Can’t banish your blackheads? They might be this instead

As someone with textured, oily skin with large pores, blackheads are near (and definitely not dear) to my heart. Since you’re here, I’m guessing you feel the same way about those pesky black dots lurking in your T-zone.

Perhaps this sounds like you. You try every drying agent under the sun, you pick at them, scrape at them, try some strips or some black goo that will rip your face right off to try to get rid of them and it seems like in minutes they are back to haunt you. You see them in pictures and were thankful that our stint with masks helped to hide them.

What you may have are blackheads. But what you might also have is something called sebaceous filaments. Let’s discuss the function of pores, and the difference between blackheads and sebaceous filaments.

Pores: everyone has them

Contrary to what the latest IG filter or Photoshopped photo represents, everyone’s skin has pores and texture. Pores provide important functions to skin and overall health. They are portals for our body’s detoxification, heat regulation (sweat), moisturization (sebum), and our hair follicles. Pores allow us to absorb good things like our skincare products, and the bad things in the environment if we’re not careful. In a perfect scenario, our pores are in a balanced flow with moisturizing oils that keep us hydrated, clear, regulated and dewy. The size of your pores is basically genetic. They do not open and close from large to small like many skincare brands would lead you to believe. So let’s move on from putting too much stock in things that say “it will shrink your pores!” What you should think is that clear, well-functioning pores are better looking pores.

Open, blocked pores: blackheads

Since we now understand that our pores don’t radically change in size, what can happen is that they get congested. Just like our sinuses when we have a cold they can become impacted and dilated. This junk, made up of debris from the environment, oil and toxins, hangs out in the pores with nowhere to go. It becomes a plug, oxidizes black from mixing with the air and shouts at us from our mirrors. This is a blackhead, or an open comedone if you want to get fancy. This is baggage lurking that needs to go; little (or large) bundles of yuck which have worn out their welcome. These can and should be extracted by a licensed professional to keep your skin looking and functioning its best. For those like me with large pores, monthly deep cleaning facials are important to make sure to remove blackheads safely.

The un-blackhead: sebaceous filaments

So what happens when you have a constant look of a strawberry to your nose? You extract, use all the skincare in the world and still there are visible dots on your face? These, ReadHead readers, are NOT blackheads, but are sebaceous filaments.

Sebaceous glands create the sebum that naturally protects and nourishes our skin. People with dry skin still have pores producing sebum, but the entry point (pore) may be much smaller and producing less visible sebum. Hence they typically present with dry skin and a smooth, pore-less canvas. This can be a benefit for keeping the skin clear from things like acne (unless it is hormonally driven) but can be more difficult for products that we want to enter the skin to get down in there. Over time, the skin may also present as more dusky and wrinkly with age because of less moisture over time. If there is a benefit to being your own personal oil slick, this is it!

For those of us with larger pores, we typically present as having more of an orange peel-like texture to our skin. You may have heard of a “strawberry” nose. This is caused by the larger entry points of our pores creating the visible divots on the skin’s surface. It leaves us prone to blackheads, but also makes our sebaceous filaments more visible. We are producing more oil within wider entry/exit points. Sebaceous filaments look like grayish or taupe colored-oily dots on our face. These grayish dots on our skin may not be aesthetically what we want to see, but they are just our skin doing its moisturizing thing: producing sebum. This sebum moisturizes our skin, keeps it bouncy and should not be attacked with an extraction tool. This is a pore working like a well-oiled machine. Keeping the pores clear and functioning in a healthy way will keep that sebum flowing and not leave it to get trapped. Sebaceous filaments can become blackheads.

What can I do about sebaceous filaments?

It is important to understand the difference between blackheads and sebaceous filaments. One requires extracting, and the other requires maintenance with realistic expectations. By managing sebaceous filaments, we can prevent black (and white) heads from happening. But we have to be realistic that anything too harsh will strip the skin of its natural processes and a) cause us to produce more oil in a viscous cycle and or b) damage our skin by creating trauma or disrupting proper pH.

Here are some things you can do to help with sebaceous filaments, which will also go hand-in-hand with helping prevent blackheads.

  1. Using products with salicylic acid (BHA) to help clear out pores. Glycolic and other AHAs can help remove dead skin to keep plugs from happening.
  2. Invest in monthly facials. Steaming and deep cleansing will help pores remain clear and free-flowing.
  3. Use a makeup primer specific to acne-prone skin. These will typically be thicker and contain salicylic acid or other acne fighting ingredients to help mask textured skin while keeping it clear.
  4. ….however keeping pores clear from makeup and skin-clogging items is best. Avoid makeup when you can, deep cleanse with products like an oil cleanser followed by CeraVe SA to remove debris.
  5. Use oil-blotting sheets when you see the little oily dots forming.
  6. Use gel or lotions vs. creams for skincare products. Items with hyaluronic acid and a spritz of a moisturizing spray is a great way to help the skin remain hydrated, keep it from over-producing oil and is non-clogging.
  7. Be sure to wash your face AM and PM. The idea is not to strip the skin, but to have it balanced. This may mean a more deep cleaning product at night, and a gentler more-moisturizing option in the AM.
  8. Embrace the fact that your skin will have a youthful appearance well into your later years thanks to your natural shiny glow.

Above all, embrace the skin you’re in and know you’re beautiful just the way you are. #SkinLove.

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