extreme dryness, most people use moisturizer after benzoyl peroxide, meaning it is not ideal for people with dry skin. If your acne worsens while using benzoyl peroxide, stop using it and visit a dermatologist. Your dermatologist can help your find a more suitable product for your skin.
Salicylic acid is milder compared to benzoyl peroxide, but it’s generally a bit more expensive and it can take a long time in order for you to see the effect. This has spurred many people to up their dosage on their own, which can sometimes lead to the development of side effects like dryness, irritation, and skin peeling. Also, it’s been known to react with other medication like blood thinners.
Physicians say that glycolic acid is generally safe and doesn’t cause any side effects when using products that contain 10% or less of it. But, it can make your skin extra sensitive to sunlight. So if you decide to use it, make sure you put sunscreen on your face (or whichever part of your body you treated) at least half an hour before going out.
The extraction procedure is also considered to be generally safe when performed by a medical professional or an experienced esthetician. If you try this by yourself, you risk inflaming your comedones and causing a bacterial infection. These, in turn, can lead to worsening your acne.
Closed comedones are not as scary as cysts, but they can be just as embarrassing and irritating. Bottom line is, you need to recognize when they start to form so that you can start treatment right away. Not sure if it’s cystic acne or a closed comedo? Or what to start treating it with? Pay your doctor a visit. They can examine it and help you pick the right treatment for you. Before going for the stronger products, consider changing some lifestyle and hygiene habits, as these can play a big role in the prevention of future outbreaks. Remember, lowering the chance of breakout comes first, treating the existing condition comes second. There is little sense in treating something that will most likely return after you stop treatment.