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Those tiny dark spots on your face might not actually be blackheads at all...but sebaceous filaments. Never heard of them? Neither have the majority of people and yet, they’re a skin concern that might just be affecting you. Without you even realizing...
Sebaceous filaments are naturally-occurring and part of the pore structure. According to board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, M.D, “They line the inside of the pores and assist in the flow of sebum along the lining into the skin to help moisturize it.”
Here’s everything you need to know about sebaceous filaments and how to shrink those suckers once and for all.
A sebaceous filament is a collection of sebum and dead skin cells around a hair follicle, causing little yellow and gray dots to form along your nose and cheeks. Unlike blackheads and other types of breakouts, sebaceous filaments are not clogged pores.
Dr. Brendan Camp, a double board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in Manhattan, describes sebaceous filaments as “a normal skin finding; they feel smooth, do not block pores, and everyone has them.”
He explains further, “Your skin produces oil (also known as sebum) in order to protect and moisturize itself. Sebaceous filaments help guide that oil from your sebaceous glands, where the oil is produced, to the surface of your skin where the oil can get to work fighting environmental aggressors and dehydration.”
People with naturally oily skin are most prone to sebaceous filaments. Due to excess oil production, sebaceous filaments fill up and resemble large pores. In most cases, people think they’re dealing with blackheads. In actual fact, what they’re dealing with is sebaceous filaments.
A few common culprits behind these tube-like structures include family history, hormonal fluctuations, and an oily skin type.
Blackheads and sebaceous filaments are almost identical in appearance. It isn’t until you look closely that you will see sebaceous glands have a yellow, greyish tint. Blackheads, on the other hand, are completely black. Hence, their name.
“Blackheads are a form of acne – they form when sebum, dead skin cells clog the pore and it oxidises, creating a black bump,” Dr. Dennis Gross clarifies. “Blackheads will appear as raised, black bumps while enlarged sebaceous filaments appear like flat, grey-ish blackheads. At times, sebaceous filaments can be a pre-cursor to black heads.”
Here are all the best, derm-approved ways to reduce the appearance of sebaceous filaments.
An oil cleanser can extract dirt and oil from your skin. While you can’t actually get rid of sebaceous filaments, you can lessen their appearance on the skin’s surface. The best way to do this is by keeping the skin as clean as possible.
Aim to cleanse your skin twice a day using a cleansing oil to remove any surface buildup like dirt, pollution, makeup, excess sebum, and dead skin cells. If you’ve got sensitive skin, cleansing with oil is your go-to. It’s calming, soothing, and cleansing without being aggravating to your skin. Plus, it really is as effective at breaking up dirt as the experts say it is.
This beta-hydroxy acid (BHA) penetrates deep into the pore to remove oil and unclog grime. You can use this acid in a cleanser, toner, serum, or mask – either way, it will clean out your pores and minimize their appearance. However, don’t rule out other chemical exfoliants – like AHAs, for instance.
Alpha-hydroxy acids, such as glycolic acid and lactic acid exfoliate the skin by sloughing away dead skin cells while beta-hydroxy acids, like salicylic acid penetrate deep within the pore and break up oil plugs. Both are effective at helping you prevent and remove blackheads, whiteheads, and sebaceous filaments.
Exfoliation is key to ridding your skin of dead skin cells and gunk. It’s essential for clearing out the pores. And as you know, when your pores are clear, your pores are smaller (invisible, almost!).
Aim to exfoliate your skin no more than twice a week using a gentle exfoliator to keep your complexion clear and clarified. Avoid overdoing it as this may irritated your skin and worsen oiliness.
“Retinol and Retinoids can also be really effective against sebaceous filaments,” explains celebrity esthetician Renee Rouleau. What aren’t they good for!? Although Rouleau does advise people to use retinol with care and not go overboard with this ingredient.
“If your skin is sensitive or you haven’t used retinol before, I suggest starting with an over the counter retinol,” she advises. “If you have oilier skin or have used retinol before, you can try a retinoid such as Differin, which is still available over the counter.”
Provided that you use it correctly, there are so many benefits to including retinol in your skincare routine.
All our fave skincare products for treating sebaceous filaments at home.
This 5-step routine is a full-proof sebaceous filament-killer. With a potent mixture of both glycolic and salicylic acid, these active ingredients deliver a 1-2 punch to zap oil flow in its tracks and break up debris, manifesting your clearest complexion. They’re also helpful in mattifying an oily t-zone while preventing pimple formation!
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If topical treatments just aren’t doing it for you, you may want to consider visiting a dermatologist for sebaceous filament extraction. While you can buy extractors and do it from home, the derms don’t recommend it as there’s a high chance you could end up worsening the issue.
“I advise against trying to extract them yourself at home,” says Deanne Mraz Robinson M.D. of Modern Dermatology in Connecticut. “Doing so can cause inflammation and even infection, which will lead to a bigger, more cystic zit.” Nobody wants that!
Plus, extracting sebaceous filaments is only a temporary fix – expect to see them return within a day or two. Not only that, these at-home extraction tools can be really harsh on the skin and cause irritation. In some cases, they can even cause broken capillaries and scarring.
So you see, sebaceous filaments aren’t a huge deal and a natural part of your skin. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways you can treat and prevent them in order to maintain clear, healthy skin.
Got any tips for getting rid of sebaceous filaments? Let us know!