Dermatologists Explain What Are Sebaceous Filaments and How to Get Rid of Them

You might be mistaking them for blackheads.

Have you experienced a blackhead so stubborn that you couldn't get rid of it no matter how hard you tried? If you have, chances are it wasn't a blackhead but sebaceous filaments. Sebaceous filaments are a natural part of the skin structure that typically appear on your T-zone.

While it's a common skincare concern, not many people understand its causes or the proper way to treat sebaceous filaments. So we spoke with three board-certified dermatologists to answer all of our questions.

What are sebaceous filaments?

Sebaceous filaments are a normal part of the skin structure, explains Loretta Ciraldo, MD, a Miami-based, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Dr. Loretta Skincare. "They are tube-like structures that line our pores," she says. "Think of them as the pathway through which we empty our pores."

Alicia Zalka, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Surface Deep, compares sebaceous filaments to straws. "The filament draws sebum (oil) from deeper in the pore to the skin, like a straw allows you to sip your beverage from the bottom of a cup," she says. "The tube-like filament provides the moisturizing oil to the skin surface." They are most common on the T-zone of the face, especially on the nose.

How do sebaceous filaments differ from blackheads?

"A lot of people confuse sebaceous filaments with blackheads, but blackheads are actually classified as a non-inflamed form of acne," says Dr. Ciraldo. Blackheads are pores clogged with oil and skin debris and create a dark, bumpy surface.

Rita Linkner, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of RVL Skincare, explains that when sebum in the pore gets exposed to oxygen, it oxidizes and causes the black color. "Sebaceous filaments appear to be hair-like extrusions of dried sebum emanating from large pores," she explains. Sebaceous filaments will appear more yellow or grayish at the surface.

How do you get rid of them?

Unfortunately, filaments are part of the micro-anatomy of the skin and cannot be removed permanently. However, you can minimize its appearance. "Any active ingredients that work to exfoliate the skin will improve the look of sebaceous filaments," says Dr. Linkner. "Common examples of active ingredients include retinol, salicylic acid, and glycolic acid."

Dr. Loretta recommends using a beta-hydroxy acid (such as salicylic acid) in the morning and alpha-hydroxy acid (such as glycolic acid) in the evening. "Glycolic is the smallest of all the alpha-hydroxy acids, and it penetrates the best into the pores to naturally unclog any filamentous buildup," she says. From her own skincare product line, she recommends the Dr. Loretta Micro Peel Peptide Pads with 10% glycolic acid ($60, drloretta.com).

In the morning, you can try the Rodan + Fields UNBLEMISH Refining Acne Wash ($40, rodanandfields.com), which Dr. Linkner says is a perfect recommendation for someone trying to eliminate pesky filaments that usually aggregate on the nose.

"The inclusion of these tips will help to reduce the amount of sebum held in these tube-like filaments and keep the sebaceous filaments from being noticeable," says Dr. Zalka.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles