POSTED: 12 Oct 2023

What are Sebaceous Filaments & How to Get Rid of Them

Ever wondered what those tiny, dark, hair-like plugs sitting in your pores are? Sebaceous filaments, often mistaken for blackheads, are small oily substances that reside in the pores. They are most common on the nose but sometimes affect the chin or cheeks. Whilst harmless, for a lot of people they stand in the way of having clear and radiant looking skin. In this article we explain what are sebaceous filaments, the difference between blackheads vs sebaceous filaments and the best treatments to get rid of them.

What Are Sebaceous Filaments & Where Do They Occur?

Sebaceous filaments are tiny, tube-like structures within the hair follicles or pores. They are a natural and essential part of your skin’s function. Their primary role is to channel the flow of sebum, the natural oil produced by sebaceous glands, along the lining of the pore and to the skin’s surface. This process helps keep the skin moisturised and protected.

These filaments are most visible on areas with a high concentration of sebaceous glands. The most common places where people notice sebaceous filaments are the nose, chin and forehead. They are however present on any skin that contains sebaceous glands. This is basically the whole body with the exception of the skin on the palms of your hands and soles of your feet.

Unlike blackheads, which occur due to clogged pores, sebaceous filaments are not a sign of congestion or a skin condition. However, when filled with excess sebum or when the oil on the surface oxidises and darkens, they can become more visible. This is harmless but for many is cosmetically unappealing.

Blackheads vs Sebaceous Filaments, What’s the Difference?

Most people confuse sebaceous filaments with blackheads. It’s an easy mistake to make but it’s important to know the difference so you can choose the best treatment. Whilst, they might look somewhat similar, there are key differences between blackheads vs sebaceous filaments:

  • Blackheads: these are actually a type of acne lesion known as open comedones. Blackheads can form wherever hair follicles or sebaceous glands are found but are most commonly seen on the T-zone area (forehead, nose and chin). They occur when a pore becomes clogged with sebum and dead skin cells. When squeezed, a blackhead will typically release a dark and semi-solid plug. Acne treatments are the best way to get rid of blackheads.
  • Sebaceous Filaments: these are natural, hair-like formations which help manage sebum flow to the surface of your skin. If squeezed, they produce a white or yellowish worm-like string. They can become more noticeable when filled with excess sebum. However, they don’t stem from clogged pores and are not a sign of any skin conditions. Sebaceous filaments are most prominent on the nose, as it is often oilier than other parts of the face. However, they can also appear on the cheeks, chin, forehead or other parts of the body.

Best Treatments to Get Rid of Sebaceous Filaments

First of all its important to know that you can’t (and shouldn’t) try to get rid of sebaceous filaments entirely. This is because they are vital for protecting and moisturising your skin. However, you can minimise their appearance and achieve clearer a much complexion. Treatment should aim to keep pores clean, reduce their size and control oil production without stripping your skin and damaging your skin barrier. Here are some simple but effective steps for sebaceous filaments treatment:

  1. Regular Cleansing: Using a gentle facial cleanser can help regulate the amount of sebum on the skin’s surface, ensuring filaments don’t become too prominent. If you want a really good clean, try double cleansing at night using a balm or cream product followed by a foaming cleanser. Avoid soaps and harsh products as these can strip the skin off its oils and paradoxically cause more oil production which may worsen the visibility of sebaceous filaments.
  2. Exfoliation: incorporate a mild acid or enzyme exfoliant into your skincare routine to slough off dead skin cells. this will give you smoother skin and prevent the sebum in filaments from oxidising and darkening hence reducing their visibility.
  3. Oil Absorbing Products: Clay masks can be effective if you have very oily skin. They absorb excess sebum and hence can reduce the prominence of sebaceous filaments. However, use these sparingly as they can dry out your skin which can make it go into over drive and produce more sebum to compensate.
  4. Retinoids: retinol and prescription products like adapelene, Tretinoin and Tazarotene increase cell turnover and can help regulate oil production. This can help to minimise the appearance of sebaceous filaments.
  5. Niacinamide: put simply, niacinamide can help regulate sebum production and reduce the appearance of pores. In turn, this can reduce the visibility of sebaceous filaments.
  6. Professional Skin Treatments: There is no magic bullet and the best way to treat sebaceous filaments is to follow a good skincare routine. However, options like chemical peels and clinical facials can deep-cleanse the pores and reduce the appearance of sebaceous filaments.

What Not to Do

When dealing with sebaceous filaments, it can be tempting to take aggressive measures to try and get rid of them. However, this can cause more harm than good. Inappropriate sebaceous filaments treatments can worsen their appearance and potentially lead to other skin issues like damaged pores or even scarring. Here’s what you should avoid:

  1. Over-cleansing: whilst it’s important to keep your skin clean, over-cleansing can strip the skin of its natural oils. This can trigger an overproduction of sebum. As a result, this can actually worsen the appearance of sebaceous filaments.
  2. Picking or Squeezing: physically manipulating sebaceous filaments by squeezing or picking can seem like a satisfying and quick fix! However, it doesn’t really work as they refill again and with more vigour. Worse-still, doing this too frequently can traumatise the skin. This can cause scarring, inflammation and infection.
  3. Using Harsh Scrubs: abrasive facial scrubs can cause micro-tears in the skin. This can lead to irritation and increased sensitivity. Instead of harsh scrubs, go for chemical exfoliants like salicylic acid which can be more effective and gentler on the skin.
  4. Overusing Nose Strips: there’s no doubt that nose strips can provide temporary satisfaction. They’re cheap, easy to use and within minutes you can pull out material from the pores. However, they don’t prevent the return of sebaceous filaments and can even cause skin irritation if used too frequently.
  5. Skipping Moisturiser: people often believe that reducing moisture can help tackle oil-related issues. However, the exact opposite is true. If you deprive your skin of moisture, it can prompt it to produce even more oil to compensate.
  6. Skipping Sunscreen: sun damage can decrease the skin’s natural collagen. This causes pores to appear larger and making sebaceous filaments more noticeable. Always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF30, even on cloudy days or if you’re indoors.
  7. Expecting Complete Elimination: like with anything in life, it’s vital to have realistic expectations. Sebaceous filaments are a natural part of the skin’s structure. you can’t and shouldn’t try to eradicate them. However, you can improve their appearance with a consistent skincare routine and time!

It is often hard to navigate the world of skincare treatments which is growing exponentially. However, always remember that knowledge is your best tool. By understanding what sebaceous filaments are and the difference between blackheads vs them, you can find the best treatment and make informed skincare choices. With any skin problem, being gentle with your skin and following a consistent skincare routine are essential. If you’re concerned about the appearance of your skin and not having much success with treatments, consider seeing a dermatologist or skincare professional. They can provide tailored advice and guide you throughout your treatment journey.

At City Skin clinic, we are obsessive about personalised skincare. Our virtual skin clinic connects clients with doctors for safe and effective treatments like Tretinoin and Hydroquinone. We treat skin conditions like acnehyperpigmentationmelasma and skin ageing. To get started on your personalised skincare protocol, book a virtual video consultation or use our online consultation form. The journey towards great skin starts here.

Authored by:

Dr Amel Ibrahim
Aesthetic Doctor & Medical Director
Founder City Skin Clinic
Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England
Associate Member of British Association of Body Sculpting GMC Registered - 7049611

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