Updated: Sep 1, 2020
I send a questionnaire out to all new clients asking about what their biggest skin concerns are before they come in for their first appointment and almost always they include getting rid of blackheads. Nine times out of ten, once I get my hand on their skin I find out they don't even have blackheads. "On my nose," they say, "there are a ton of blackheads and they never go away!"
This is always so exciting for me because learning about my nose "blackheads" was life changing for me and I can't wait to share the knowledge! Those pesky little suckers are sebaceous filaments and they are not even acne.
The difference between blackheads and sebaceous filaments
Blackheads, also known as open comedones, are plugs made up of dead skin cells, sebum (oil), dirt and melanin inside a pore. They usually form due to an overproduction over sebum and an excess of skin cells sloughing off. The sebum and cells stick together, solidify and can't make it out of the pore. The oil oxidizes and the plug looks black. They are a mild form of non-inflamed acne and usually easy to manage with professional extractions and the right product regimen.
Sebaceous filaments look similar but they are usually smaller, more uniform in appearance and cover a broad area, usually the nose and chin. They are little waxy tubes of keratin that direct the flow of sebum inside the pores. When melanin is mixed in with the oil or the oil oxidizes, the sebaceous filaments turn brown or grey and look like blackheads.
What to do about the sebaceous filaments - can I extract them?
Extracting sebaceous filaments is a futile endeavor - they usually come back extremely quickly because you will continue to produce oil. Definitely DO NO SQUEEZE them! It's too easy to damage the pore wall which will leave you with bigger sebaceous filaments in the future (personal experience here).
The best way to keep them at bay is to use an oil cleanser to get the oxidized oil to keep moving and use a super-gentle exfoliator to break up the congestion in the pore.
With the oil cleanser, spend plenty of time massaging the cleanser into dry skin. Focus on areas where the sebaceous filaments are concentrated allowing the cleanser to get into each pore and break up the sebum. At least one minute, up to ten if you've got the time (massage also feels great and helps with fine lines and wrinkles, so take your time).
Purifying Treatment Essence has a willow bark which is a natural form of salicylic acid that gentle exfoliates and niacinamide which brightens and evens skin tone.
Getting oil production under control will help keep sebaceous filaments under control so balance your diet with essential fatty acids and plenty of water.
And my best advice for sebaceous filaments...
Take 3 steps back from the mirror - they are not as noticeable as you think they are!