Main content
Comedonal Blemishes: Your 101 Guide To These Common Breakouts


What Are Comedones?

If you have oily skin, there’s a good chance you’ve also experienced comedonal blemishes. Here, Kiehl’s answers what a comedone is and how to manage them at home.

Blemishes are one of the most common skin concerns, with up to 85% of teens and 15% of adults experiencing at least occasional breakouts. That being said, not all of these are equal. There are a lot of different types of blemishes, and some are easier to manage than others. Comedones, more commonly known as clogged pores, are one of the mildest types of breakouts. Thankfully, these types of blemishes are relatively easy to address at home with the right skincare products and routine.

Here, we’ll teach you everything you need to know about comedones, from what they are to their various causes. You’ll also learn a bit about how they differ from pimples and discover five of our top tips for managing comedonal breakouts from the comfort of your home. Read on for your Kiehl’s guide to comedonal blemishes.

What Are Comedonal Blemishes?

Comedonal blemishes describe minor blemishes like blackheads and whiteheads. It gets its name from the word “comedo,” which is the medical name for a clogged pore. These blemishes can vary in size, from so small that they’re invisible to the naked eye to upward of a few millimeters across. While comedonal blemishes can exist alongside deeper pimples and nodules, the term is usually used to describe skin in which the majority of blemishes are whiteheads or blackheads.

What Is a Comedone?

A comedone, put simply, is a clogged pore. Generally speaking, experts will refer to comedonal blemishes as either “closed comedones” or “open comedones.” Closed comedones, also known as whiteheads, are clogged pores that aren’t open to the air. They usually appear as small, white, or flesh-colored bumps on the skin. Open comedones, by contrast, are those in which the contents of the clogged pore are exposed to the air. This causes the oil inside the pore to oxidize and darken, which is why open comedones are also called blackheads.

What Causes Comedonal Blemishes?

Comedonal breakouts differ from more significant types of blemishes, like pimples and cysts, in a few ways. All breakouts, as you may know, result from clogged pores. Inflammatory pimples develop when bacteria enter the pores and cause them to become infected. Comedonal blemishes, by contrast, can exist without bacteria—they only require the presence of excess oil and other substances, like dirt and dead skin cells, within the pore.

As for what causes comedonal blemishes, it’s hard to say. People with oily skin are prone to these types of breakouts because excess oil can make you more likely to develop clogged pores. However, anyone can develop comedones. Common triggers include stress and dehydration.

4 Tips To Help Prevent Comedonal Blemishes

When clearer-looking skin is the goal (as it so often is), we recommend working to prevent comedones. Keep reading to discover our top tips on the subject.

Tip #1:

Reach For an Exfoliating Cleanser

If you’re prone to comedones, we suggest exfoliating regularly to help remove dead skin cells from the surface of your skin. Exfoliating helps give your skin a more radiant appearance, and it can also help prevent clogged pores (and help unclog existing comedones).

Try washing your face every morning with a gentle exfoliating cleanser, like Rare Earth Deep Pore Daily Cleanser. This gentle formula with Amazonian white clay helps remove excess oil, dirt, and other impurities without stripping the skin. Over time, it helps enlarged pores appear smaller, as well. The mild cleanser is suitable for all skin types and can be used daily for fresh, healthy-looking skin.

For added benefits, follow your cleanser with Rare Earth Pore-Refining Tonic. The mild toner helps remove any lingering residue while rebalancing your skin’s natural moisture levels and minimizing the appearance of enlarged pores over time. Use a clean cotton round to swipe it over your face, or pat the mattifying formula directly onto your skin for a smoother, balanced appearance.

Tip #2:

Try a Lightweight Facial Serum

While a serum alone is unlikely to prevent (or eliminate) comedones, it’s an integral part of a complete skincare routine. Those prone to clogged pores can try a lightweight serum, like Powerful-Strength Vitamin C Serum. This Kiehl’s staple with 12.5% vitamin C and hyaluronic acid instantly boosts radiance. Over time, it also helps visibly firm the skin, diminishing the appearance of fine lines and enlarged pores for a smooth, glowing appearance.

Tip #3:

Moisturizer Is a Must

It seems counterintuitive to slather on moisturizer if your skin is already oily and prone to comedonal blemishes, but trust us: It’s a must. Moisturizing helps keep water in your skin—and neglecting to moisturize can leave your skin dehydrated. When this happens, your body may produce excess oil to make up for the lack of water in your skin, making you more likely to develop clogged pores, blackheads, and whiteheads.

Still, you don’t want to use the first moisturizer you find. It’s important to reach for a lightweight, non-comedogenic formula, especially if you’re oily. Try Ultra Facial Oil-Free Gel Cream, which contains hydrating glycerin and micronized amino acids. The water-light formula absorbs quickly, leaving your skin feeling clean and fresh. It also helps reduce surface shine and minimizes the appearance of enlarged pores over time for balanced, healthy-looking skin.

Note that if you’re using a moisturizer that doesn’t contain SPF, you’ll need to also wear sunscreen during the day. We recommend Super Fluid Daily UV Defense SPF 50+, which offers broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays along with added antioxidant defense. It’s suitable for all skin types and absorbs quickly with a lightweight, matte finish.

Tip #4:

Mask Weekly

Once weekly, you can use a detoxifying clay mask, such as Rare Earth Deep Pore Cleansing Mask. This award-winning face mask is made with two types of clay—bentonite and kaolin—as well as aloe vera and allantoin. The formula helps draw out excess oil, dirt, and other impurities that can cause comedonal blemishes. It’s clinically-demonstrated to immediately diminish the appearance of clogged pores and reduce surface oil, while continued use over time helps reduce the appearance of enlarged pores for skin that looks smoother and more refined.*

*Results based on expert grading in a two-week clinical test on 54 subjects.

How To Manage Comedonal Blemishes

Even with the above tips, you may still experience blackheads and whiteheads. When that happens, follow our tips below to help get your skin back on the right track.

Tip #1:

Never Squeeze Your Spots

Our first tip for managing comedones is arguably one of the most important—and hardest to follow. You’ve heard it before, but it bears repeating: Never pick at or try to pop your blemishes. While tempting, squeezing your spots can worsen your blemishes or even leave you vulnerable to developing post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (also known as post-blemish marks). If you insist upon an extraction, go to a professional to get it done.

Tip #2:

Reach For a Spot Treatment

At home, you can use a spot treatment to help address your blemishes safely. We like Breakout Control Targeted Acne Spot Treatment. The formula, which contains mineral sulfur and vitamin B3, targets problem areas to help reduce the appearance of blackheads and whiteheads. Apply a thin layer to problem areas up to three times daily as needed for clearer, more comfortable-feeling skin.

Tip #3:

Try a Moisturizer Made for Acne-Prone Skin

If you’re in the midst of a stubborn breakout, an acne moisturizer, like Breakout Control Acne Treatment Facial Lotion, may be able to help clear your skin. Made with 1.5% salicylic acid and niacinamide, this lightweight lotion is clinically-demonstrated to help diminish acne breakouts while reducing roughness and dullness.* It’s suitable for blemish-prone and oily skin types and can be used daily or as needed for skin that appears clearer and more even.

*Tested in a dermatologist-controlled clinical study.

Orientation message
For the best experience, please turn your device