We all want that flawless, glowing skin.
Unfortunately, blemished skin is a reality for most of us.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne is the most common skin condition in the US with 50 million Amercans affected each year.
And if you are one of the masses, you know first hand that acne comes in all forms.
There is the noninflammatory acne that is characterized by comedones. And then there are the inflammatory varieties that include papules, pustules, nodules and cysts.
Some people have cystic acne, some experience nodules and some people have acne caused by hormones. Even more types of acne include acne vulgaris, acne mechanica, acne conglobata, or nodulocystic acne.
We are going to narrow the scope a bit today and 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?
Comedones are those tiny little bumps that so many people have on their forehead and chin.
A single one is a comedo, also referred to as a papule. But likely, if you have one, you have several. They’re skin-colored, making them a bit less noticeable and a lot less irritated than red pimples. Yet they are just as annoying.
And though they are pretty small, they can be just tricky to treat.
Confused yet? In simple terms, Comedonal acne is blackheads and whiteheads that are caused when your hair follicle ducts get blocked up with debris and oil.
Open comedones are blackheads. Closed comedones are whiteheads.
They can exist with or without the presence of other acne on the skin. Remember how we mentioned Comedonal acne is non-inflammatory? Well, in some cases, your papule can get inflamed, turning into the pain, red blemishes we all think of when we think of 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 the hair follicle is completely blocked with no air.
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.
So what causes these pesky little bumps to form on the skin? A variety of different factors may be the culprit.
Common Clogging Culprits
Although not an exhaustive list, here are some of the major causes for comedonal acne.
That's right. The very skincare products that you are using to keep your face clear could be the very reason you have recurring acne. Creams, moisturizers and lotions that have artificial dyes and fragrances could be leaving behind some debris.
Also, while a good moisturizer is essential for keeping your skin clear and healthy, you want to find one that doesn’t leave behind that oily residue that you are trying to avoid.
Our favorite? Juice Beauty’s acne fighting line. It is clean, organic and truly nourishing for your skin.
Oily makeup leaving behind oil that clogs your pores? Makes sense.
Damaged Hair Follicles
You probably know that picking at your face exposes your skin to a host of pimple-causing bacteria. But squeezing or picking your blemishes can also rupture your hair follicle resulting in those pesky white heads or even folliculitis.
It seems we just can't get away from the negative effects of a poor diet. Since food is a major culprit in most health conditions, it is no surprise that your body's biggest organ (your skin) is also affected.
It's bad for your breath, lungs and skin.
Changing hormone levels are often to blame for acne. Once you hit 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 don't think that hormones are only a problem for younger generations. Adults are prone to oily skin as well and experience hormonal changes that also increase oil production.
You may not like to chalk it up to genetics, but if your family struggles with acne as well, it could be an underlying cause. If this is the case, you will really want to check into a dermatologist if your family members haven't already.
How to Treat Closed Comedones
But closed comedones aren’t the type of angry whitehead-cyst conglomerates that so many people can’t avoid popping. These are very different. Because there’s no opening whatsoever, closed comedones can’t be popped.
Side note: If you're still popping your pimples, stop! You are simply spreading bacteria and making a minor problem much, much worse. If the sight of a pimple is just too much for you to bear, cover that baby up with an acne patch and move on with your day.
But 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. Is there anything worse than putting on your perfect OOTD only to discover that while you can cover up the color of a pimple, you can't cover up the texture of one so easily?
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 treatment options that range from over-the-counter products to professional services and everything in between.
Look for Acne-Fighting Ingredients
One of the easiest ways to treat closed comedones is by adding some acne-fighting ingredients to your skincare routine. Not only is this a relatively inexpensive option, but it is also non-invasive. Win!
Many skincare lines already offer alternatives for acne-prone skin. So if you like your current products (pre-comedones, of course), you might save yourself some research. Clear skin might come as simply as swapping out your cleanser and moisturizer to a different product in the same line.
Acne-prone skin tends to have a slower cell turnover, making your pores more susceptible to getting clogged up with dead skin and thus preventing your natural oils from escaping. A lot of these ingredients help shed the skin faster to help your pores breathe.
How do you know if your products are helping or hurting your acne? Here are some of the most popular ingredients to watch for.
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.
Therefore, it can be quite effective on closed comedones. The downside? It can take several weeks or months of regular use to see results.
Another common name in the acne-fighting world, salicylic acid contains ingredients that make the skin cells shed faster. This can help to remove the debris from clogged pores and prevent future ones from getting backed up.
Sometimes, getting rid of the top layer of skin is all you need to unclog your pores.
Glycolic acid is great at exfoliating the skin and helping get rid of that extra dead skin that is clogging our pores.
This chemical 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.
Talk To the Experts
If topical treatments don’t work, your dermatologist may prescribe you an oral medication. People have been fighting acne with azelaic acid for years through prescription medications. This powerful agent helps to kill bacteria and clear out pores, making it an effective option for treating closed comedones.
If the topical route hasn't been making much of a difference, it might be time to schedule an appointment with your derm to see what your next steps should be.
Your dermatologist may also be able to speak to hormone therapy. 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.
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 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 it 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.
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
- Maintain a regular exfoliation schedule
- 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 look at your skin and come up with next steps you both agree on
- 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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