Glycolic Acid vs. Whiteheads: Which is Stronger?

Whiteheads are more common than you think; estimates put at least 50 million Americans at the firing line of this particular type of acne every year. It is almost as if this insidious, highly common and frequently occurring type of blemishes has conspired against our hopes and dreams of having a flawless complexion. This, of course, begs the question, "Is using glycolic acid on whiteheads effective?"  Well, let's take a quick but detailed look.

Glycolic acid, apart from being one of the most recognizable skincare ingredients, is first-and-foremost an AHA (Alpha Hydroxy Acid). And like most acne powerhouses, glycolic acid whiteheads-combating prowess has come under a ton of scrutiny in the past few decades. In fact, using glycolic acid for whiteheads has only gotten traction recently due to its easy availability, relative effectiveness and quite affordable compared to other skincare maestros.

Being an alpha hydroxy acid (AHA), it's natural for one to have a few concerns about the effectiveness of glycolic acid on whiteheads. And this leads to many of us asking ourselves questions like, 'Can I use glycolic acid on a breakout of whiteheads?' The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

Can I use Glycolic Acid on a Breakout of Whiteheads?

Whiteheads, as you may already know, are a form of blemish or acne that appears as white, small and round bumps mostly on the forehead, bridge of the nose and the chin. They are quite common nowadays and dermatologists think that they are as a result of ineffective exfoliation regimens. You see, our skin is naturally capable of shedding dead skin cells, debris, dirt and excess oil from the exterior-most layers, something that is known as exfoliation.

That being said, these sloughed-off dead cells, debris and oil can become trapped within the depths of the hair follicle's sebaceous gland which then clogs up the skin pores. Once plugged up, the blocked pore then forms a raised bump that resembles a whitehead. In fact, this is exactly how it earned its infamous eponymous name - the thin skin layer that covers the top of this blemish plug typically resembles a whitehead. Whiteheads can occur anywhere - not just on the face - but also on the chest, shoulders, neck and upper back.

Now, to answer the question, will glycolic acid help whiteheads? It is imperative to note that regular and effective exfoliation is critical to managing the frequency and severity of a breakout involving whiteheads. In a bid to have perfectly flawless skin, most women will tend to mismanage their exfoliation or skin-scrubbing routines by either using the wrong products or using tools that are just too rough for their sensitive skins. And, often at times, the culprit is usually using an exfoliating product that dries out their complexion thereby worsening the situation.

So what's the solution, one may ask. The trick is using a glycolic acid-based exfoliating product regularly, correctly, and consistently. A good example of such a skincare gem is Bloommy's Glycolic Acid Pads. Here's where this powerhouse ability to dissolve and slough off dead skin cells gently really comes into play. Thanks to its minute molecular size, this AHA can efficaciously and quickly penetrate the external walls of the plugged skin cell and, consequently, banish the whiteheads for good.

As soon as the glycolic acid has infiltrated the plugged-up skin cell, this AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) sloughs apart and softens the bonds that are holding up the offending dead skin cells together. After the dead skin and debris that form the whitehead bump are dissolved and scattered, the AHA then works to repair your skin by stimulating the regeneration of new skin cells to replace the sloughed-off ones. Now, it is usually expected that these healthy and fresher skin cells will exfoliate themselves naturally and properly with little to no aid at all. Intrinsically, this prevents a future breakout of whiteheads as the conditions needed for them to develop will be effectively neutralized.

Pertinent Concerns About Glycolic Acid Causing Whiteheads

Some women, in the past, have noted with an elevated level of concern that skincare products that contain glycolic acid may be causing their skin to breakout or, at the very least, worsening their acne. Such a glycolic acid purge is usually very frustrating especially if it is your first time to use a skincare product that has this AHA in its ingredient list.

 Nonetheless, this phenomenon which almost appears like glycolic acid causing whiteheads is not at all new or unusual. If anything, there's a pretty good explanation why glycolic acid initial breakout appears to worsen as soon as you introduce a skincare product that contains this alpha hydroxy acid in your turf.

For starters, as we have identified earlier in this writeup, glycolic acid works by exfoliating dead skin cells from the skin's exterior-most surface. The reason behind the skin purging glycolic acid observation stems from the fact that the process sometimes results in the opening up of microcomedones. Microcomedones, in this context, are clogged pores that are a result of the accumulation of sebum, debris and dead skin cells. Now, opening up these precursors to almost all forms of acne typically almost always ends up in the formation of full-fledged pimples and papules.

Secondly, the first application of a product that contains glycolic acid will sometimes not open up all microcomedones completely. It is in such cases that a glycolic acid acne purge occurs instead. Besides, since this AHA will speed up the cell turnover rate of your skin, it will most probably accelerate the progressiveness development of previously existing microcomedones into blemishes and acne, especially if the exfoliation was not effective enough to extract all of them in the first place. Again, this may result in some form of glycolic acid purge which should be nothing to worry about especially considering that the AHA is just making the acne bubble up, become more visible and, all factors held constant, clear up faster.

How to Deal with Whiteheads after Using Glycolic Acid

Now that you are familiar with the glycolic acid purging process, it is imperative to realize that the only time you should be worried about these glycolic acid whiteheads is if they become severely inflamed or when you start breaking out in areas that you don't usually break out. Now, if this happens, the best course of action to take is to discontinue using the product immediately or start using one with a lower concentration of this AHA. Otherwise, you may want to consult your dermatologist or esthetician.

Far from that, apart from whiteheads, concentrated AHA in professional-grade peels is sometimes known to trigger hyperpigmentation in people with darker skin tones. So if you have Hispanic, Asian, Middle-Eastern, or African American skin and want to try a glycolic acid peel with a content percentage greater than 30%, then you should, first of all, seek an in-depth clarification from your dermatologist or a skin specialist just to avert any unnecessary potential side effects of your prospective treatment.

Either way, it is still vital to discuss all the cons and pros of professional-grade exfoliating peels (or any other new acne treatment that you're looking to try) before taking an educated determination on what to use to clear whiteheads or banish blackheads. And this should be regardless of your ethnicity or skin type. 

The Takeaway

The formation of whiteheads after using glycolic acid is quite expected and, as we have seen, there's a solid explanation behind it. Nonetheless, remember that if you are experiencing deep whiteheads glycolic acid purging, the breakout should not last any more than six-to-eight weeks. If anything, consider changing the product if you are not seeing any meaningful improvements in your complexion within a month of using it.

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