Dermatologists weigh in on how to make sebaceous filaments less noticeable.

By Renee Cherry
March 12, 2020
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person looking at sebaceous filaments on their nose in a mirror

Not to make you feel like your whole life's been a lie, but your blackheads might not be blackheads at all. Sometimes those pores that look like teeny, tiny dark spots are actually sebaceous filaments, a different kind of oil build-up. Go ahead and take that in.

If you strive to understand your clogged pores on a deep level, you probably have a lot of questions. To figure out whether you have sebaceous filaments and learn more about what they are and what you can do about them, keep scrolling. (Related: The 10 Best Blackhead Removers, According to a Skin Expert)

What Are Sebaceous Filaments?

Sebaceous filaments are less intense than they sound. You have sebaceous glands in your skin that produce sebum, aka oil. Skin cells can collect around a mixture of the oil, bacteria, and hair within a pore, forming a hair-like strand in the pore: a sebaceous filament. (Filament is a fancy word for a threadlike material.) Sebaceous filaments clog up the pore, but don't picture them as an impervious roadblock. They're porous, so oil can pass through them to reach the surface of your skin.

Everyone gets sebaceous filaments, according to Marisa Garshick, M.D., a dermatologist at Medical Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery in New York. "Sebaceous filaments are a natural, normal process," she says. "In people who either have very oily skin or tend to have enlarged pores or pores that get clogged easily, they may be more visible." They can be especially noticeable on your nose and can also occur in your chin, cheeks, forehead, and chest.

On the surface, they look similar to blackheads at first glance—but they're different. Blackheads are a darker color and form when dead skin cells and oil are exposed to air and oxidize, says Deanne Mraz Robinson M.D. of Modern Dermatology in Connecticut. Up close, sebaceous filaments are more yellowish or gray. There's no risk in having them. "They're more of a cosmetic thing," says Dr. Robinson.

How to Get Rid of Sebaceous Filaments

You'll never fully rid your skin of sebaceous filaments, but you can take steps to make them less apparent. As with blackheads, exfoliation is key. "When you exfoliate using either a salicylic acid wash, any chemical exfoliant, or a physical exfoliant, you're helping to clear out the pores, and when you clear out the pores it makes them less visible," says Dr. Garshick. If you're noticing sebaceous filaments on your nose, you can spot treat. "You may add spot treatments to the nose that you don't use all over the rest of your face, for example, a charcoal mask, which can help detoxify the pores and lift out impurities," says Dr. Robinson. (Related: 10 Facial Exfoliators That Will Completely Transform Your Skin)

Disclaimer: Going from zero to 60 can backfire. "There are two reasons you don't want to over-exfoliate," says Dr. Garshick. "You don't want to irritate the skin, and you don't want to potentially trick the skin into believing that it's dry, which can cause an overcompensation of oil production."

And try to resist the urge to get try to dig gunk out of your pores. "I advise against trying to extract them yourself at home," says Dr. Robinson. "Doing so can cause inflammation and even infection, which will lead to a bigger, more cystic zit." Plus, removing sebaceous filaments is a very temporary fix–they'll be back within a day or two. "With sebaceous filaments, whatever you get out is really going to be reproduced," says Dr. Garshick. (Related: This $10 Face Mask Has a Cult Following—and the Before-and-After Photos Prove Why)

If you want to make your SF less apparent, Dr. Robinson recommends confirming with your derm that they're actually sebaceous filaments. "Next I'd suggest a HydraFacial, which uses a gentle 'vacuum' technology to lift debris from the pores, while infusing a customized nourishing cocktail so the skin isn't overly stripped," she says. Then, as maintenance, tailor your skin-care routine to maintain balance when it comes to oil production. (Here's some guidance on how to build a skin-care routine if you have oily, dry, or combination skin.)

SkinCeuticals LHA Cleanser Gel
Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Universal Daily Peel
Differin Adapalene Gel
Left: Credit: Dermstore
Center: Credit: Sephora
Right: Credit: CVS

On that note, here are some of Dr. Garshick's skin-care recs for people who want to minimize the visibility of sebaceous filaments:

In the grand scheme of skin, sebaceous filaments aren't a huge deal. But if they've been bugging you, finding the right exfoliation strategy for your skin can make a difference.


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