We’ve all caught ourselves checking out our complexions on Zoom, on selfie mode on our phones, and in those little magnifying mirrors on the vanity. With so many opportunities to stare deeply at your pores, you’ve probably noticed little dark spots that you might assume were blackheads or clogged pores, but they could actually be sebaceous filaments instead.
Though they appear similar, they’re actually different — so, what happens if you pull out sebaceous filaments? Does oil cleansing get rid of sebaceous filaments, too? So, we asked Jessie Cheung, M.D., a dermatologist and founder of Cheung Aesthetics and Wellness, to help us break down the difference between the two and the right way to manage sebaceous filaments.
Meet the Experts
Jessie Cheung, M.D., is a dermatologist and founder of Cheung Aesthetics and Wellness.
Sebaceous filaments 101
We have hair all over our skin (even teeny tiny ones on your face) and each of those follicles has a sebaceous gland. Sebaceous filaments, which line your pores, “are tube-like collections of sebum and skin cells that make up the lining of your pores,” says Dr. Cheung. They’re a natural and necessary part of your skin and they’re responsible for keeping your complexion moisturized by bringing oil to the skin’s surface. “Blackheads, on the other hand, are unwanted plugs of sebum and dead skin cells that your skin is trying to expel at the surface. Blackheads and sebaceous filaments are most often found on the nose, where there is a high concentration of hair follicles,” says Dr. Cheung.
For most people, sebaceous filaments are not easily visible to the eye — until they get filled up with excess oil. Need to tell the difference at a glance? Consider this your cheat sheet:
- Clogged pores that are made of dead skin and oil
- They look like tiny dark spots
- They’re a type of acne
- They’re found anywhere from your face to your chest to your neck
- A cluster of oil (sebum) and dead skin on your hair follicles
- They look like small gray spots (as opposed to black)
- They’re not acne
- They are usually located on your nose
What happens if you pull out sebaceous filaments?
As tempting it could be to try to pick at them, that might cause tears in your skin and introduce bacteria. “Picking and squeezing sebaceous filaments and blackheads will only produce a temporary decrease in appearance, and can cause irritation and scarring of your pores,” says Dr. Cheung. In other words, it’s a short-term payoff with long-term drawbacks.
If you’re really in the mood for an extraction, “in-office treatments include vacuum extraction after softening of the skin, such as with the Hydrafacial,” to quickly reduce their appearance, according to Dr. Cheung. Just note that even if you try to get them extracted since they’re natural to your body, they eventually come back.
What’s the best treatment for sebaceous filaments?
Sebaceous filaments aren’t harmful, but they can eventually lead to acne. You don’t want to completely abolish them because they have the healthy function of bringing necessary moisture to the skin’s surface. But, there are tactics to reduce their appearance or size by focusing your skincare routine on products that balance out oil production and slough off dead skin cells.
With that in mind, does oil cleansing get rid of sebaceous filaments — as it does with blackheads? Good news: “Oil cleansers can help reduce the appearance of sebaceous filaments by removing any buildup of sebum and dead skin,” says Dr. Cheung. In fact, they can be especially helpful. “Oil attracts oil, while also avoiding overly stripping the skin of moisture — which can make oil glands go haywire,” she says.
Then, clear any dead skin cells with Sunday Riley Good Genes All-in-One Lactic Acid Treatment. “Gentle chemical exfoliants, such as glycolic acid and salicylic acid, are also great at loosening the dead skin cells and sebum,” says Dr. Cheung.
For long-term control, incorporate a retinoid into your routine. A bucket term for vitamin A derivatives, “retinoids help to prevent the build-up of dead skin and sebum, which can turn a sebaceous filament into a blackhead, or worse, a pimple,” Dr. Cheung says. “The regular use of retinoids will keep your sebaceous filaments working properly while also minimizing the size of your pores.” Before your moisturizer, apply the Sunday Riley A+ High-Dose Retinoid Serum, which helps decongest skin with a 6.5% blend of retinoids and plant-based retinol alternatives.
Ultimately, the right steps in your skincare routine can go a long way to keep blackheads at bay — and sebaceous filaments, practically invisible. That’s a win-win.
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