How Sebaceous Filaments Work

Sebaceous filaments are often confused with blackheads. So what exactly are they and how can you make them less noticeable? Find out here…

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If you’ve scoured the Internet for all things “blackheads,” chances are you may have come across the term “sebaceous filaments” and wondered how the two differ. They’re easily confused because they typically appear in the same regions of the face (often on the nose, cheeks, or chin), but they are indeed different. How so? Let’s dive right in…


How to Distinguish a Sebaceous Filament from a Blackhead

Look closely at the tip of your nose. Do you see small, pin-like dots that resemble blackheads? If the dots are quite dark, then what you’re looking at are most likely blackheads, but if they have a more clear-ish flesh tone, or gray or yellow tinge, what you’re seeing are likely sebaceous filaments.

Another difference is that blackheads have a plug-like appearance when extracted, whereas sebaceous filaments more closely resemble a free-flowing column of wax-like sebum (sort of like a strand) as they are squeezed out. How do they get there in the first place?


How Sebaceous Filaments Form

Sebaceous filaments are naturally occurring hair-like formations that channel the flow of oil along the lining of the pore in which they lie (Archives of Dermatological Research, 1976). It’s a natural part of skin’s follicle (pore) structure and everyone has them. However, if your skin is oily or if your pores are large and prone to becoming clogged, you’re more likely to notice them. A sebaceous filament becomes visible as the lining of your pore fills up with sebum.

A sebaceous filament may or may not turn into a blackhead—the critical determining factor is whether or not the sebum in the pore lining becomes exposed to oxygen (thereby oxidizing into a blackhead). So, how can you reduce the likelihood of sebaceous filaments forming and, if they do form, how can you minimize their appearance?


How to Treat Sebaceous Filaments

Truth be told, you can never fully eradicate sebaceous filaments. Even when they are extracted, they refill shortly thereafter—around 30 days or less for those with very oily skin (Archives of Dermatological Research, 1976). In reality, they aren’t a bad thing, and chances are no one other than you and your magnifying mirror notice them anyway.

Nevertheless, if sebaceous filaments bother you and you want to make them less noticeable, regular use of a BHA exfoliant can potentially help because BHA is oil-soluble and, hence, can dissolve sebum and other substances in the pore lining. Because a BHA exfoliant helps normalize the collection of these substances, BHAs can help reduce the probability that a sebaceous filament will lead to a blackhead. It’s not a guarantee, but it’s the best way to stack the odds in your favor.

Also, occasional use of a well-formulated clay mask may help due to the clay’s drawing action and oil-absorbing properties. And, a good skincare routine that begins and ends with a water-soluble cleanser is always a smart idea, whether you have sebaceous filaments or not.

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