My pores are clogged, and they are oozing oil.
No matter what I do, I can’t seem to get it under control.
This was an email that recently came in from a client.
Whilst we all can be a little guilty of over-scrutinising our pores.
There is a troubling condition referred to as sebaceous filaments.
That is linked with oily skin and enlarged pores.
In this article, you’ll learn more about blocked pores and sebaceous filaments.
And how you can treat them to achieve clear skin.
What Are Sebaceous Filaments?
First, we need to set the record straight.
Sebaceous filaments are a natural part of your skin; for many, they aren’t visible.
They are cylindrical tubes of a whitish-yellowish colour, which are expressed from areas of your face rich in sebaceous follicles naturally or by squeezing your skin.
These oil-rich cylindrical tubes are composed of bacteria, sebum, and dead skin cells and often contain fine hair.
Oil is pushed to the skin’s surface and is often found in areas that produce the most oil, like your forehead or T-Zone.
However, if your experiencing this problem and your skin is super oily or your pores are enlarged, they can be very concerning, especially if they keep overproducing and pushing out oil.
They are not to be Confused With Black Heads
Sebaceous filaments are often confused with blackheads, but how can you tell the difference?
Blackheads are small dark spots in your pores; they are dark because open pores (or hair follicles) are clogged with oxidised debris like dead skin cells and sebum.
Blackheads or open comedones, as they are referred to, are also composed of bacteria, sebum, and dead skin cells.
Blackheads have a larger buildup of sebum and dead skin cells, and they usually distend or swell the shape of your pore.
Sebaceous filaments usually aren’t dark, like blackheads and are considered a normal buildup in your pores, but it is important to note they can lead to blackheads.
We have written an entire article on blackheads that you can read here.
Can You Get Rid of Sebaceous Filaments?
They are tricky to treat because while large sebaceous filaments can be professionally extracted, removing them is only temporary—they will always return.
As we mentioned, sebaceous filaments are normal; you can’t entirely eliminate them, so the aim is to control the amount of oil pushed through the pore to the surface.
You can also help reduce their appearance by using skincare products that help minimise oil flow through your pores, which will prevent them from becoming enlarged.
Research (1) suggests it takes 30 days for sebaceous filaments to fill up, but anecdotal evidence suggests it may be much sooner for some.
Whereas In the case of blackheads, if the obstruction is removed, the blackhead should not reform – or certainly not to its previous size.
Consistent removal of the debris from the upper area of your pore will reduce the appearance of these sebaceous filaments, which can be done through the tips below.
The important thing to keep in mind is that sebum and skin cell turnover is a constant cycle, so consistency is key to reducing the appearance.
How to Care for Your Skin
- Avoid squeezing your skin. If you squeeze sebaceous filaments, you may cause injure the skin and damage your pore, making them more prominent.
- Squeezing causes melanin to rush to the site of the perceived injury as a protective mechanism leading to post-inflammatory pigmentation ( PIH), which I can see on your skin, Jessica.
- Avoid harsh foaming cleansers, as they initially seem to work but will cause your skin to overproduce oil.
- Avoid peels or treatments like laser and especially micro-needling because research is finding that this treatment can cause sebaceous filaments in the skin.
- Dont use emulsifying products, as cream-based products can clog your pores.
- Don’t be tempted to over-exfoliate, and avoid grains or kernels that will cause tiny micro-tears in your skin, damaging your protective barrier. Use gentle enzymatic exfoliants instead.
- Treat yourself to regular professional extractions in a controlled environment to prevent infection.
- Ensure your skin care specialist steams your skin to keep your pores clear.
- Book in for blue light therapy. This can be combined with red light to heal your barrier and help keep the overproduction of oil at bay.
- Clay masks are a great sebaceous filament treatment for removing the sebum and dirt in your pores.
- Oil dissolves oil. So use an oil-based cleanser that will dissolve, lift, and replace blackhead-causing oil on your face.
- Use a very light lactic acid to help dissolve the dead skin cells and oils clogging your pores, which can lead to large sebaceous filaments.
- Tone with a gentle cider vinegar (one part to 9 parts water) to balance your skin’s pH.
- Use water-based gel moisturisers and serums, not cream-based products, as mentioned above.
- Use a multitasking balancing serum to help target PIH, like our B+ skin shot.
- Use a hyaluronic acid-based formula like H20 skin shot, as our skin often overproduces oil because it is dehydrated.
- Take essential fatty acids; it may sound counterintuitive but oily skin is often a direct result of the body lacking these essential fatty acids.
- Use a gel-based moisturiser that contains lots of humectants to keep your skin hydrated.
- If you notice that your sebaceous filaments have turned into blackheads, you can use pore strips to clear clogged pores.
- Use a product with vitamin A as this study found (2)
Will “Skin Gritting” Remove Them?
A quick search of sebaceous filaments on Instagram or TikTok may lead you to a technique many on the platforms have dubbed as skin gritting.
This typically involves softening your skin with an oil cleanser, exfoliating with an acid, masking with a clay-based product, and massaging your face for as long as 15 minutes with the oil cleanser to remove congestion, referred to as grits.
While combining an exfoliating acid, a purifying mask, and oil will give you a deeper cleanse by pulling out pore-clogging material, we would warn against this technique.
Skin gritting could cause sensitivity and can also contribute to skin laxity and could make your pores look more enlarged over time.
On a Final Note
Use gentle chemical exfoliation with acids like glycolic, salicylic, or retinoids once a week.
Whilst a very strong acid will help you reduce or completely eliminate your sebaceous filaments, they are counterproductive because you may be unable to use the product again before they return.
We have found that disodium laureth sulfosuccinate and decyl glucoside perform better at removing lipids from your skin and are much less irritating than sodium lauryl sulfate.
Nose strips, peel masks and pore vacuums are also worth a mention. These tools can help remove blackheads and sebaceous filaments by adhering to the upper layer and pulling them out of the skin.
But there is some concern that consistent use can lead to much larger pores and skin damage like vein formation.
If you want to use them, we recommend you keep their use to no more than once a week and ensure your skin is firm and not inflamed before using them.
Pore vacuums won’t vacuum up blackheads or sebaceous filaments; instead, they apply negative pressure on your skin; the suction pressure and additional pressure from sliding it against the sides of the device compress your pore, thus expressing its contents.
But this is very similar to squeezing your skin, which can cause melanin to rush to the injury site, causing PIH or dark spots to form, which is really difficult to get rid of.
To Conclude. The naked truth
Beneath your skin’s surface are tiny glands that create an oily substance known as sebum that helps lubricate your skin.
Sebaceous filaments are the structures that allow sebum to flow to your skin’s surface.
When you overproduce sebum, these sebaceous filaments fill up, become visible, and resemble very enlarged pores.
It is easy to confuse sebaceous filaments with blackheads, but they don’t go dark and are normal structures within your skin.
However, when your skin overproduces sebum, it causes these sebaceous filaments to fill up and become more noticeable.
Because sebaceous filaments are found in places in your skin where oil collects, you’ll never be able to completely reduce pore size, which you can read about here.
The key, instead, is to find a product that you can use frequently enough to reduce its appearance but doesn’t cause irritation.
- Nasolabial follicular sebaceous casts: a novel complication of isotretinoin therapy