Acne in our teens. It’s the worst. At least it’s happening to most of us at the same time. Misery loves company as they say. Fortunately I had only a mild level, more pimples than acne. I was thanking my lucky stars. Sailed through my 20s and 30s, eating whatever without a thought about nutrition. Hello early 40s. What are these tiny bumps under my skin? Seriously, whiteheads now?
Let’s look at the occurrence of whiteheads in menopause and give you some suggestions to deal with this unfair situation. Most advice is targeted at the teenager skin. The information below is for those long past their teen years…
What are whiteheads?
Whiteheads are a type of acne.
We have pores all over our skin. These tiny openings, which are a hair follicle, are prone to getting clogged with dirt, oil, dead skin cells. When this happens a bump forms. The bump, also known as a comedone, can be open or closed and this determines their appearance – closed comedone is a whitehead; an open comedone is a blackhead.
Being closed, the clogged matter in the pore, (the dirt, oil or dead skin cells) doesn’t get exposed to the air. It remains a white or flesh colour, rather than turning black when oxidised.
Whiteheads are usually not visible unless you stretch the skin. But run your finger over the bump and you can feel it. They are non-inflammatory, meaning they don’t typically cause redness or swelling. Doesn’t mean they aren’t annoying and unsightly, especially when you notice them in the rear view mirror in the car. And I don’t seem to be able to squeeze them out like a blackhead. This is because the opening is closed.
How are they different from blackheads?
Just like whiteheads, they are a type of acne. Dirt, oil or dead skin cells become clogged in the pore, forming a bump or comedone. They differ from whiteheads because they are black in appearance. When the clogged matter is exposed to the air it oxidises and turns a black or darker colour. We’ve all squeezed out a blackhead before, right? You can clearly see a small black dot at the top of this little thing that pops out. That’s the part that has been exposed to the air. Rather satisfying to pop out isn’t it…
Are whiteheads normal after the menopause?
Speaking from experience, yes they are. For me they developed around my chin line. I could see them in my bathroom mirror, catching the light as I tilted my head up.
At first I was confused, thinking that pimples and acne were a teenage thing, associated with oily skin. But my skin is dry, I thought. It had been in the normal range of oiliness until perimenopause, when it dried out like a desert.
So what’s getting trapped now?
Of course there’s still two other things on the list – dead skin cells and dirt. Probably both. Regardless of which one it is, I’m betting dead skin cells as I age all over…, I was not happy with this new development. Research here I come.
What did I learn about postmenopausal whiteheads?
With the drop in estrogen, our rate of skin exfoliation slows down. This means our dead skin cells aren’t turning over as fast as they used to. This explained my situation – dry, dull skin that needed me to exfoliate it.
What else did I learn that was different from my own experience with postmenopausal whiteheads?
For some an oily skin was still a factor. It seems this relates to the imbalance between testosterone and estrogen. As estrogen declines, this doesn’t necessarily mean testosterone levels decline in-sync. With this balance erring on the side of testosterone, over-production of oil occurs. The more oil the greater chance of pores clogging. So it’s not just the drop in estrogen but it’s the relative ratio change between estrogen and testosterone.
Did others have a similar experience with postmenopausal whiteheads?
I discovered I’m definitely not alone in my whitehead breakout postmenopausal. Mine were predominantly located on my chin line, but others listed these areas as common spots for whiteheads. The common theme here is spots where hair follicles are denser.
around the corners of the mouth,
Did I find a solution to my whiteheads break out?
I decided dead skin cells were the most likely cause of my whiteheads. If my skin was 20 years younger I would have reached for an exfoliating scrub to scratch those dead skin cells away. Don’t tell my daughter…but I did try her glycolic scrub first, a hybrid chemical and silica beads exfoliant. Disastrous. It may have removed the dead skin cells but the damage it did wasn’t worth it. My already dry skin was now drier and a bit flaky. No surprises I suppose, given it was a glycolic acid…but it was there and I had to experiment.
So what worked for me?
Using a washcloth to gently polish the layer of dead skin cells away. The critical word here is gently. No need to rub vigorously. A tip I picked up was to wait a minute for the skin to soften from the warm water and then polish the skin using small circular motions.
What washcloth do I use?
It needs to be soft so as not to damage and tear your skin which is now more delicate and thinner since the menopause. For me the perfect cloth was a microfiber cloth. You don’t want to use a harsh, sandpaper-like cloth. And definitely not a loofah.
I don’t think you need to buy a ‘special’ facial washcloth either. In my experience, microfibre is microfibre, whether it is in fancy packaging or not.
How often do I use a washcloth to exfoliate?
Once a week, while in the shower, with warm water, not scorching hot. Applying a moisturiser afterwards is important too, but I would do that after a shower anyway. More than twice a week and I found my skin was drier than normal from over-exfoliation. The little bit of oil I was producing was getting washed and rubbed away.
Keeping the cloth clean is important. You don’t want to be risking any bacteria being transferred from the cloth to the skin you’re trying to keep clean. All the good work you’ve done will be quickly undone, maybe worse.
It’s easy to make sure this doesn’t happen. After the shower, throw the washcloth in the laundry. Being a microfibre cloth it will dry quickly in time for the following week you want to exfoliate again.
What have other people tried to overcome their whiteheads?
Benzoyl peroxide is probably the most popular over the counter treatment for acne. As an effective way to kill acne bacteria and unclog pores, it’s found in cleansers, creams and gels. But it’s incredibly drying. And when your menopausal skin is already dry, from a lack of estrogen, it’s the last thing you want to do, apply something that makes it even drier. Don’t disregard it as a possible solution though as there are gentle versions with less drying effects. In fact, according to a study on benzoyl peroxide as an acne treatment, the 2.5% formulation was just as effective as the 5% and 10% concentrations.
Salicylic acid, used for unclogging pores. It exfoliates the skin, removing the dead skin cells that can get trapped and result in whiteheads. But the same applies as the benzoyl peroxide advice, look for a low percentage concentration (like 1% or even lower) and don’t over apply it. Definitely not daily.
Eliminate dairy, a known trigger for many. It may not only be the lactose in dairy causing the inflammation and reaction, but for some it’s the protein the body isn’t liking.
Hydrate, hydrate and hydrate again. We’ve always been told to keep up the water intake. I know I forget to drink water throughout the day. It hits me around 3pm when everything from my eyes to be fingertips are dry. Excuse me while I go take three gulps of water…
I’ve never had whiteheads before now. Yes blackheads, which I have to admit, I take a lot of pleasure squeezing. I know I shouldn’t but who doesn’t like the instant success of a blackhead popping out…
The whiteheads had me confused as I couldn’t really see them as clearly, just felt them. Thankfully I managed to clear them up with gentle polishing of the skin with a microfibre washcloth. And increasing my water intake throughout the day. Knowing I wasn’t alone was a comforting thought that was always in the back of my mind.
Be kind to yourself everyone!