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Blackheads, whiteheads, milia, filaments and pimples; How to spot the difference and treat effectively

Did you know there’s not just one type of breakout?! Blackheads, whiteheads, milia, sebaceous filaments and pimples... chances are you haven’t put too much time into knowing the names and origins of these different types of pustules, but you’ve likely noticed them in all their different breakout forms because let’s face it... breakouts... they happen to the best of us, don’t they?! So, while breakouts are completely normal, human nature says we want to pop, squeeze and remove these little buggers by any means necessary.  

And that’s precisely why it’s important to know what type of breakout pustule you’re dealing with and how it formed, so you can understand how to treat it most effectively while avoiding the likes of tissue damage and scarring. So as they say, let’s dig in (not sorry for the pun!). 
 
 
What are blackheads? 

Blackheads are a type of clogged pore. Dead skin cells, sebum (oil), daily pollution and even makeup tend to combine, nestle and clog an open pore without inflaming it. They’re easy to spot by their trademark dark, black appearance within a pore. The chin, nose and forehead are the main areas affected by blackheads. 
 
 
What are whiteheads? 

Whiteheads are similar to blackheads in that they are also blocked pores from dead skin cells, sebum (oil), daily pollution and makeup, without signs of inflammation. However, they’re found to have a white head and if squeezed the pore will empty a hard, white-ish sort of squiggly plug. There’s no pus. 
 
 
What is milia? 

Whiteheads can often be mistaken for milia, but milia is characterized by small yellow or white cysts that typically appear in clusters. They form when dead skin cells or keratin (a protein) become trapped under the skin. And as they’re cysts that are under the skin, they’re often quite hard to ‘pop’. Milia are much harder to remedy at home and often they need professional attention. 
 
 
What are sebaceous filaments? 

Sebaceous filaments, often mistaken for blackheads, typically present as dark spots on your nose. But they’re not clogged pores! They’re oil-producing pores that are full of sebum as they work to lubricate the surface layer of the skin. They’re completely normal and if you try to squeeze them, you should only notice a release of oil rather than a hard, plug-like substance. 
 
 
What are pimples? 

Pimples, the most common type of pustule, are usually characterized as a bulging patch of skin that’s full of a yellowish fluid and surrounded by a ring of inflammation and redness. They tend to be caused by dead skin build up, sebum (oil), daily pollution, make-up and even bacteria on the skin. Pimples may also form as a result of aggravated or punctured skin too. They can appear anywhere on the skin and at any time. 
 
 
How to treat your breakout/s 

Now that you’re able to identify the type of breakout you’re having and how it typically formed, you’re in the right position to remedy. While there is no treatment required for sebaceous filaments, you can follow a similar treatment plan to assist blackheads, whiteheads and pimples alike. Hoorah! And when it comes to milia – this one is best left for the professionals. Without further ado... 

Blackheads, whiteheads and pimples 

  1. Cleanse 

Oftentimes, regular breakouts are caused by aggravation and skin sensitivities so it’s best to follow a gentle skincare routine. Gentle ingredients and formulas aim to prevent aggravation and sensitive reactions in the skin, eliminating the likelihood of causing such breakouts in the first place. And with the right ingredients, some cleansers can also leave breakouts feeling soothed (assisting to bring down inflammation) while assisting their core goal which is to clean out pore-clogging impurities from the skin. Check out: 

 

  1. Exfoliate 

Exfoliation really is one of the best things you can do to keep your skin looking glowy and fresh, while removing dead-skin build up and assisting the rest of the pore-clogging culprits. By exfoliating routinely, you can decongest pores, increase skin cell turnover and assist with the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles too. What’s not to love?!  

There’s two ways to go about exfoliation – manually or chemically (a peel). An AHA or BHA exfoliating solution will do all the hard work for you while assisting to lift or dissolve dead skin cells. Check out both options: 

 

  1. Decongest 

Not only do we want to exfoliate the skin’s surface and rid it of pore-clogging build up, but it’s also key to decongest deep into those pores with the hopes of safely extracting dirt (read: without squeezing!). Clay masks are the perfect way to set and forget while your mask does all of the extracting for you. A mask can assist to absorb impurities, excess oil and pollutants while minimizing the appearance of the pores too. Win win! Check out: 

 

  1. Resurface 

While retinol is known as an overachieving ingredient that can assist almost every skin goal under the sun, the key focus of a retinol here, is its ability to resurface the skin. By resurfacing the skin constantly, retinol can prevent clogged pores from occurring in the first place. Retinol can also literally break comedones (a papule) apart which means that impurities don’t stand a chance. Check out: 

 

  1. Soothe 

When you’re experiencing breakouts such as pimples your skin is often inflamed, so it’s a good time to soothe the skin and reduce this inflammation. But if you can find a treatment or a lotion with probiotics, you can also assist to fight against the cycle of breakouts that are caused by bacteria on the skin too. Check out: 

 

Milia 

As a cyst under the skin, the treatment of milia is best left to the experts through a professional extraction. 

  1. Professional extraction 

While it may be tempting to try to pop or release a milia cyst, in doing so you’re likely to cause damage to the skin barrier, tear the skin and/or cause scarring at the site. We recommend visiting an aesthetician in this instance as they can extract impurities without causing any excess damage. So put those pointer fingers down and back away!