If your immediate thought is “yuck,” we hear you. While it is not the most glamourous topic, it is kind of fascinating to know the difference. If you are someone who has been messing with their skin since adolescence (it’s okay, we’ve all been guilty at some point), it’s good to know why a breakout of blackheads may not be clearing away. Hint, they might not be blackheads.
What Are Blackheads?
Those pesky, gross-looking dark spots on your face (aka blackheads) are clogged hair follicles with oxidized keratin. So, if you thought your skin was just dirty, that’s not quite it. Blackheads are produced by the squalmous cells of the skin that are open to the air – hence the oxidation.
This is what causes them to look black.
What Are Sebaceous?
Sebaceous filaments, on the other hand, are particles released from oil glands and a totally normal function of the skin. These specks, which are usually unnoticeable, help keep your skin moist and need to be left alone. If you mess with these naturally occurring filaments, you could cause more problems for your skin.
Know The Difference First
Yes, we know the temptation to squeeze away blackheads. But if you can’t tell the difference between a blackhead or a sebaceous filament, err on the side of caution. Your skin needs sebum to stay lubricated and the threadlike sebaceous filaments are important because they line the skin inside your pores and these remove sebum from your sebaceous glands and push it to the surface.
You probably didn’t even know you had them because it’s rare to see them. If your pores fill up with sebum, then they become more apparent. People with large pores or oily skin might have more noticeable sebaceous filaments. But unlike blackheads, these are sandy colored or gray.
Blackheads, however, look black and appear when sebum, dead skin cells, and bacteria conjure together at the opening of a pore and form a tiny bump called a comedo. If skin covers a comedo, this is what’s known as a whitehead. But if the comedo is open to the air, this is when it oxidizes and turns black.
Messing With Sebaceous Filaments
If you start messing with your sebaceous filaments before a whitehead or blackhead form, this is a losing battle. You need these little guys and you could risk harming your skin. Squeezing sebaceous filaments could lead to scarring, so hands off! If you squeeze or pick you could spread more bacteria at or around the pore. And you know what that means – breakout city.
Sebaceous glands are highly concentrated around your nose and forehead, so you may see more sebaceous filaments in these areas. And newsflash, these aren’t ever going away. So, even if you do try to pop or squeeze, they are just going to fill right back up again to continue their job of lubricating the skin.
If you are truly bothered by the sight of them, your best line of attack is to focus on minimizing your pores and reducing the oiliness of your skin. If you are focused on improving your skin’s appearance, chemical exfoliation through gentle fruit acids, gommage or microdermabrasion are the best methods. These will minimize the appearance of your sebaceous filaments.
A professional facial will help and an esthetician can recommend some pore-minimizing skincare products to help. You’ll want something that is a deep but gentle cleanser and will help exfoliate too. Double cleansing can also help.
Blackheads: Target The Cause
If your primary problem is with blackheads (now that you know the difference), you can see an esthetician for extraction to ward them off for a longer-term. But targeting the cause is the best strategy. Blackheads can result from pollutants in the air, a poor diet, hormones, medication, or just oily skin that mixes with pollutants that combines to make a thick sludge inside the pore (ew!).
If you start picking and squeezing them at home, you are going to irritate your already fussy skin and you will spread bacteria which is going to make your blackhead situation even worse.
If you can find a good charcoal product, this will help detox the skin and acts as a magnet to draw out impurities. This gives you a deep cleanse inside the pore and a good product can also help moisturize your skin. Yes, even oily skin still needs to be moisturized! It’s important to keep your pore walls elastic.
Salicylic acid is also another great option for treating blackheads. This is a type of beta-hydroxy acid that is an established acne treatment and is known to clear pores and destroy excess oil. There are many OTC products or prescription products that can be quite helpful. A regular cleanser and a treatment product that contain salicylic acid are a great place to start, and, when combined with a benzoyl peroxide treatment will remove excess acne bacteria on your skin.
Now that you’re able to distinguish between sebaceous filaments (good) and blackheads (bad), you’ll be on your way to a more effective skincare routine.