Friday, January 24, 2014

They're Called Sebaceous Filaments, and They're Supposed To Be There!

Sometimes, marketing companies are kind of dicks.

One of the crappiest beauty-related stunts that they have pulled is convincing people that normal and permanent parts of their skin are somehow pathological and need to be removed.

This is my nose:


As you can see, it is covered in little dots. Those dots are not blackheads; they're sebaceous filaments. Why do so many people think they're blackheads? Well, in their commercials, companies like Proactiv say, "BLACKHEADS SUCK, ERMEGERD" and then zoom in on pictures of sebaceous filaments. Then, normal people take the obvious implication of the commercial as fact, and conflate sebaceous filaments and blackheads when they talk about their face... and everyone ends up confused.

Again, sometimes, marketing companies are kind of dicks.

So, what are sebaceous filaments? You may remember that your skin has sebaceous glands, which emit a waxy goop called sebum. Sebum keeps your skin and hair soft and waterproof, both of which are appreciated. Sebaceous glands are typically found in areas with at least a little bit of hair. They connect to that hair follicle.

In areas with "wispy" hairs and larger sebaceous glands, you may find something that has been sexily described as a "a loose, porous mass of horny detritus". The outer-most section of the hair follicle, called the acro-infundibulum, sloughs off cells. This mixes with sebum and miscellaneous bacteria around the hair itself, forming "a skeleton of 10-30 horny cell layers" and a bunch of other gunk.

This is a natural process associated with sebum production. Thanks, puberty.

Most of you will probably be unsurprised to hear that sebaceous filaments are typically found around the center of your face and on your nose.

I went ahead and used a Biore pore strip, because I can only assume that you want to see my sebaceous filaments close-up. Although people frequently suggest that Biore pore strips remove blackheads, they actually remove sebaceous filaments. To use one, you wash your face, put the strip on your wet nose, wait for it to dry, and rip it off. (It's not very comfortable.)



Obviously, you can see that the pore strip ripped out a fair number of my sebaceous filaments. Does that mean they are effective? Well, it depends on what you mean by effective. Sebaceous filaments can be ripped out, sure. But they are quickly refilled by the sebaceous gland. They are an irreversible part of your basic skin structure.

(Worth noting, for those of you who truly hate these buggers: anecdotal evidence indicates that salicylic acid may reduce the appearance of sebaceous filaments, but, with no proven topical method of reducing sebum production, it's a crapshoot at best. I promise, though, your nose looks fine.)

58 comments:

  1. Mind BLOWN! Thank you for this explanation - now that I know that they are not blackheads, I will stop worrying about them!

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  2. Found your blog searching for Wantable reviews, but this post made me want to read always. Maybe because I appreciate closeups of peoples noses, who knows. Sometimes I just like to use pore strips to see what junk I can get on them. It's obviously only sebaceous filaments, though, because they're back the next morning.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I will include more nose close-ups, just for you.

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  3. Hurrrggghhhmmmm. I know they aren't blackheads, but at least on MY nose, I find if I carefully keep my nose pores as clear as I can of sebaceous filaments, I get fewer blackheads and fewer outright zits on my nose. Anecdotal, n = 1, uncontrolled in a paired test, but this is my perception.

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    1. Edit: also, once I cleaned mine (ANECDOTE) out a few times and kept up with the salicylic acid thing regularly, they seem now to kinda stay clear.

      The rest of my face, however, fuck knows how to work the same magic on that.

      Delete
    2. You could still do a slightly more objective (although non-generalizable) test by just doing half your nose for a few months and recording the zits you get!

      Delete
  4. For what it's worth, when I *do* get blackheads, the pore strips are pretty good about yanking them out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My nose is not the primary place of my acne, so I've never had the opportunity to try!

      Delete
  5. mineral oil massage is supposed to minimize the appearance as well, without removing them all together

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    Replies
    1. If you truly hate them, it's always worth a try!

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    2. mineral oil is extremely comedegenic causing comedones/blackheads. incredibly pore clogging. please dont use it.
      --licensed esthetician

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    3. Countless scientific studies have shown it's not comedogenic on human skin. It used to be thought that, based on studies on rabbits, but more modern research shows it isn't.

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    4. It's true, I've been doing the mineral oil massage and it does not clog pores and it does help reduce the appearance of SFs. BHA exfoliants are helpful too, mine improved with the oil and then improved even further with chemical exfoliation. The little grits of junk that come out during the massage are satisfying as well.

      And lol at "licensed esthetician." It's funny how they always act as though they're dermatologists. You know what else is bad for your skin overall? Popping pimples and manual extraction of blackheads/clogged pores. Yet estheticians frequently do this. They also apparently don't learn what's ACTUALLY good and bad for skin. Feh.

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  6. And this is why I read your blog everyday. Great post!

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  7. Yes! I always thought of them as blackheads (or rather blackhead-like things that refill much faster) until only a month ago. Didn't even know the word sebaceous filaments. There's not even a word for it in my native language (german), as far as I know.
    Not everyone has them, right? Certain lucky people with drier skin for example.. Well I know many do, and I do, and I like to empty them frequently, otherwise my nose gets rough and the pores get bigger. Cleaning them carefully with those nifty lil 'blackhead' remover tools really helps keeping my skintone smoother.

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    1. One of my sources was translated from German (Plewig & Wolff 1976), so obviously there is some sort of word for it! Can't find the article in German, though.

      And the appearance of sebaceous filaments can be greatly reduced in individuals who don't produce a lot of sebum!

      Delete
    2. Plewig, GE, Wolff, HH: Follikel-Filamente. Arch Dermatol Res 1976 255: 9–21

      This might be the one? So it'd be (welch eine Ueberraschung!) 'Follikel-Filamente'...

      Delete
  8. This is gross yet simultaneously fascinating. Thank you.

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    Replies
    1. But gross in a "this is totally how your skin is supposed to be!", right?!

      Delete
  9. I DID NOT KNOW THIS. THANK YOU SO MUCH!

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  10. Hey! r/skincare advises not to use biore strips because they end up widening/stretching your pores or even causing capillary damage! So be careful, I know it's satisfying to see the results like that but it's really not worth it! You should look up Oil Cleansing Method or using AHA's/chemical exfoliants. OCM will dislodge blackheads and remove the dirt. A chemical exfoliant will only help minimize appearance of the SF's but it's the best you can really do since it only takes a day or two for them to fill right back up.

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    Replies
    1. I have definitely heard that, but have seen no evidence beyond the anecdotal!

      Delete
  11. Reminds me of how in a recent but not terribly groundbreaking "celebs before and after photoshop" article, there was a before and after photo of Katie Perry where they photoshopped all her pores out. It's getting really disheartening the way they're using photoshop to completely eliminate normal skin parts. Thank you for this wonderous post reminding us that, yet again, skin existing and doin its thang is normal.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah, photoshop definitely has the potential to create unrealistic expectations...

      Delete
  12. Until recently I thought those things were blackheads. Ironically in doing so I was making my skin worse.
    - I thought those were blackheads that should be removed
    - By trying to do that I would invariably infect/irritate/damage my skin, causing gross spots
    - The cycle continued.

    By leaving my face alone for a few weeks I was able to start to tell the difference between what a regular pore looks like and an actual blackhead. Turns out I was getting far fewer than I really thought.

    Tl; dr: let's all leave our faces to go about their business, they know their shit.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good! I don't necessarily think leaving our skin alone is the solution (shit like sunscreen, for example, is pretty non-negotiable, in my opinion), but you can definitely irritate it further by constantly fucking around with it.

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    2. I meant with the picking and squeezing and extreme extracting! I say as I slather on spf 25 moisturiser even in January.

      Delete
  13. I didn't learn about sebaceous filaments until I was an adult, and I wish somebody had told me when I was a teenager and constantly picking at my face because I was convinced I had a million gross blackheads. Thanks, marketing! On a related topic, how do you get the pore strips to pick up so much gunk?! I use them once in a blue moon just for novelty's sake, and I can never get them to pick up more than a couple of filaments/pore goo/whatever you want to call it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have no idea. Maybe I just have more gunk to grab that you do? This was the only time I have ever used them!

      Delete
  14. BHA keeps mine clear and my skin looking fresh and healthy... but it is not compatible with sun exposure.

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    Replies
    1. Eh, I'm a pale girl from Washington like you. I moved to Texas and basically went into hiding. The Daystar!! It burnssss us!!

      Delete
  15. I have never had a Biore strip work for me, not that well, anyway. Is it possible that it's just that I have clear pores? Or is it all about the process to remove them that yields such impressive results?

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    Replies
    1. You might just produce less sebum than I do.

      Delete
  16. So, question: I can see spots on your nose in the photo, but they are several hundred times lighter than the ones on mine. Is this something that varies that drastically from person to person? Or am I doing (or not doing) something to make them appear much darker than they need to be?

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    Replies
    1. It varies from person to person. They can lean gray on some people, for sure.

      Delete
  17. This is such a great post! I get so annoyed with marketing that tries to make you worried about 'imperfections' that don't even *exist*. Yes, pimples are gross. I'd like them to go away. But I do not have time to worry about sebaceous filaments! Jeez :-P

    I remember thinking, when I first used one of those pore strips (was also the last time, and about 15 years ago), that since all I got out was microscopic 'hair'-like things, I must not have had a problem in the first place. I'm glad I had that experience, and it taught me to ignore this particular marketing circus!

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    Replies
    1. Well, you didn't have a problem in the first place!

      Delete
  18. Hey! I know this is completely unrelated to this post, but I was wondering if you could make a post on your favorite/recommended make-up brushes, especially eyeshadow ones. I also wanted to ask what would your favorite matte black eyeshadow be?

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    Replies
    1. MAC 239, 217, and 219 are my eyeshadow brushes of choice, and my favorite matte black is in the LORAC Pro Palette.

      Delete
  19. I hate sebaceous filaments! They are the bane of my existence. You ever heard of draining pores? Well those are the ones that keep filling up no matter how often you squeeze them. Of course they're probably more related to sebaceous cysts than the S.F.s, but nonetheless disgusting in the world of dermatological nightmares. And the more makeup I use over them, the faster the damned things fill up. Aside from all that, I wish someone would come up with a new product other that salicylic acid (basically aspirin) to fight the S.F.s. Salicylic acid has been around for eons! It's nothing new. They keep recycling the stuff in supposed "new products." New? Nah. (A note here- if you're into some serious salicylic acid action, try Clinique's Acne Spot treatment. A word to the wise not to overuse the stuff on one demonic zit or you'll burn a hole bigger than the one to China in your face.) Okay- love the dermatology stuff on here Robyn. Keep it comin.'

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    Replies
    1. Eh, it's not new. But it does work!

      Delete
    2. How do you get it to work? I keep using it and the darn things are still there. My newest ally in combat is a product from Shea Terra called Rosehips Black Soap deep pore facial wash. Got it in a Bbox and bought the regular size. Wow, the exfoliation factor is awesome. Makes your face smooth as silk, opens the pores right up. Another awesome one is St. Ives Apricot Scrub- I get the one with AHA's in it. I've actually had the S.F.s starting to come out of my face on their own after I get out of the shower. (under my lips and near the corner of my mouth) Gross- I know. But does show it's effective, at least on me.

      Delete
  20. sigh....I have always had really enlarged pores on my nose with very dark SFs. As a young pubescent basketcase, I obssessed over them, particularly after some lovely lad in my fifth-grade class christened me "Blackhead Queen". I use Retin-A now, and that seems to have helped a lot, at least with the visible clogs and discoloration, but I still have cavernous pores.

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  21. Yay!! I am so glad to see you sharing this important info. I just learned the difference between blackheads and sebaceous filaments like last month and it's made a huge impact on how I feel about my skin! Cheesy, but true :D

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  22. Wait, you mean we're NOT supposed to douche with pure Lysol because it's unclean down there? *shakes fist at ad agencies* But yeah, seriously, how much BS is made up to sell products to women - depressing :( Great post!

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  23. Are sebaceous filaments always open or can they be closed? I get bumps on my chin and if I squeeze (BAD ME, DON'T DO THAT) what comes out looks like the stuff on your Biore strip. Thanks -- love the blog (just today I finally read back to the original post!).

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  24. Great post! Is this also considered a whitehead?

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  25. I love how a good third of the comments here are questions about how people can get the product to work for them, when all I took from this was that pore strips are a giant waste of money as well as nose-crispying time and effort.

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  26. I've had these since I was 5. And they were bumpy mofo's. I was terribly self conscious. No acne, just the bumps.

    Pore strips? Fail. Oxy? Fail. SA gels? Fail.

    Then I got old and paranoid about wrinkles. Doc put me on LOWEST dose Retina-A. 0.01%? something wee like that.

    Like excitablespeach, Boom. All gone. They come back when I stop the retinA. So of course I DON'T.
    It's generic now, and you need a lentil size amount. You'll prob spend less than on pore strips.

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  27. HOLY SHIT!! Finally I have found the explanation for the "gunk" in my pores!

    I thank you kindly - fantastic blog - best I've read in years (and I read A LOT for research purposes)

    xx
    Sarah

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  28. Hi there! I've used and slightly edited your pictures for my blog but I've credited you and included the link to your blog so I hope it's okay? *^* If it's not okay, please do let me know and I'll remove it a.s.a.p! Thank you so much! :D http://skinfoodian.tumblr.com/post/89475470140/otl-orz-otl-orz-im-so-so-so-so-sorry-for-the

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  29. aahhh so thats what it is! Just started experimenting with makeup (unemployed now so... too much time on my hands) and I must say that my makeup makes these little things more visible. So researching about it and came across your blog :) Now on to, how to make 'sebaceous filaments' less visible with makeup ;)

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  30. What an awesome post! I had friends telling me that i had blackheads on my nose but I had seen them up close in a magnifying mirror and I could see they were hair. I usually use tweezers to yank them out. I find that works better than nose strips though it's more time consuming.
    Thank you for this wonderful post. I'm going to share it now on fb :)

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  31. I have oily skin with a lot of sebaceous filaments (those little grey dots, they're like blackheads but not? those are sebaceous filaments) all over my cheeks, nose, and forehead. They are the bane of my life. I hate them. I use the Citrus Clear BlackHead Mask now and it keeps them under control and stops them from looking quite so crater-like.

    The results have been fantastic for me. I do the Citrus Clear Blackhead Mask before I go to bed once a week and my skin looks clearer and brighter and my pores appear tighter the next morning, and any redness is dramatically reduced, plus my sebaceous filaments look smaller, paler, and more even. I'm not sure if I'd recommend it to people with drier skin though, or using it more than twice a week especially if you're adding apple cider vinegar or other astringents to it.

    ReplyDelete

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