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Not all acne is created equal. Some people have cystic acne, some people have nodules, and some people have hormonal acne. Some people suffer from acne mechanica, acne conglobota, or nodulocystic acne.

Confused yet? Don’t be. Today we’re only talking about one very specific type: Comedonal acne.

Comedones are common, and people of all ages can have them. They can be open or closed, and there are different ways to treat them as well as a variety of ways to prevent them. If you’re tired of living with yours, here’s how to treat closed comedones.

What Are Comedones?

So what exactly are comedones? In simple terms, they’re blackheads and whiteheads.

Comedones are those tiny little bumps that so many people have on their forehead and chin. They’re skin-colored, making them a bit less noticeable and lot less irritated than red pimples. Yet they are just as annoying.

A single one is a comedo, also referred to as a papule. They can be very tiny, but that doesn’t make them any easier to treat.

Open comedones are blackheads. Closed comedones are whiteheads. With whiteheads, the hair follicle is completely blocked by debris and oil.

They can exist with or without the presence of other acne on the skin. In some cases, they can turn into painful, red, inflammatory acne.

What Causes Comedones?

While knowing how to treat closed comedones is important, it’s also essential to understand how and why they form.

Open comedones turn black because they’re exposed to air. Closed comedones turn white because they the hair follicle is completely blocked, and no air can get in.

Here’s how they form:

Every hair on your body has a follicle. Oil and dead skin cells, which we all have to some degree, can sometimes clog the hair follicle. When it becomes completely clogged, a closed comedone forms. They often start out painless, but if bacteria gets in, they can turn into painful, red pimples.

But closed comedones aren’t the type of whiteheads on red pimples that so many people can’t avoid popping. These are very different.

Closed comedones are clogged. The pore openings are obstructed. There’s no opening whatsoever, so they can’t just be popped. Because of this, they can be quite tricky to remove. 

So what causes these pesky little bumps to form on the skin? A variety of different factors may be the culprit.

Some creams, moisturizers, and lotions can cause the follicles to clog. Some oil-based makeup products and cosmetics can have the same effect.

Changing hormone levels are often to blame. As your hormone levels change, starting at puberty, your sebaceous glands produce more sebum (aka oil). This excess oil can cause the hair follicle to get plugged up or clogged more easily, forming those irritating little bumps.

But those aren’t the only factors. Unfortunately, genetics can also play a part. Comedones are also more common in people who smoke, have a poor diet, or have an excessive amount of stress. All of these can affect hormone levels and cause an increase in the production of sebum in the skin.   

How to Treat Closed Comedones

Just because they’re not red and painful doesn’t mean that comedones aren’t annoying. They are! These rough little bumps often form in clusters, creating uneven and bumpy patches of skin most commonly found on the chin and forehead.

They can affect your emotional state, have adverse effects on your confidence, and turn into worse acne if left untreated. Luckily, there are several ways to treat them.

Sometimes closed comedones will go away on their own, but that can take weeks or months. If you want to get rid of yours sooner rather than later, check out these various treatment options. 

Topical Treatments to Treat Comedones 

One of the easiest ways to treat closed comedones is with topical treatments, medicinal creams, and ointments. Most people prefer non-invasive treatments to more severe treatments, so it’s usually best to start with one of these first. 

Benzoyl peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is a common ingredient in most over the counter acne treatments. It dries out acne and can even destroy the bacteria in your skin that causes breakouts in the first place. It can be quite effective on closed comedones, but it can take several weeks or months of regular use to see results.

Azelaic acid

People have been fighting acne with azelaic acid for years, though it’s usually only found in prescription acne medications. This powerful agent helps to kill bacteria and clear out pores, making it an effective option for treating closed comedones.

Salicylic acid

Available in a variety of over the counter products, salicylic acid contains ingredients that make the skin cells shed faster. This can help to remove the debris from closed comedones and prevent future ones from getting clogged.

Some products with salicylic acid also include resorcinol, which helps to remove the top layer of skin and makes it easier to shed dead cells. Sometimes, getting rid of the top layer of skin is all you need to unclog your pores.

Glycolic acid

Like salicylic acid, glycolic acid can be found in a variety of acne treatments. It’s great at exfoliating the skin and might be all you need to slough off those dead skin cells and unclog those pores. Glycolic acid does increase sensitivity to the sun, so if you use it, make sure you apply a daily sunscreen as well.


There are a variety of different retinoids, such as tretinoin, isotretinoin, and adapalene. Some of these require a prescription, so if you’ve tried other medications and haven’t seen improvement, it’s time to head to your dermatologist. There’s a good chance your derm will give you a prescription for one of these.

Like some of the products we mentioned above, retinoids help to speed up the process of turning over skin cells. The faster you shed your skin cells, the less likely they are to clog your pores, and the quicker you can clear blockages.

Be particularly careful when mixing retinoids with other exfoliants. Combined with certain ingredients, they can be quite irritating to the skin.

Prescription Medications

If topical treatments don’t work, your dermatologist may prescribe you an oral medication. If you’ve tried topical methods to no avail, schedule an appointment with your derm to see what your next steps should be.

Hormonal Therapy

Hormonal therapy is sometimes used to treated closed comedones in women. It’s not an effective method for men, as it’s used to minimize the effect of testosterone in women. It works because testosterone in women can increase the production of oil, which can create the comedones in the first place.

There are a variety of different drugs and medications that doctors may prescribe, including birth control pills, which can minimize the effect of certain hormones on the body and skin.


Antibiotics are sometimes used in the treatment of severe acne. And while comedonal acne is not necessarily severe, antibiotics can be an effective treatment method in some people. Generally speaking, antibiotics can reduce bacteria on the skin and in your follicles. They can also prevent your closed comedones from becoming more inflamed. 

Home Remedies to Treat Comedones 

Prefer to treat your closed comedones in a natural, organic way? There are a variety of foods and natural ingredients that you can use to make an instant home remedy. Some people prefer to start with these, while others turn to home remedies as a last resort when nothing else seems to work. Either way, these natural ingredients have proven to be effective in some people.

Lemon Juice

Lemon juice can dry up the skin and get rid of oil. It also minimizes inflammation and swelling. To try this home remedy, apply lemon juice to the skin for 10 minutes then rinse if off with cold water.

Tea Tree Oil

Bacterial and fungal issues are often treated with tea tree oil, a natural product that exists in a variety of beauty and skincare products. Tea tree oil is often used to treat skin infections, but it can be effective on comedones in that it helps to reduce bacteria.


Tomatoes contain salicylic acid, making them an effective way to unclog pores and pull out those extra oils in your skin. The best way to apply tomatoes is to create a face mask with a teaspoon of sugar. Leave it on for five minutes and rinse off with cold water.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Like some of the over the counter acids listed above, apple cider vinegar can dry out the skin. To try this method, simply apply some with a cotton ball and let it sit for about twenty minutes. Rinse off with cold water when you’re done.

Medical Procedures to Treat Comedones 

Invasive surgical procedures should always be a last resort. If you’ve tried everything else and still can’t get rid of your closed comedones, it might be time to think about a surgical option.


Can you stand the cold? You may want to consider cryotherapy. As part of this procedure, your medical professional will apply liquid nitrogen to your closed comedones. This will freeze them so they can be extracted and destroyed.


Microdermabrasion is sometimes referred to as “skin resurfacing.” And that’s because it literally changes the surface of the skin. Used on everything from fine lines to closed comedones, this procedure uses tiny crystals to remove the surface layer of the skin. Getting rid of that top layer of skin helps to unclog your pores.

Blemish Extractions

Unless you want a scar, never attempt to do a blemish extraction at home! This should only be performed by a dermatologist or an esthetician with professional medical experience.

The process starts with steaming the skin to soften it and expand the opening of the pore. With their fingers or with an implement called a comedone extractor, the professional will try to bring the sebaceous plug out of the pore. By manually removing the plug, you can see improvement in the skin almost immediately.  

How to Prevent Comedones From Forming

Left untreated, closed comedones can become red, inflamed and painful. If they become inflamed they can become even harder to treat.

If you’re prone to getting them, it’s important to learn some of the best prevention methods.

Closed comedones can be stubborn and take weeks or months to get rid of, so it’s always best to do what you can to prevent them.

Here are a few things that you can do right now to prevent those hard little bumps from surfacing on your face ever again: 

  • Use oil-free cosmetics
  • Wash with mild soap and water twice a day
  • Use gentle exfoliants that include salicylic or glycolic acid
  • Resist touching your face
  • Quit smoking
  • Change your diet to one that’s low in sugar, dairy, and fat
  • Reduce stress by doing yoga or practicing different methods of meditation
  • Exercise more to increase blood flow and improve overall skin health 

If you’re doing all the right things and still suffering from closed comedones, it may be time for medication. If you’ve tried to remove closed comedones on your own with no success, make an appointment with a dermatologist and follow their prescribed treatment method until your skin improves. 

What is the Best Way to Treat Closed Comedones?

The best way to treat closed comedones is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. But when they do surface on your skin, here’s what you can do to treat them:

  • Use topical solutions such as benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, or retinoids
  • Have your dermatologist prescribe an oral medication such as isotretinoin or antibiotics
  • Try home remedies such as tea tree oil or apple cider vinegar
  • Look to surgical methods such as microdermabrasion or blemish extractions

Untreated, closed comedones can turn into painful, inflamed pimples. So once you do get rid of them, follow a strict skincare routine and take preventative methods. With the right habits, you can prevent them from returning ever again!

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Dec 2, 2019
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