Sebaceous Filaments Vs. Blackheads: What's the Difference?
Take a look at your nose. You may notice little pin-like dots in a pale gray or flesh-colored tone. While it could be the pore-clogging gunk found inside blackheads, these dots could also be sebaceous filaments.
Confused? We interviewed Skincare.com consultants Dr. Peter Schmid, board-certified plastic surgeon and Dr. Dhaval Bhanusali, board-certified dermatologist to give us the scoop. Ahead, they explain the difference between sebaceous filaments and blackheads, plus share how to get rid of them.
What Is the Difference Between Sebaceous Filaments and Blackheads?
“Sebaceous filaments arise from skin hair follicles lined by sebaceous oil glands located in the regions of the central face and nose presenting in post-puberty ages,” says Dr. Schmid. “When squeezed and extracted from the pores, the content is yellowish-white cylindric tubules consisting of a collection of dead cells, bacteria, wax esters and lipids (oil).”
If you have enlarged pores or an oily complexion (from excess sebum production due to hormones or genetics, for instance), sebaceous filaments may be more noticeable. “The condition is actually not acne, but the normal buildup of porous debris around a hair in its follicle,” he adds. “The collections commonly appear tan or light gray or present as a hair-like strand.”
On the other hand, “blackheads are the buildup and clogging of a pore with a mixture of oxidized melanin, dead skin cells, dirt, debris, makeup, impurities, bacteria and sebum,” says Dr. Schmid. “These appear across the surface of the skin as slightly elevated or depressed stippled, black dilated pores.”
So what’s the deal with the dark color? Blackheads turn their characteristic black shade when they oxidize as a result of being exposed to air. Blackheads may have a slightly raised border and can accompany a whitehead too, so don’t be alarmed.
How Can I Get Rid of Sebaceous Filaments?
Unfortunately, there is nothing you can do to get rid of sebaceous filaments. But the truth is, you shouldn't even want to. The sebum on the surface of our skin helps keep our skin moisturized and protected against bad bacteria. “Sebaceous filaments are a normal skin condition and actually help to maintain the skin’s natural moisture levels,” says Dr. Schmid.
If you are unhappy about the appearance of sebaceous filaments or want to avoid them turning into blackheads, you can start by using a pore strip or applying a clay mask to help keep pores free of excess oil and debris. We recommend the SkinCeuticals Clarifying Clay Mask.
Dr. Schmid also emphasizes that a solid skincare routine is crucial. “To prevent and alleviate surface buildup, a daily cleansing, correcting and protecting regimen is key,” he says. “I recommend products with salicylic acid for clarifying the skin and removing excess oil and bacteria, including SkinCeuticals LHA Cleansing Gel and SkinCeuticals Clarifying Exfoliating Cleanser.” He also recommends a vitamin C product and an acne spot treatment. “And finally, everyone should use a quality sunscreen 365 days per year.” We like the Vichy LiftActiv Peptide-C Sunscreen SPF 30.
How Can I Get Rid of Blackheads?
Getting rid of blackheads actually requires a pretty similar routine. “At home, I recommend daily exfoliation with a good cleanser specifically formulated for acne-prone skin,” says Dr. Bhanusali.
Another option to consider is incorporating salicylic acid into your routine. “Salicylic acid is great for blackheads,” says Dr. Bhanusali. “It keeps inflammation at bay, forces out all the debris clogging the pores and is also great for softening the skin and giving you that tight, firm feeling after cleansing.” Just make sure not to overdo it because the ingredient is notoriously drying.
If topical options don’t work, pay a visit to a dermatologist who can gently extract your blackheads using sterile tools. Editor's note: resist the urge to pop or pick at your blackheads or sebaceous filaments. This can irritate the area (resulting in scarring) and add bacteria from your fingers into your pores, leaving you — and your skin — back at square one.
Photo: Chaunte Vaughn