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

Blackheads are pretty easy to spot. They’re the blemishes at the surface of the skin that appear black — because open comedones turn dark (i.e. oxidise) when exposed to air.

But there’s another type of dark dot that can pop up on your skin: sebaceous filaments. This lesser-known skin phenomenon is often mistaken for blackheads — but they’re not the same thing. Here’s everything you need to know about the difference between blackheads and sebaceous filaments.

A nose with sebaceous filaments, not blackheads which are treated with Salicylic Acid Cleanser by SLMD Skincare

What are sebaceous filaments?

Our skin is covered in hair — you’ve probably noticed 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 moisturised. 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 moisturise 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 appear as a light grey or tan color that’s often mistaken for a true blackhead.

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, the excess mixes with dead skin cells, dirt and bacteria — clogging pores and often leading to the formation of a blackhead.

Blackheads before treatment with Salicylic Acid Cleanser by SLMD Skincare

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. While 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 can 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.

Salicylic Acid Cleanser prevents blackheads by SLMD Skincare and Dr. Pimple Popper

How can I treat blackheads and/or sebaceous filaments?

The best way to keep pores clear is to use exfoliating skincare products. SLMD Skincare Salicylic Acid Cleanser is great for that reason — it’s a beta hydroxy acid (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.

For skin prone to blackheads, try SLMD Skincare Blemish-Prone Skin System, a targeted programme that gently yet effectively cleanses, treats and moisturises with salicylic acid, sulfur, retinol and vitamin C.

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, book a visit to your dermatologist for a session of sanitary extractions instead.


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