What Are Sebaceous Filaments and How Do You Remove Them?

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Smooth skin — you do everything you can to get it. You hydrate, exercise and follow a routine that achieves porcelain skin. But sometimes the human body has other plans, simply refusing to see it your way when it comes to skin care. And your face appears to have dots of darkness all over your nose and cheeks.

Say “hello” to sebaceous filaments.

Sebaceous filaments are hair-like structures that let oil or sebum move from the glands that produce it to the surface of your skin. These filaments line the inside of the pore, and when your body produces too much sebum, the structures get filled up, making it seem like you’ve got large pores and blackheads.

Sebum is OK because it fights dehydration and offers a protective barrier, but not when there’s too much of it. Overproduction means getting oily skin and acne, like blackheads.

It turns out, a sebaceous filament (SF) isn’t a blackhead. They may seem like they are because filaments look like dark dots on your skin, much like blackheads.

What Do Sebaceous Filaments Look Like?

closeup of a woman's blue eye
Sebaceous filaments are different from blackheads; they look narrower and longer

Blackheads, a type of acne, are plugs or blockages on your pores. They appear black because the plug oxidizes upon contact with air. In stark contrast, sebaceous filaments can look gray, clear or sandy-colored, not just dark. Both will appear the same on your skin, but their structures are different.

SFs are thin, thread-like structures whereas blackheads are sebum plugs. So SFs are longer and narrower than blackheads.

In comparing blackheads vs sebaceous filaments, appearance and color aren’t the only factors. How they show up on your skin is also a key aspect to determining whether you have acne.

Blackheads develop when the three things that should never be together, get together: bacteria, dead skin cells and oil. So when this combination swirls in the pores of your skin and solifidy, little bumps appear, which are called comedo. When the comedo is covered with skin, you get what’s known as a whitehead. But when it’s exposed to the air, you get a blackhead.

A sebaceous filament, on the other hand, occurs naturally. Everyone has them. But they will appear more visible on people with oily skin or large pores. And since everyone has them, they must serve a purpose. Right?

Why Do We Have Sebaceous Filaments?

Why are SFs necessary? These hair-like structures are responsible for moving oil from the sebaceous glands to the surface of the skin. So unlike blackheads, SFs are a normal function. If a sebaceous filament doesn’t do its job, your skin doesn’t receive the moisture and protection it needs to stay supple.

SFs are generally around the T-zone because this is where you’ll find high concentrations of sebaceous glands.

Can You Get Rid of Sebaceous Filament?

woman touching her shoulder
You can’t get rid of sebaceous filaments because they have a role to play in your skin, but you can minimize their appearance through a better routine

Now can you remove these blackhead lookalikes? Yes and no.

Yes, you can follow a skin care routine that allows you to minimize — not get rid of — the visibility of sebaceous filaments. No, you can’t remove them because they are part of your skin, so you can’t apply the techniques you’ve seen on those oddly satisfying, for some, Dr. Pimple Popper blackheads videos.

Although you’re not going to be popping or plucking at these things, you can keep sebaceous filaments from making it appear like you’ve got acne.

How to Get Rid of Sebaceous Filaments

The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) recommends a fairly easy routine for managing oily skin, and this you can apply to minimizing the visibility of SFs. Maybe even over time your skin care routine will prevent an overproduction of sebum, keeping SFs from stretching out your pores.

Instead of reaching for a blackhead removal tool, follow this routine to minimize the appearance of sebaceous filaments:

Wash your face in the morning, at night and after exercising

And by wash, the AAD means gently. Do not scrub your face as though it’s the surface of your kitchen. Scrubbing will only irritate your skin.

Cleanse gently with products formulated for oily skin. Look for brands made for acne-prone, sensitive skin. Don’t use ones that are oil- or alcohol-based because they’ll irritate your skin.

Some options to look into:

  1. Tatcha The Deep Cleanse Exfoliating Cleanser – an oil-free, gel formula that gently exfoliates your skin with its soft beads made from Japanese luffa fruit. This dermatologist-tested daily cleanser takes away impurities, unclogs pores and leaves skin soft and hydrated.
  2. Laneige Multi Deep-Clean Cleanser – a mild cleanser that clears dead skin, excess sebum and bacteria through a combination of antioxidant-rich blueberry extract and papaya enzyme. It also contains glycerin and meadowfoam seed oil, moisturizing your skin without the oily look.
  3. Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash Pink Grapefruit Facial Cleanser – much cheaper than Laneige, this non-comedogenic (which means, won’t clog your pores) face wash contains salicylic acid, which reduces the amount of oil on your skin as well as the size of a sebaceous filament.

Moisturize every day and wear sun protection

A daily moisturizer hydrates your skin. It sounds like an odd step to do for skin that seems to overproduce sebum, right? Turns out an overproduction of oil may also mean your skin is dehydrated, so the glands are working overtime. Look for lightweight, oil-free moisturizers and save time with this routine by going for products that also have sunscreen protection.

Sunscreen doesn’t just shield you from skin cancer; it’ll also keep away sun damage that give you wrinkles and dark spots.

Some options to check out:

  1. Burt’s Bees Hydrating Stick with Aloe Water – the dermatologist-tested hydration stick contains no parabens, no synthetic fragrances and it’s not tested on animals. It uses aloe water to moisturize your skin, and the roll-up application means you don’t have to touch your face to hydrate it.
  2. Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel – it’s oil- and alcohol-free, and formulated with glycerin and hyaluronic acid. Both ingredients are humectants, which moisturize your skin without the heaviness of emollients. The lightweight gel formula also works for people with rosacea.
  3. Cetaphil PRO Oil Absorbing Moisturizer SPF 30 – the oil-free and affordable moisturizer is made with micro-pearl technology. It’s an innovation that allows the product to absorb surface oil and diminish shine, leaving you with a matte finish. The moisturizer pulls double duty with the UVB/UVA protection.

Take off makeup before going to bed

woman looking at a distance

Don’t adore your make-up too much that you’d sleep in it. Beauty products enhance what you already have, but overdo it and it’ll be bad for your skin. The foundation in your makeup may clog pores because it’ll mix in with the dirt and oil you’ve accumulated throughout the day. This, in turn, could lead to breakouts.

Remove every trace of foundation, lipstick and eyeshadow before you turn in. And you won’t even need to buy makeup remover to do the job.

Choose water-based, oil-free makeup as well.

Do not squeeze or pick at your pores

The temptation to touch the corners of your nose, your forehead or cheeks may overwhelm you. But don’t give in because it’ll lead to any of the following effects:

  • Infection
  • Damaged skin tissue
  • Bigger pores
  • The spread of bacteria

If your at-home treatments and gentle routine aren’t giving you the smooth, clear skin you want, then it’s time to see a dermatologist for professional-grade treatment.

Smooth skin is within reach by keeping the visibility of sebaceous filaments to a minimum. Practice a skin care routine that gets oil under control without sacrificing moisture. And you’ll never have to obsess over blackheads and filaments and sebum in front of the mirror.

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