When I first found out about the difference between sebaceous filaments vs blackheads, it was one of those AHA moments! And I’m sure you’ll get one, too!

It might seem insignificant at first. 

But as we learn about sebaceous filaments and blackheads, you’ll see how knowing their difference can really up your skin care game.

So, let’s get to it, shall we?

Sebaceous Filaments: What do they look like?

sebaceous filaments vs blackheads

Finding out what they look like will help us understand why sebaceous filaments (or SFs for short) and blackheads get mixed up easily.

Try to look closely at your nose. Focus especially on the tip. See any small, cylindrical or pin-like dots on the pores? 

Those dots with whitish-yellowish or gray color are sebaceous filaments. That’s how dermatologists and professors, Dr. Plewig and Dr. Wolff, described SFs [1]. Compare that to blackheads that can literally look like black dots. Not so similar now, right?

Sebaceous Filaments: What are they?

They certainly aren’t blackheads. So, what are they?

SFs are naturally occurring to our skin. They are part of the skin’s follicle (pore) structure [1].

sebaceous filaments vs blackheads

And these hair-like formations have a special task to do. They mediate the flow of oil along the pore lining they are in [2]. You can say they help moisturize skin by being the channel for sebum, our skin’s natural oil.

As they are natural to the skin, everyone has them. SFs become visible when your pores fill up with sebum. They’re especially noticeable on our central face area, where pores tend to be larger. So, it’s common to be greeted by SFs on your nose, forehead, and upper cheeks. 

But, if you have oily skin or have large, clog-prone pores, SFs will be more noticeable. And since pores become larger as we age, it’s going to be hard not to notice SFs.

Sebaceous Filaments VS Blackheads

sebaceous filaments vs blackheads

Given how both SFs and blackheads appear in the same places, it’s a lot easier to mix them up.

But take note that compared to SFs, blackheads are much darker in appearance. These black dots can even be mistaken for dirt [3]. 

Another thing, when SFs are extracted, they appear as free-flowing columns of wax that look like tiny-strands of hair. While extracted blackheads look more like plugs [4].

Lastly, SFs are not problematic at all. They are natural to the skin and not in any way connected to acne formation [2]. 

Blackheads, on the other hand, are part of the early stage of acne. In fact, having only blackheads and whiteheads means you have mild acne [5].

How to Deal With Sebaceous Filaments VS Blackheads

sebaceous filaments vs blackheads

Back when I didn’t know about SFs, I got so frustrated with the “blackheads” that filled the pores on my nose. 

And if you’ve had (or still have) the same problem, you’ll know how especially frustrating these are when you try to put on foundation. Or any coverage product on that area, really. 

No matter what buffing, blending, or patting you do, that area always appeared so rough. All because of those “blackheads” filling the pores.

It even got to a point where I’d pinch my nose to extract those plugs. I used to think this was so satisfying. But lo-and-behold, they fill back-up in the next few days.

And now, we know why that is. Those weren’t blackheads but SFs. 

Since SFs are natural to the skin, you can’t really get rid of them permanently. You can extract them, but they’ll come back in around 30 days or less if your skin is very oily [1].

So, is that it? Game over?

Well, even though we can’t permanently get rid of them, we can still reduce their appearance.

Lucky for us, salicylic acid is a helpful countermeasure for both SFs and blackheads.

As a BHA, salicylic acid can dissolve sebum and other substances (like dead skin cells) filling the pores. [4]. That’s because BHAs are oil soluble and can penetrate deep into the skin.

This is helpful for cutting down the visibility of SFs. And it’s also helpful for resurfacing blackheads before they turn into full-blown pimples.


I hope this revelation about sebaceous filaments vs blackheads blew your mind as much as it did mine.

Try to think back to when you didn’t know about their difference. You could have been stuck like me, trying to pinch out every last sebum wax out of my nose pores.

Now, you can be more forgiving to your nose texture by reminding yourself SFs are perfectly normal.

Sure, there may be days when SFs poke out more than usual. 

But as long as you know your skin is happy and healthy, a few visible SFs are nothing to sweat about.

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