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Acne - Blackheads & Whiteheads

Acne Treatment


Updated May 16, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Treatment of Blackheads and Whiteheads

Treatment of whiteheads and blackheads takes time. Most treatments take several weeks to months before a noticeable change is seen.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide has an antibacterial effect and may also decrease the chemical reaction that changes the lining of the hair follicle. This may help reduce the plugging that causes comedones. Benzoyl peroxide may be used for a mild case of comedones or to help prevent formation of others.

Tretinoin (Retin-A)

Tretinoin (Retin-A, Avita, Renova) is the mainstay of treatment for whiteheads and blackheads. Tretinoin is a derivative of vitamin A and works by increasing cell turnover and reducing the "stickiness" of the sloughed cells. It helps expel the plugged material returning the pore to normal. Tretinoin can be irritating, so specific instructions on how to use it can be found here.


Prescription topical antibiotics or oral antibiotics might be used if some of the blackheads and whiteheads are infected, but antibiotics do not help with comedones that are not infected.

Isotretinoin (Accutane)

Isotretinoin (Accutane) is used for severe cystic acne and has many side effects. It is very effective for comedones when used properly, but is not usually prescribed for mild acne of either type.


Extraction may be used by a health care provider on open comedones. This process is performed using a device called a comedone extractor. This is a small, metal, circular instrument that is centered on the comedone and pushes down the surrounding skin, causing the plug to extrude.

No Need to Suffer

Whiteheads and blackheads are types of acne that affect many people. There are good treatment options available, so there is no need to suffer with this condition in silence. A primary care provider can initiate treatment for acne and follow mild to moderate cases. Severe cases or those resistant to treatment should be seen by a dermatologist.


Feldman, Steven, et al. "Diagnosis and Treatment of Acne." American Family Physician 69(2004): 2123-36.

Habif, Thomas. "Acne, Rosacea, and Related Disorders." Clinical Dermatology, 4th Edition. Ed. Thomas Habif, MD. New York: Mosby, 2004. 167-71.

Haider, Aamir, and James Shaw. "Treatment of Acne Vulgaris." Journal of the American Medical Associaion 292(2004): 726-35.

Zaenglein, Andrea and Diane Thiboutot. "Acne Vulgaris." Dermatology. Ed. Jean Bolognia. New York: Mosby, 2003: 531-5.

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