The Best Products For Whiteheads
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Whiteheads — which are caused by a build up of dead skin cells and oil in your pores — are one of the most common forms of acne, but luckily, they’re pretty easy to treat using over-the-counter products. The best products for whiteheads contain things like purifying clay, benzoyl peroxide, which is most commonly found in face washes, and other oil-controlling, bacteria-reducing exfoliants like alpha-hydroxy acids, retinol, and salicylic acid. When incorporating these products into your routine, start with one new product at a time, then wait a few days before adding another one to make sure you’re not causing irritation or redness.
Exfoliating and thoroughly cleaning your skin is essential when it comes to treating whiteheads, but while you’re doing so, try to avoid causing too much moisture loss, which can, counterintuitively, lead to more breakouts. That’s why moisturizing twice a day with a gentle, lightweight lotion and/or serum is important when you have whiteheads, as is wearing sunscreen, which not only protects your skin from sun damage, but also helps prevent dark spots from acne scars and popped whiteheads from forming. Finally, many acne-controlling products, including AHAs and retinol, can make your skin even more sensitive to sun, so that’s yet another reason to avoid skipping even one day.
To shop the best products for whiteheads, including a cleanser, a face mask, a retinol, and a moisturizer, just keep scrolling.
1. Best Cleanser
CeraVe’s budget-friendly Acne Foaming Cream Cleanser is a great daily face wash for anyone with whiteheads and/or other forms of acne. The benzoyl peroxide in here works to reduce inflammation and acne-causing bacteria, while nourishing ingredients like niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and ceramides offer soothing, hydrating, and skin-strengthening benefits.
This foaming wash contains 4% benzoyl peroxide; dermatologists typically advise patients stick to facial cleansers with 5%-or-under formulations since the ingredient can cause dryness and irritation. (Those heavy-duty 10% benzoyl peroxide cleansers, meanwhile, are best reserved for your body only.)
When using any benzoyl peroxide cleanser, apply it to dry or damp skin and wait a minute or so before rinsing it off to give the medicine the time it needs to really do its job.
Editor’s note: You can find more of the best face washes for whiteheads, here.
2. Best Toner
Korean beauty brand COSRX has an excellent AHA/BHA toner that works to clear up congested, oily skin, thanks to ingredients like willow bark extract (from which salicylic acid is derived) and glycolic acid. AHAs like glycolic acid are great for smoothing and softening your skin, too, so this is a nice choice if you’re dealing with rough, bumpy, or otherwise unevenly textured skin.
Toners are an optional step, but some people love them. If you’re one of those people, spritz this directly onto your skin after cleansing or onto a cotton pad before proceeding with your serums and creams.
3. Best Liquid Exfoliant
Similar to a toner, liquid exfoliants are meant to be applied on freshly washed skin after cleansing and before moving onto your thicker products, like serum and moisturizer. You don’t need to use a toner and a liquid exfoliant, as they accomplish similar goals, so take your pick between the two based on which sounds more up your alley (or buy both and use them on alternating days).
Youth To The People’s Mandelic Acid + Superfood Unity Exfoliant is a refreshing blend of botanicals like aloe, rosemary leaf, kale, spinach, green tea, and licorice, as well as skin-clearing acids (including mandelic, salicylic, and lactic) to exfoliate, brighten, unclog pores, and reduce unwanted dark spots, all without drying out your skin. It’s great for treating both blackheads and whiteheads, in addition to generally dull, congested skin.
4. Best Spot Treatment
Got a particularly pesky whitehead? Dab this benzoyl peroxide spot treatment onto your blemish for a super-fast way to dry it up. This oil-free lotion has a concentrated formula comprising 5.5% benzoyl peroxide and lipo-hydroxy acid, a salicylic acid derivative, to reduce the bacteria in your pores that’s likely behind your breakout.
For more French pharmacy products that are effective at treating whiteheads and acne, be sure to check out the rest of La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar line.
5. Best Retinol
Differin Gel contains the retinoid Adapalene, which was a prescription-only acne treatment that’s now conveniently available over-the-counter — and it’s affordable, too. Thanks to the ingredient’s ability to increase skin cell turnover, Differin is amazing for helping with all sorts of skin concerns, including preventing breakouts, unclogging pores, and even treating hyperpigmentation.
Apply a thin layer over your face or anywhere you tend to get whiteheads, like on your back or shoulders, on clean skin that’s completely dry. Use it at night only and follow up with a gentle moisturizer, since retinol can make your skin more prone to dryness, irritation, and sun damage.
6. Best Serum
If retinoids and benzoyl peroxide treatments sound too heavy-duty for you, consider Sunday Riley’s best-selling Good Genes serum. It’s made with lactic acid, which is an AHA that exfoliates and evens out skin for a complexion that looks smoother, brighter, and generally more polished. Lactic acid is a bit of a jack of all trades, offering both skin-renewing and moisturizing benefits. Also, it’s considered gentler than its AHA counterpart, glycolic acid, so even sensitive skin types can use this serum to keep their skin clear and whitehead-free. Yes, it’s a splurge, but the results are worth it — just ask any of its legions of fans (which include countless dermatologists).
7. Best Moisturizer
Cetaphil’s Gentle Clear face cream is a multifaceted moisturizer that keeps skin balanced while also working to control excess oil, thanks to the salicylic acid in the formula. Salicylic acid is amazing for clearing out pores and reducing shine all day long, and it’s effective at both treating whiteheads and preventing the emergence of future breakouts. This moisturizer also contains good-for-skin prebiotics and nourishing botanicals, like white mulberry and licorice root, and is free of both fragrance and oil.
Note that if you’re already using multiple products with acne-targeting ingredients, you may want to opt for a non-medicated gel moisturizer instead.
8. Best Face Mask
If you like to pamper your skin with a face mask, keep this Oars + Alps Oil Attacker mask on hand. It features three kinds of clay (kaolin, bentonite, and glacial oceanic) to absorb excess oil — essential when it comes to treating whiteheads — while niacinamide soothes and supports skin. Also in here is blueberry extract, which offers antioxidant benefits and gives this mask its cool blue color. Use it once a week and be sure to follow up with moisturizer afterwards to keep your skin hydrated and balanced.
Editor’s note: You can find more of the best face masks for whiteheads, here.
9. Best Sunscreen
Oil-free, fragrance-free, noncomedogenic sunscreens, like Clear Face from Neutrogena, tend to be the best bets for oily and acne-prone skin. They don’t feel suffocating or greasy, they won’t cause breakouts, and they don’t add shine to an already shiny complexion. This lightweight drugstore sunscreen sinks into skin nicely, and dries down to a matte finish. It has an American Academy of Dermatology Association-approved SPF of 30 and a water-resistant rating of up to 80 minutes, but be sure to reapply sunscreen every two hours, or more frequently if you’ve been swimming or sweating heavily, to ensure your skin is fully protected.
This is a chemical sunscreen, but if you have sensitive skin, you might prefer a mineral-based formula made with zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. If so, there are plenty of good mineral sunscreens for acne-prone skin available, too.