Sebaceous Filaments Vs Blackheads

Updated: May 7, 2020

Most of us, are obsessed with our skin. We squeeze, we scrub, we tweeze and shave, always on red alert for the next bout of congestion, hair growth and dry patches. 1 in 20 people of us are to be affected by some kind of skin picking disorder and yet, hardly ever know what we are extracting half of the time. Sebaceous filaments are just one example.  

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What is a sebaceous filament?

A sebaceous filament is a normal function in the skin and are found in every hair follicle. Often confused for a blackhead, sebaceous filaments appear like small and narrow dimples, and can be grey or beige in colour. They are often found on the nose but can appear anywhere on the face or neck.

sebaceous filament

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What do they do?

Sebaceous filaments hold particles released from the oil glands to carry sebum through the hair follicle to the skin’s surface, in order to keep it moisturised. These particles can sometimes make the pore seem larger, increasing an inevitable desire to squeeze them.

David A Whiting once described sebaceous filaments as a “loose porous mass of horny detritus” in the Western Journal of Medicine. 

Can you extract sebaceous filaments?

They can be extracted, but are a lot more difficult to squeeze. When squeezed (hard) sebaceous filaments push out a snake-like, white or sometimes yellowish, gunk. Within days, the deep-rooted oil snake returns back into the follicle because it is supposed to be there.


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The more important question that needs to be asked is, should we be extracting our sebaceous filaments. The answer is a massive NO because eventually, the pore will stretch, leading to long-term damage to our skin.

How do sebaceous filaments differ to blackheads?

Blackheads are caused through the clogging of dead skin cells in the pore and when this keratin debris reaches the surface, it oxidises, causing it to turn black in colour. They have a plug-like structure and are much larger in size and easier to extract compared to sebaceous filaments.

Sebaceous filaments VS blackheads (1)

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Blackheads can be extracted (ideally by a professional) but can return depending upon a number of factors. Hormones and puberty can increase the chance of developing blackheads, as well as heavy sweating, certain medications, high humidity environments and even some health conditions such as PCOS. Retinol and BHA-based products are great for reducing the occurrence of blackheads. [scroll down for recommendations]

Can you treat sebaceous filaments?

The appearance of sebaceous filaments can be improved by using AHAs, BHAs and enzymes in your skincare routine. These active ingredients will encourage removal of dead skin cells, smooth the surface of the skin and refine the appearance of the filaments. Regular treatments like microdermabrasion and skin peels will also help to manage the skin’s oil production, whilst squeezing, will always remain a bad idea.

Why not try these? 

The Ordinary Salicylic Acid 2%

£4.20 for 30ml

The Ordinary Salicylic 2%

via beautybay

Use this foolproof serum either all over the face, or just on breakouts AM/PM following cleansing. It’s not as drying as other salicylic-acid based serums, but guarantees a reduction in inflammation and sebum and oil production.

Obagi Clenziderm Pore Therapy

£26.31 for 148ml

Obagi Clenziderm Pore Therapy

via skinstore

This potent toner is perfect for refining pores and reducing oil production and acne. Use a piece of gauze or cotton pad, to swipe over the skin after cleansing in the evening. I am just one of many that considers this the HOLY-GRAIL product for improving acne.

Skinceuticals Simply Clean cleanser

£31.00 for 200ml 

Skinceuticals simply clean cleanser

via skinceuticals

This is one of my all-time-favourite cleansers and is great to use on a second cleanse, after removing make-up. It uses a hydroxy acid-blend with a number of botanical ingredients to give the pores a deep clean, and leave your skin feeling menthol-y fresh. This is not a product to get in your eyes however.

Elemis Papaya Enzyme Peel 

£34.50 for 50ml 

Elemis papaya enzyme peel

via Elemis

Perfect for sensitive skins, the enzymes in this peel give the skin as good an exfoliation as alpha and beta hydroxy acids. Apply to cleansed skin twice a week, and then rinse off after 10-15 minutes.

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