Causes and Treatment of Closed Comedones

Is your skin rough and bumpy? Most of us call those pesky little bumps blocked or clogged pores. You might be surprised to learn that these bumps are actually small cysts called closed comedones. A single bump is called a comedo.

This article discusses closed comedones and why you have them on your skin. It also discusses how you can get rid of them.

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

Closed comedones on forehead
Closed comedones on forehead. DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

Symptoms

Closed comedones look like little bumps across the skin's surface. They're not red and inflamed like your typical pimple, and they don't hurt.

A closed comedo develops when a plug of skin cells and oil becomes trapped within the hair follicle, the tunnel-like structure that hair grows from. The plug fills the follicle, causing it to swell and creating that bump you see on your skin.

Closed comedones can happen anywhere on the skin. But they most often pop up on the face, neck, chest, and back.

Some comedones are open. They are also known as blackheads. But in closed comedones, the pore openings are blocked. The oil plug is not exposed to air, so it doesn't turn a brown or black color.

In fact, some closed comedones develop a very obvious white head. These types of closed comedones are called milia. If bacteria invade or the follicle wall ruptures, closed comedones can develop into inflamed pimples.

Causes

Some people are more likely to develop comedones than others. Everyone gets closed comedones every now and then. But if you have a lot of them, and they're fairly constant, you probably have a type of acne called comedonal acne.

Closed comedones are really common during the tween and teen years. This is because when you are a pre-teen or a teenager, the skin's sebaceous glands (also known as oil glands) speed up production. With all that extra oil, comedones are more likely to form.

Teens aren't the only people who get these blemishes. They're also common in adults with oily skin. Some studies suggest that smokers are more likely to develop closed comedones, too.

Certain products that you put on your skin might be contributing to these blemishes. Heavy creams and lotions often clog pores and cause skin problems. Makeup, especially oil-based products, can also do it.

If your breakouts are mostly around the hairline, you might want to take a closer look at your hair products. They might be triggering your blemishes.

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Click Play to Learn More About Closed Comedones

This video has been medically reviewed by Casey Gallagher, MD.

Treatment

Closed comedones can be super annoying, but you can treat them. If you have mild bumpiness and minor breakouts, you can first try an over-the-counter (OTC) acne treatment product.

Over-the-Counter Treatments

Over-the-counter salicylic acid or glycolic acid are ingredients that speed up the shedding of dead skin cells, and they help keep pores from getting clogged. Over-the-counter products take some time to work. Try them for at least eight weeks before expecting to see improvement in the way your skin looks.

Prescription Medications

If you have more than just a few closed comedones, or if you've been battling these bumps for a long time, you'll want to see a dermatologist (skin doctor) for prescription medication.

Topical retinoids are a great choice and most likely what your dermatologist will have you try first. These medications include:

They help clear out existing pore blockages and keep new ones from forming. They also have the added benefit of smoothing and softening the skin.

Other treatments that your dermatologist might suggest are azelaic acid or benzoyl peroxide. For women, birth control pills (when used along with topical treatments) can also help keep those closed comedones from showing up on their skin.

Extractions

Blemish extractions can also be helpful. This is where a dermatologist or esthetician uses their fingers or a special tool called a comedone extractor to remove the plug causing the blemish.

Extractions don't keep closed comedones from forming. You'll still need a treatment to prevent them from coming back. But they can help jump-start your treatment. They also may make the skin look better while you're waiting for your comedonal acne treatments to work.

Summary

Closed comedones are tiny bumps that show up on your skin. They're a type of acne blemish that is common in tweens, teens, and adults with oily skin.

If you have a mild case of closed comedones, you can use an over-the-counter treatment. If it's more severe, you may need to see your doctor. Doctors may prescribe topical creams to help get rid of your closed comedones and keep them from coming back.

A dermatologist or esthetician can also manually extract those tiny bumps to help your skin look smoother while you wait for the topical treatments to work.

A Word From Verywell

No one wants to have tiny bumps like closed comedones blemishing the skin. It can be embarrassing, making you feel less confident about your appearance. If you are experiencing this kind of acne and need help, talk with your doctor. Doctors can provide treatment or refer you to a specialist who can improve your skin's health.

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7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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