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A woman with white face mask on her nose sits with her hand resting on her cheek.

Sebaceous Filaments Vs. Blackheads - What’s The Difference?

If you’ve ever suffered a smattering of blackheads that just don’t clear away, take a closer look. You might not be dealing with blackheads at all, but sebaceous filaments instead. While similar to blackheads, sebaceous filaments are a different animal altogether. Learn all about what separates these spots and let us know in the comments if you have any tips on how to get rid of sebaceous filaments and blackheads.

Closeup of sebaceous filaments on the nose

What Are Sebaceous Filaments?

Unlike blackheads, sebaceous filaments are not a clogged hair follicle that needs to be cleared away. Rather, they are a completely normal function of the skin. As Dr. Lily Talakoub of McLean Dermatology and Skincare Center explained to us, “Sebaceous filaments are particles released from oil glands. Blackheads are oxidized keratin (produced by the squamous cells of the skin). Because they are open to the air, they oxidize and look black.”

Sebaceous filaments are needed in order to carry sebum through the hair follicle to the surface of the skin, keeping skin moisturized and flexible. Everyone has sebaceous filaments as they are found in every hair follicle on the skin! When visible, they do resemble blackheads, but are lighter, often appearing as tiny grey or beige dimples that lay completely flat to the surface of the skin. As The Pretty Pimple points out: “Because sebaceous glands are highly concentrated around your nose and forehead, sebaceous filaments are more robust in these areas too.”

Infographic: Do You Have Sebaceous Filaments Or Blackheads

Can You Pop Them?

Yes, a professional can technically extract sebaceous filaments, but this is a temporary solution. For many people, sebaceous filaments may not be visible at all. However, for those with an oily skin type or larger pores, sebaceous filaments can be just as noticeable as blackheads - but much more difficult to extract. Unlike a blackhead, a sebaceous filament won’t “go away” by squeezing it out. They are supposed to be there. Even if they are extracted, as a normal function of the skin, they will grow back to continue their work lubricating the skin. 

The bottom line: Yes, a dermatologist or esthetician can technically extract sebaceous filaments, but this will not solve the problem. To decrease the appearance of sebaceous filaments, the best line of attack is to focus on skin care that minimizes pores and controls the skin’s oil production.

How To Remove Sebaceous Filaments

While sebaceous filaments aren’t an issue the same way blackheads are, that doesn’t mean that you want to see them. As Dr. Lily Talakoub says: “They improve the skin’s appearance when removed. Chemical exfoliation through gentle fruit acids, gommage or microdermabrasion are the best methods to remove them.” Not only is a professional facial a great starting point to remove sebaceous filaments, but the esthetician can also recommend pore shrinking products to help manage their appearance on a daily basis. We recommend an Eminence Organics skin care routine that focuses on deep but gentle cleansing along with regular exfoliation. 

Watch Lead Skin Care Trainer Natalie Pergar as she explains the difference between sebaceous filaments or blackheads and how to remove them in the video below.

Double Cleanse

Double cleanse nightly with our Stone Crop Cleansing Oil and Mangosteen Daily Resurfacing Cleanser. Not only will this remove every trace of makeup and clear clogged pores but, if you have an oily skin type, it works wonders for managing any excess. An added benefit? The beautiful Lactic Acid Complex in our Mangosteen Daily Resurfacing Cleanser works wonders at refining pores, leaving the skin looking luminous and glowy. 

You can also use the Charcoal Exfoliating Gel Cleanser. Formulated with blue matcha, charcoal and malachite, this cleanser washes away impurities to reveal a balanced-looking complexion. 

Try Gommage

As Dr. Lily suggests, gommage is an excellent technique to minimize the appearance of sebaceous filaments. Gommage is an exfoliating technique where a physical exfoliant is layered over a gel textured mask or treatment. This combination is then applied to the skin and left to dry. Once slightly tacky, the treatment is then rolled away with damp fingers, working into the skin and pulling impurities from the pores. This use of physical and chemical exfoliation sloughs away dead skin cells and removes other debris from the surface of the skin. While commonly used in professional treatments, you can also try this at home! Natalie recommends a combination of our Stone Crop Masque and Strawberry Rhubarb Dermafoliant for a gentle yet invigorating treatment.


Exfoliate with our Stone Crop Oxygenating Fizzofoliant™ which deeply purifies your pores and reveals a clean and refreshed complexion.

Dr. Lily’s other recommendation is exfoliation with gentle fruit acids. Our VitaSkin™ Exfoliating Peels are a fantastic option, containing naturally sourced AHAs and BHAs. These chemical peels can be used up to three times per week, providing gentle but deep exfoliation with no neutralization needed. With four different exfoliant options you can easily treat your other skin concerns as well. Choose from:

1. Bright Skin Licorice Root Exfoliating Peel: To help treat the look of hyperpigmentation. Leaves the complexion looking bright and even.

2. Calm Skin Chamomile Exfoliating Peel: To help relieve and protect red, dry skin. Reduces the appearance of irritation.

3. Firm Skin Acai Exfoliating Peel: To help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Leaves the skin feeling more firm and lifted.

4. Clear Skin Willow Bark Exfoliating Peel: To help improve the look of problem skin. Leaves the skin looking smooth and clear.

Additionally, you can practice gentle daily pore refinement with our Mangosteen Daily Resurfacing Concentrate. Containing the same complex that makes the Mangosteen Daily Resurfacing Cleanser so effective, this concentrate will shrink pores over time, reducing the visibility of sebaceous filaments.

Closeup of blackheads on the nose

What Causes Blackheads?

If sebaceous filaments are simply a function of the skin, and only visible when someone has excessive sebum production or larger pores, what causes blackheads? Blackheads can be caused by five main factors:

1. Environment: In an environment with pollution and/or poor circulation, you are exposed to a greater amount of particulate matter in the air. This dirt and dust settles on the skin making its way into open pores where these impurities clog the skin.

2. Excess oil: The oil or sebum found inside of pores is sticky. Especially if you have an oily skin type, this will combine with pollutants, creating a sludge that gets stuck inside the pore.

3. Diet: Sometimes dietary changes, restrictions or sensitivities can cause the skin to produce more or less oil. More oil production will add to the stickiness that clogs pores, while less oil can lead to a dry, tight pore that lacks the flexibility to be cleaned out properly.

4. Hormones: Hormonal changes can also contribute to excessive oil and sebum production, leading to clogged pores, blackheads and even acne. While breakouts sometimes clear once hormones settle, blackheads are less likely to fade.

5. Medication: Lastly, just like with diet, medication can drastically change your skin’s oil production. You may see the skin become more greasy and clogged, or the area around the pore become tight and shiny, both of which aggravate blackheads.

How To Remove Blackheads

If you think you are dealing with blackheads and not sebaceous filaments, our first recommendation is to see an esthetician at your nearest Eminence Organics Spa Partner to confirm which dark spots you’re dealing with. Unlike sebaceous filaments, blackheads need an esthetician for extraction and for removing them long term. Just ensure you are not picking and squeezing your skin at home!

Soften Pore Congestion

To help lift away blackheads, Natalie recommends our Stone Crop Oxygenating Fizzofoliant. Thanks to the adzuki powder in this exfoliant, the debris inside the pore will be softened and easier to clear out through face wash, and excess oil will be absorbed. A few shakes of this powder can be mixed into your favorite cleanser, blending with a few drops of water. Oily skin types can use this concoction daily, while normal to dry skin types should opt for two to three times per week.

Use A Spot Treatment

Try our Acne Advanced Clarifying Masque designed to prevent future breakouts and restore clarity to your skin. It is formulated with basil oil, beta hydroxy acid and three types of clay to deliver protection against breakouts by encouraging exfoliation and unclogging pores. To use, simply apply a small amount of product evenly over the entire face and neck. You can even apply to the spots directly, rather than the entire face. Allow the mask to dry for five to 10 minutes. Rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water and use a face cloth if desired.

Customize Your Moisturizer

Customization doesn’t need to stop with your midweek mask session. Personalize your daily moisturizer as well to ensure you’re delivering blackhead-busting ingredients while still hydrating the complexion. Natalie recommends blending or layering our Acne Advanced Clarifying Hydrator with our award-winning Bamboo Firming Fluid.

The Acne Advanced Clarifying Hydrator contains encapsulated salicylic acid to reduce oiliness and help shrink pores, without stripping the skin of moisture. The Bamboo Firming Fluid delivers lightweight hydration that will help create more flexibility along with helping diminish visible signs of aging. Natalie suggests that those with an oily skin type use two pumps of the hydrator with one pump of the fluid. With dry skin, you can use two pumps of the fluid with one pump of the hydrator.

Has this guide to sebaceous filaments vs. blackheads shed some light on these two skin care terms? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below or on social media.

This article was written in February 2019.

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