Get ready to deconstruct everything you’ve ever learned about your skin. Those blackheads you’ve been feverishly fighting since puberty-the ones that seem to always come back within days of you squeezing them-they aren’t really blackheads at all.
You heard us right. The tiny grayish flat spots on your skin that you perceive to be blackheads may be a skin condition that isn’t even related to blackheads. Instead, they are more likely to be sebaceous filaments. Confused?
We’ve got your back. Let’s find out the difference between blackheads and sebaceous filaments and what you can do to eliminate both. First, you need to know a little bit about how your skin works.
Skin Biology 101
Your skin is made up of layers. The layers of your skin protect your body from external stressors. The skin is like a well-oiled (and seriously it really is oily) machine that protects itself so it can function properly. Here’s how your skin works.
Your skin needs to stay hydrated so it can maintain its flexibility and elasticity. To do so, your skin produces sebum. Sebum helps moisturize and hydrate your skin. It’s your skin’s natural oil that is produced by the sebaceous glands. Each pore on your skin has its own sebaceous gland.
Most of the time, sebum production works normally to keep your skin lubricated perfectly. However, improper skin care, hormones, and even genetics can trigger your sebaceous glands to produce too much oil. When this happens, you have oilier skin. It can also mean you develop blemishes.
Dead Skin Cells
The skin is constantly renewing itself. When we’re babies, skin renews nearly every seven days. As we get older, the process slows, with skin cells regenerating about every 28 days in our 30’s.
New skin cells are made in the deepest layers of your skin. Once a new skin cell is made, it travels up toward the epidermis. When it reaches the epidermis (the outermost layer of your skin), it dies.
Normally, the dead skin cells are sloughed off of the surface of your skin, either naturally or through the process of exfoliation. However, if your skin is particularly oily, dead skin cells can bond to the living skin cells and hang out on the surface of your skin.
When this happens, there’s more of a chance those dead skin cells will clog your pores and form blemishes, like blackheads and whiteheads.
Hair Follicles and Pores
Your entire body is covered with hair follicles, and the openings of those hair follicles are called pores. Even if you don’t see visible hair, every pore you see is capable of producing one.
When you get a clogged pore, you’ve actually got a hair follicle with a plug of oil, dirt, and dead skin cells inside.
What Are Sebaceous Filaments?
If a mixture of dirt, oil, and dead skin cells is what clogs your pores and forms blemishes, what creates a sebaceous filament?
Sebaceous filaments aren’t actually a form of acne. They are a type of skin structure that help keep your skin lubricated. Sebaceous filaments form when oil and skin cells collect in the hair follicle.
Sebaceous filaments help sebum flow freely to the surface of your skin.They are harmless, do not normally lead to blackheads or whiteheads, so there’s really no need to remove them. They are a healthy part of everyone’s skin.
Sebaceous Filaments vs. Blackheads
Sebaceous filaments differ from blackheads in several ways, which can help you determine whether what you’ve been squeezing are blackheads or not.
Structure. Sebaceous filaments are thin, hairlike structures that sit inside a hair follicle. They do not plug the pore or block it; they allow oil to pass through the pore to the surface of your skin.
Blackheads form a plug of dirt, oil, and dead skin cells at the top of your hair follicle in the pore. These plugs don’t allow oil to pass through to the surface of the skin and completely block the hair follicle.
Appearance. Sebaceous filaments usually look light yellow to grey in color, sometimes they may even appear flesh colored. They are also normally completely flat or even sunken.
Blackheads are very dark in appearance and are slightly raised off the surface of the skin. Blackheads are dark in color because the oil, dirt, and dead skin cells have been exposed to air and become oxidized.
Extraction. If you attempt to squeeze a sebaceous filament, a clear to yellowish color material that is long and thin may come out. Sometimes, nothing will come out of the pore.
When blackheads are extracted, the dark plug will usually come out, followed by pus and fluid containing dead skin cells and dirt.
Sebaceous filaments can appear larger if you have larger pores, or if your skin is particularly oily. If you’re one of those people, you’re probably desperate to find a way to get rid of them, even knowing they are a healthy part of your skin.
How To Get Rid of Sebaceous Filaments
You don’t need to get rid of these structures since they don’t harm your skin. However, they can be noticeable and a cosmetic concern for some people. While it’s impossible to get rid of sebaceous filaments for good (they’ll reform within two to three days of extraction), there are ways to make them less visible.
Use Good Skin Care
Taking better care of your skin can make your pores appear smaller, lessen the amount of oil your skin produces, and make your sebaceous filaments less noticeable. Try to stay away from products that dry the skin and are designed to reduce acne.
- Cleanser. The best cleanser to use on skin that is slightly oily is a foaming facial cleanser with hydrating ingredients. Avoid cleansers with harsh chemicals that could strip your skin of moisture. Those types of cleansers can make your skin produce even more oil to compensate for being overly dry.
- Toner. If you aren’t using one, add a hydrating toner to your skincare lineup. A toner can help keep your pores closed and tight once you have cleansed your skin. Astringent like properties allow it to ensure your pores are less visible, which can help sebaceous filaments virtually disappear.
- Moisturizer. Every skin needs moisture (even skin that is oily). Moisturizers with hyaluronic acid are great for oily skin because they naturally help regulate your skin’s natural moisture production, leaving it smooth and more evenly hydrated.
You can easily adjust your skin care routine to treat sebaceous filaments so that they are virtually invisible.
Use Skin Clarifying Treatments
Skin clarifying treatments are also great for helping sebaceous filaments look less noticeable. You may notice that your sebaceous filaments seem more visible during certain times of your monthly cycle.
Your skin naturally produces more oil during ovulation, and during the luteal phase of your cycle (which occurs about two weeks leading up to your period).
When you know your skin is going to be a bit more oily, you can use a skin clarifying product to help deep clean your pores.
Acne patches. Even though sebaceous filaments are not acne, they can sometimes be so noticeable you can’t help but want to pick at them. When this happens, try using a pimple patch to cover the area.
The patch will draw out the sebaceous filament and protect the pore from your fingers. The American Academy of Dermatology advises against picking, popping, or squeezing acne or any other structure on your skin.
If you attempt to extract a sebaceous filament, you could stretch the pore and make it more visible, and create a nice little home for it’s replacement (which is already on its way).
Clarifying sheet masks. Sheet masks are a great way to practice self care and get great skin. They’re gentle, effective, and easy to use.
When your skin is its oiliest, a tea tree oil face mask can help dive into your pores, clean them out, and leave your skin looking cleaner.
Rael’s tea tree oil sheet masks contain a blend of plant botanicals designed to deep-clean your pores without stripping them of their natural moisture.
Clarifying skin treatments are helpful with reducing the visibility of sebaceous filaments, but make sure you stay away from harsh chemicals designed to handle acne. Those types of products can cause skin irritation and excessive dryness.
The Bottom Line
You can stop squeezing those “blackheads” every couple of days. They’re never going to go away completely, so trying to get rid of them is pretty useless. Instead, focus on ways to make your sebaceous filaments a little less noticeable.
Gentle yet effective skin care products can dramatically change the way your skin looks and feels, and can even make sebaceous filaments take a backseat to your skin’s healthy glow.
Rael offers holistic, plant-based skincare products that work synergistically with your skin so it stays healthy and clear no matter where you are in your cycle.