A comedo is a clogged hair follicle (pore) in the skin. Keratin (skin debris) combines with oil to block the follicle. A comedo can be open (blackhead) or closed by skin (whitehead) and occur with or without acne. The word "comedo" comes from the Latin comedere, meaning "to eat up", and was historically used to describe parasitic worms; in modern medical terminology, it is used to suggest the worm-like appearance of the expressed material. The chronic inflammatory condition that usually includes comedones, inflamed papules, and pustules (pimples) is called acne. Infection causes inflammation and the development of pus. Whether a skin condition classifies as acne depends on the number of comedones and infection. Comedones should not be confused with sebaceous filaments. Comedo-type ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is not related to the skin conditions discussed here. DCIS is a noninvasive form of breast cancer, but comedo-type DCIS may be more aggressive, so may be more likely to become invasive. Oil production in the sebaceous glands increases during puberty, causing comedones and acne to be common in adolescents. Acne is also found premenstrually and in women with polycystic ovarian syndrome. Smoking may worsen acne.
Oxidation rather than poor hygiene or dirt causes blackheads to be black. Washing or scrubbing the skin too much could make it worse, by irritating the skin. Touching and picking at comedones might cause irritation and spread infection. What effect shaving has on the development of comedones or acne is unclear.
Some skin products might increase comedones by blocking pores, and greasy hair products (such as pomades) can worsen acne. Skin products that claim to not clog pores may be labeled noncomedogenic or nonacnegenic. Make-up and skin products that are oil-free and water-based may be less likely to cause acne. Whether dietary factors or sun exposure make comedones better, worse, or neither is unknown.
A hair that does not emerge normally, an ingrown hair, can also block the pore and cause a bulge or lead to infection (causing inflammation and pus).
Genes may play a role in the chances of developing acne. Comedones may be more common in some ethnic groups. People of Latino and recent African descent may experience more inflammation in comedones, more comedonal acne, and earlier onset of inflammation.
Subscribe to our e-mails
Receive the latest news in skin care routines and innovations delivered to your Inbox.