Those of us that have oily skin or are acne prone may be quick to assume that every small dark dot in the pores of our face is a blackhead that needs to be removed.
While our pores can be filled with sebum plugs or blackheads, they can also contain sebaceous filaments. Although sebaceous filaments may look similar to blackheads, they are a normal part of our skin and have their own job to help it function.
What Are Sebaceous Filaments?
Sebaceous filaments are tiny, hair-like structures located within the pores that often look like tiny gray or dark dots on the skin. If you were to squeeze one, what comes out usually appears as a thin, white to yellowish oily substance that can look like a tiny worm.
Sebaceous filaments have a crucial but often misunderstood role helping to smoothly transport sebum, the skin’s natural oil, from the sebaceous glands in the pores to the surface of the skin. They act as tiny conduits, lining the pore and channeling the sebum your sebaceous glands produce to the outside of your skin to keep you moisturized and help maintain a healthy skin barrier. These filaments are just your skin doing its thing, working hard to keep the skin surface naturally lubricated and healthy.
Sebaceous filaments are a common and natural feature of our skin, particularly in areas like the nose, chin, and forehead—the usual hotspots for oil production. They may be more noticeable on people with oily skin or enlarged pores. Because they are found where there is more oil it leads to a misconception that sebaceous filaments are a sign of unclean or unhealthy skin. But in reality, they’re just more actively doing their job in those areas.
Sebaceous Filaments on Nose
Sebaceous filaments on the nose can sometimes draw extra attention, mainly because our noses typically have larger pores and more active oil glands. This makes sebaceous filaments more visible, appearing as small, gray or yellowish dots in the pores.
They’re often mistaken for blackheads, but unlike their acne counterparts, sebaceous filaments aren’t a sign of clogged pores or skin troubles. While it can be tempting to start squeezing at your nose to get rid of them, you’ll have to resist. Overdoing it with extractions or harsh treatments can do more harm than good, potentially irritating or damaging the skin on your nose or causing broken capillaries. These filaments are there for a reason, and if you did remove them, they will just refill quickly since they’re part of your skin’s natural landscape.
The best approach? Embrace gentle skin care practices and put aside the magnifying mirror. Regular cleansing and light exfoliation can help keep your nose looking clear and healthy without going overboard. It’s all about balance and understanding that those sebaceous filaments are just one of the many tiny wonders of your skin’s natural ecosystem.
Sebaceous Filament vs. Blackhead
Sebaceous filaments often appear as small, grayish or yellowish dots, and yes, they can bear a striking resemblance to blackheads. But while blackheads are a form of acne characterized by oxidized, clogged pores that appear as darkened bumps, sebaceous filaments have a role in oil regulation rather than obstruction. They’re a sign that your skin is functioning as it should, not a distress signal.
Because of their role in oil transport, sebaceous filaments are more prominent in oily areas so they can often show up side by side with blackheads which are also more common where there is more oil. Understanding how to differentiate between blackheads and sebaceous filaments can help you with proper skin care and treatment:
Blackheads (Open Comedones)
- Color: Blackheads are named for their dark or black appearance, which is due to the oxidation of sebum and dead skin cells when exposed to air at the surface of an open pore.
- Size and Shape: They are typically small but can vary in size. Blackheads often appear as slightly raised bumps due to the clogged pore.
- Texture: The surface of a blackhead can feel slightly raised or rough due to the clogged material in the pore.
- Location: Commonly found on the nose, chin, and forehead, but can occur anywhere on the body.
- Comedonal Acne: Blackheads are a type of comedonal acne and indicate a blockage within the pore.
- Color: Sebaceous filaments are typically similar to your skin color or slightly grayish or yellowish, not black. They are less visible compared to blackheads.
- Size and Shape: These are very small, hair-like formations that are generally uniform in size. They are less noticeable than blackheads and don’t form raised bumps.
- Texture: They are often not felt on the skin and give a less rough texture compared to blackheads.
- Location: Primarily found in areas with more active sebaceous glands, like the nose, cheeks, and forehead.
- Function: Sebaceous filaments are a normal part of the skin’s anatomy and help channel sebum from the sebaceous gland to the surface of the skin to keep it moisturized.
How to Get Rid of Sebaceous Filaments?
Next time you lean into the mirror and notice these tiny structures, remember that they’re hard at work helping to keep your skin in balance. While the urge to extract them might be strong, it’s important to hold back. Overzealous squeezing or picking can lead to skin damage, irritation, or even scarring.
Unlike blackheads, sebaceous filaments will refill quickly within 30 days because of the ongoing production of sebum, making extraction a temporary and potentially harmful solution. While sebaceous filaments cannot (and should not) be permanently removed, their appearance can be minimized through proper skincare.
Sebaceous Filaments Treatment
There is no need to treat sebaceous filaments. However, if you are concerned about their appearance, there are a few things you can do to make them less noticeable:
- Cleanse: Cleanse your skin regularly with a gentle cleanser. This will help to remove excess sebum and dead skin cells from your pores, minimizing the appearance of sebaceous filaments. Using a cleanser with sulfur, clay or salicylic acid on the areas with sebaceous filaments can also help control sebum.
- Exfoliate: Use a gentle chemical exfoliate such as salicylic acid. This will help to dissolve oil and dead skin cells from the surface of your skin and make your pores appear smaller and sebaceous filaments less prominent.
- Oil Control: If you have oily skin, using products formulated to control oil production can help by reducing the amount of excess sebum in the pores that can accentuate sebaceous filaments.
- Non-Comedogenic Products: Using skincare and makeup products labeled as non-comedogenic or not pore-clogging can help prevent exacerbating the appearance of sebaceous filaments.
- No Picking: Avoid picking or squeezing your pores. This can damage the skin and potentially lead to scarring or enlarged pores which can make sebaceous filaments more noticeable.
If you are still concerned about your sebaceous filaments, you can talk to a dermatologist. They may recommend a topical treatment, such as retinoid or benzoyl peroxide, to help reduce the appearance of sebaceous filaments.
In the age of impossibly smooth-skinned filters on social media, sebaceous filaments might feel like imperfections when you look at them up close in the mirror. But remember that they are not a skin problem—rather they are a normal feature of healthy skin, especially for oilier skin types, helping to transport and regulate sebum. They remind us that sometimes, the best skincare approach is one that respects and supports our skin’s natural processes.