Have you struggled with clogged pores your whole life? If so, you’ve probably tried skin care products designed to clear blackheads, such as scrubs, exfoliants, and perhaps even nose strips. But nothing seems to work, right? If you’ve been in this situation, there’s a good chance you actually have sebaceous filaments, not blackheads. Never heard of sebaceous filaments? Well, you’re in luck because this post is all about sebaceous filaments. We’ll discuss what they are, how they’re different from blackheads, and how to get rid of sebaceous filaments.
What are sebaceous filaments?
Sebaceous filaments are particles released by the skin’s oil glands through the hair follicle that appear white or yellow in color. They are composed of oils and dead skin cells. It may surprise you that sebaceous filaments are actually a normal function of skin. The role of sebaceous filaments is to carry sebum (oil) through the hair follicle to the surface of skin. This keeps the skin lubricated and flexible. They are found in every hair follicle on skin, which means everyone has sebaceous filaments! However, some are more visible than others.
Sebaceous filaments vs blackheads
Sebaceous filaments and blackheads both represent clogged pores. When sebaceous filaments are visible, they do resemble blackheads, except they are lighter in color. Plus, sebaceous glands are highly concentrated around your nose, so you’ll likely find sebaceous filaments on your nose just like blackheads. Even though sebaceous filaments and blackheads seem very similar, there are a few differences between these two types of clogged pores.
While sebaceous filaments are a normal function of skin, blackheads are considered to be a type of acne known as open comedones. They appear as small, dark lesions on the skin, primarily on the face (nose, chin, etc.) Blackheads form when the pores in the skin become clogged with dead skin cells and sebum (the oily substance that lubricates and protects skin). While most people think that blackheads occur as a result of trapped dirt in the pores, this is actually not true. Rather, when pores are clogged, the melanin in the dead skin cells reactions with oxygen in the air and turns black, forming a blackhead. Thus, blackheads are made of oxidized melanin and not trapped dirt. So you don’t have to feel dirty for having blackheads or feel that your skin is dirty.
Sebaceous filaments are also composed of a condensation of oils and dead skin cells within the oil gland duct, however, the condensation is not fully congealed and does not usually result in complete obstruction of the duct. Blackheads are solid and completely clog the duct leading from oil glands deep in the skin to the skin surface. Thus, sebaceous filaments are still clogged pores, but not to the extent of a blackhead.
How to prevent clogged pores
Whether you have sebaceous filaments or blackheads, you’re probably wondering how you can prevent clogged pores. One of the best ways to prevent clogged pores on your face is to learn how to properly wash your face. Most people should wash their face both morning and night, except for those with very dry skin types. It is important to choose a cleanser with gentle yet effective surfactants that will eliminate oil, dirt, debris, and makeup to prevent these impurities from clogging pores.
It’s important to wash your face with a mild water temperature. There’s a common misconception that using hot water will “open” pores, and that cold water will “close” pores. In reality, pores don’t open and close because they do not have muscles around their opening to allow them to open and close. Excessive exposure to hot water can strip the skin of its natural oils, leading to irritation and inflammation. In addition, very hot water can exacerbate problems like rosacea and redness. However, taking a warm shower with mild steam can help soften hardened oil in clogged pores, allowing the oil to be emulsified by your cleanser.
Another way to prevent clogged pores is to use a BHA exfoliant (i.e. salicylic acid) on a regular basis. Salicylic acid exfoliates the pore lining, which loosens clogged dirt and oil and helps to wash these impurities away. It also has the ability to dissolve keratin, the protein that acts as a “glue” to keep dead skin cells together in the stratum corneum. This is effective because dead skin cells can build up on the surface of your skin, leaving it looking dull and also possibly clogging pores.
How to get rid of sebaceous filaments
With proper cleansing and the right products, it is definitely possible to prevent sebaceous filaments from being visible on the face. But if you can’t prevent them and want to know how to get rid of sebaceous filaments, we have a few things you can try.
First, it’s important to note that no matter what type of clogged pores you have, it’s best not to use your fingers to squeeze them out. Picking at blackheads or sebaceous filaments can cause irritation and lead to inflammation in the area where you tried to remove the clogged pore. This method can also lead to scarring, infection, and dark spots due to post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.
Instead of picking at clogged pores with your fingers, one sebaceous filaments treatment you could try is applying an AHA/BHA peel. These peels can be done at home or at a dermatologist’s office, and they work to get rid of sebaceous filaments by exfoliating the skin to prevent dead skin cells and oil from causing clogged pores.
Another sebaceous filaments treatment is a clay mask. Look for ingredients like kaolin or bentonite, which are natural clays that are highly absorbent. These clays will absorb excess oil on the surface of skin and in pores in order to get rid of sebaceous filaments.
Lastly, if you have stubborn sebaceous filaments that won’t seem to go away, you can have them professionally removed by an esthetician. However, since sebaceous filaments are a normal function of skin, they will return after they are extracted so that the skin can be properly lubricated.
DIY sebaceous filaments treatment you should avoid
Unfortunately, there are numerous skin care and beauty blogs that purport DIY sebaceous filaments treatments that can actually cause more harm than good. One of the most common DIY sebaceous filaments removal techniques is to use baking soda. Using baking soda on sebaceous filaments is claimed to be effective because baking soda is a “natural deep cleanser and oil remover”. While baking soda is abrasive and will exfoliate the skin, skin care experts consider it to be too harsh. Plus, baking soda has a high pH of 9, which is typically too alkaline for skin to tolerate since the skin’s normal pH is about 4.5 to 5. Ultimately, this can disrupt the skin’s acid mantle and microbiome, leading to conditions such as acne, dry patches, and even signs of aging.
Another DIY sebaceous filaments treatment you should avoid is apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is said to break down the oils and dead skin cells that lead to clogged pores and sebaceous filaments. However, apple cider vinegar is known to irritate the skin and lead to dryness. There’s also no research indicating that apple cider vinegar is effective for sebaceous filaments. Since the risks outweigh the benefits, it is best to avoid a DIY sebaceous filaments treatment.
References: Wikipedia “Sebaceous filament”, EminenceOrganics.com “Sebaceous Filaments Vs. Blackheads – What’s The Difference?” Feb 2019, Elle.com “How to Tell If Stubborn Blackheads Are Actually This Overlooked Skin Condition” March 2019