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

By Chandra Pepino For Belo Medical Group on January 8, 2021

There are viral videos going around on TikTok and Twitter nowadays of a purported ‘green tea mask’ that aims to remove whiteheads and blackheads from your face, especially on your nose. Here’s what you’ve probably seen:

While those peel videos look super satisfying, experts say products like this can actually do more harm than good. That’s because while it may remove blackheads, it can also be taking away sebaceous filaments from your pores. But wait—what’s the difference between blackheads and sebaceous filaments, anyway? And which ones should you be getting rid of?

What are sebaceous filaments?

In an interview with Byrdie, Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC, says sebaceous filaments are “tiny collections of oil and dead cells that build up within your pores.” Sebaceous filaments are not a form of acne; in fact, they cause no harm or irritation at all. Those tiny dots or specks are just a normal result of your skin being, well, skin. (And when they are removed, they often look clear or yellow in color.) As your skin sheds and your body creates sebum, your pores can fill with sebaceous filament. They’re just a mix of dead skin cells and sebum, so no need to panic.

What makes sebaceous filaments different from blackheads?

Blackheads, on the other hand, are much more noticeable. Says Dr. Shari Marchbein of the American Academy of Dermatology, blackheads are “characterized by a dilated or widened opening of a hair follicle caused by a buildup of sebum, P. Acnes bacteria, and inflammation.” They’re very hard to miss, because chances are they’ve enlarged the pore they occupy (just like in the video above). Also, they tend to be black from top to bottom, unlike sebaceous filaments which can be black (from oxygen exposure) on top, but are yellowish or clear on the inside. 

To sum things up, sebaceous filaments are a normal part of having skin. They can be removed during a facial, but if they don’t get removed, they won’t cause any harm. If you’d like to get rid of them, however, using glycolic soap or exfoliating toners can accelerate the skin renewal process. Blackheads, on the other hand, need to be treated by a professional. You can do more damage by attempting to tweeze them out on your own. Whether you’re dealing with sebaceous filaments or blackheads, leave it to the experts—we’ll handle it and give you clearer skin in no time.

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