Blackheads vs. Sebaceous Filaments: What’s The Difference?

Blackheads are pretty easy to spot. They’re those pimples at the surface of the skin that appear black because as open comedones  — they turn that color due to oxidization when exposed to air. There are a different kind of black dots that can pop up on your skin though… commonly mistaken as blackheads. They’re called sebaceous filaments. Read on for all the details.

A nose with sebaceous filaments that are not blackheads

3 minute read


What’s a sebaceous filament?

Our skin is covered in hair — you’ve probably experienced some peach fuzz on your face. Every hair follicle contains that hair and a sebaceous gland that produces sebum (oil) that’s meant to keep your skin naturally moisturized.

This is where sebaceous filaments step in: Comprised of triglycerides, wax esters and squalene, sebaceous filaments reside in the lining of your pores, and their primary function is to channel the flow of sebum along that lining into the skin to moisturize it.

For many people, sebaceous filaments will never become super noticeable — these filaments only become visible when the lining of your pore fills up with sebum. But for others with oily skin or enlarged pores, sebaceous filaments can be more visible like blackheads, but more of a light grey or tan, rather than black.

How are sebaceous filaments and blackheads different?

Sebaceous filaments and blackheads can look very similar, but they work very differently.  Sebaceous filaments exist to help oil flow seamlessly to the skin — without pore-clogging back ups. On the flip side, when too much sebum is produced, and mixes with dead skin cells, dirt and bacteria —  that clogs pores and can lead to the formation of a blackhead.

A nose covered in blackheads that are not sebaceous filaments

So why do sebaceous filaments pop up on my T-zone?

Because sebaceous glands are highly concentrated around your nose and forehead, sebaceous filaments are more robust in those areas, too. You can extract these tiny grey specks, just know that this won’t eradicate them; they will naturally fill back up within 30 days because they are a part of your pore structure.

What you do: Adopt a regular regimen of cleansing and exfoliating to keep pores clean and clear of excess sebum and debris; this way your sebaceous filaments can continue to wick oil effectively — without clogging up and forming a blackhead.

How can I treat blackheads and sebaceous filaments?

The best way is to use an exfoliating face wash or treatment that clears out clogged pores. SLMD Salicylic Acid Cleanser is great for that reason — it’s a BHA, able to dive through the oil on your skin to get deep into your pores and clear away all that dirt, bacteria, and dead cells that are clogging them up.

Salicylic acid effectively breaks down the natural sebum that fills up those pores to form sebaceous filaments. This cleanser is available in a 2 oz. size (ideal for on the go/travel) and 4.2 oz (best for residing permanently on your shelf). 

SLMD Salicylic Acid Cleanser for treating sebaceous filaments

Another easy way to incorporate salicylic acid, along with other super exfoliating acids like glycolic acid and lactic acid, is using SLMD Resurfacing Acne Swipes. They are pre-soaked rounds with a combination of AHAs and BHAs to slough away dull skin and keep your skin glowing and your pores clean.

Clear Out is a purifying treatment mask that's formulated with both salicylic acid and natural mineral sulfur to exfoliate, smooth, and help keep pores clear.

SLMD Resurfacing Acne Swipes for treating sebaceous filaments

Try your best to resist the urge to pick at or squeeze sebaceous filaments or blackheads; you could exacerbate the problem by spreading bacteria and dirt or, worse yet, cause irritation and permanent scarring. If you simply can’t keep your fingertips off your face, visit your dermatologist for a session of sanitary extractions. Or, if you’re really itching to extract, go for a medical-grade comedone extractor like the one SLMD Founder, Dr. Sandra Lee uses, to safely and gently take care of blackheads and sebaceous filaments.


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