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Sebaceous Filaments or Blackheads? How to Tell the Difference between Those Spots on Your Nose

We’ve all been there: in full magnifying mirror mode, examining every single pore, bump and spot on our face, only to find that the huge blackheads we just got rid of yesterday are already back in business. It’s the worst!

Before you start squeezing or popping again, you should probably know that those frustrating blackheads may not be blackheads at all, but sebaceous filaments. Also known as sebum plugs, sebaceous filaments can appear as tiny dark dots, typically not as large as actual blackheads. But if they aren’t blackheads, what are they? Ahead, we share the differences between sebaceous filaments vs. blackheads, what causes each, and the best remedies and treatments.

What are sebaceous filaments?

With the exception of the palms of your hands and soles of your feet, your body is covered with sebaceous glands, which are attached to your pores. These glands produce an oily substance known as sebum, a mixture of fats that is ultimately pushed up to the skin’s surface through your pores.

When pores fill up with oil, they become sebaceous filaments. These tiny tubes help guide the oil from your sebaceous glands to the skin’s surface, where it can naturally hydrate skin. We all have sebaceous filaments, and typically, you can’t even see them unless you are looking really closely. It’s when your glands overproduce sebum that it starts to spill over the top and sebaceous filaments become visible.

Then how are blackheads different?

When sebaceous filaments mix with dead skin cells and bacteria, the pore-clogging combination can trigger acne in the form of whiteheads or blackheads.

If the clogged pore is sealed off (closed) by skin or keratin, a whitehead pimple forms.

If the clogged pore is exposed (open), air gets into the pores and oxidizes the trapped sebum, turning it black in color. Blackheads are larger, darker and have more of a texture than sebaceous filaments.


When to pick/pop/squeeze at home

Ideally, never. Sebaceous filaments are part of your skin, harmless and rarely visible to anyone other than yourself. And even if you do extract or squeeze sebaceous filaments, they will likely “refill” with sebum in a few weeks.

As for blackheads, there are much better ways to attempt removal. As an added bonus, these steps will typically also reduce the appearance of sebaceous filaments. Here’s what to do:

1. Exfoliate to unclog pores.

Finding a great daily exfoliator is the first step in eliminating blackheads. Look for a facial wash that contains the OG degreaser, salicylic acid or its natural form (willow bark extract). It’s strong enough to remove the excess oil that’s clogging your pores, but gentle enough that it won’t dry out skin.

For an extra deep pore-clearing boost, check the label for alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic and mandelic acids. They naturally exfoliate skin to help dissolve sebaceous filaments and shed dead skin cells.


RELATED READ: How your mask could be causing blackheads (and what to do about it)


2. Use retinols in your PM routine.

Retinol and retinoid products can be really effective in the fight against sebaceous filaments and blackheads. Because they prompt skin cells to turn over and die, regular use can help pores avoid keratin and oil buildup. Over time, this will reduce the number and size of blackheads and loosen sebum plugs.


3. Try a next-gen nose strip.

Mighty Patch Nose uses a flexibly thin hydrocolloid gel to naturally trap and remove the excess oil from the pores on your nose. It’s also super-gentle and peels off painlessly, unlike the pore strips of the past. There’s no ripping that will damage or irritate skin and pores look clearer and smaller immediately.

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