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What is a “comedo,” and what does it have to do with acne?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine

A comedo is not a karate move, but that doesn’t stop us from attacking it with a vengeance. A comedo (plural comedones) is a small bump on the skin that can be black or white, large or small, one or many that typically occurs on the forehead and chin. It is a plug of sebum, the oily substance that is produced by glands in your skin, with a little skin protein and dead skin cells mixed in. If it is open, it is called a blackhead (open comedo), and if it is closed, it is a whitehead (closed comedo). Did you know that the black isn’t actually dirt? It’s a mixture of keratin and sebum that darkens as it oxidizes.

Comedones are different from acne in that the surrounding tissue doesn’t become inflamed or contain pus or bacteria. However, the bumps occur because of the same, frustrating problem: a pore plugged with sebum.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.