Difference Between Blackheads, Whiteheads, and Sebaceous Filaments

There are multiple types of acne and skin blemishes, each with different causes, effects, and solutions. Determining what exactly is causing the bumps on your skin will make treating them much easier and more effective. 

A common cause of acne is clogged pores which typically results in blackheads and whiteheads. It’s also possible you are mixing up sebaceous filaments and blackheads. Sebaceous filaments? There's another clogged pore issue to worry about now? Don't worry we have all the information.

Let's do a deep dive on clogged pores so you can get to the bottom of what’s causing your skin problems, and find the best treatment option.

difference between blackheads, whiteheads, and sebaceous filaments

What are Blackheads?

Blackheads are a form of noninflammatory acne that form when pores become clogged with dirt, oil, dead skin, and makeup. The pore remains open, known as an open comedone, and since the build up inside the pore is exposed to oxygen, it darkens, resulting in a dark black color.

What are Whiteheads?

Whiteheads are also the result of clogged pores, but the difference between a blackhead and a whitehead is that the pore closes, resulting in a closed comedone. This results in a small white or yellowish bump that can develop into a pimple if left untreated.

What are Sebaceous Filaments?

Sebaceous filaments have been flying under the radar for years, likely because they are often mistaken for blackheads due to their similar appearance, but there is a big difference between blackheads and sebaceous filaments. 

While blackheads and whiteheads are a form of acne, sebaceous filaments are not an accumulation of dirt and dead skin, but rather a flow of sebum, the oil your skin naturally produces. 

Sebaceous filaments carry sebum to the surface of your skin, which is a natural function of the skin, and a necessary process to deliver fatty acids, squalene, wax esters, and cholesterol to the skin’s surface, which help protect your skin from moisture loss. 

While they have a similar appearance to blackheads, sebaceous filaments are more of a light grey or sandy color rather than the dark color of a blackhead.

They are typically not noticeable unless you have large pores (which is just genetic) and they fill up with sebum. The real problem occurs when there is an overproduction of sebum that is left uncared for, and ends up mixing with dirt and dead skin cells, leading to a clogged pore and a blackhead.

How to Remove Blackheads and Whiteheads

The last thing you want to do is simply squeeze blackheads or whiteheads out of your pores. This can expose your skin to more bacteria which can worsen breakouts.

Instead, start with a warm shower or facial steaming to help soften the built up material clogging your pores. Then wash your face like you normally would and follow with one of these methods to remove the dead skin and product buildup that cause blackheads and whiteheads.

  • Extraction - You can extract the blackhead buildup using a special tool called a comedone extractor that squeezes the gunk out without compressing the sides of the pores which can cause tissue damage. It’s best for these extractions to be performed by a professional board certified dermatologist or esthetician to ensure precision and a sterile environment.
  • Exfoliating Scrub - Exfoliating with a gentle scrub will help remove dead skin before it can accumulate and clog pores.
  • Clay Mask - A kaolin clay face mask is another great option for clearing out blackheads and whiteheads. Kaolin clay is incredibly absorbent, so it can help soak up excess oil and impurities clogging the pores. 
  • Retinoids, AHA, Salicylic Acid, Benzoyl Peroxide - Topical skincare products formulated with active ingredients like retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, and exfoliants like AHA can also help with blackheads and whiteheads since they increase cell turnover and remove excess oil which reduces dead skin and oil buildup. However, if you have sensitive skin, these can be irritating, so stick to gentle cleansers, scrubs, and masks.

If acne, blackheads, and whiteheads continue to be a consistent problem, we recommend seeing a dermatologist for the best medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment for your specific skin qualms.

How to Prevent blackheads and whiteheads

Preventing clogged pores that lead to whiteheads and blackheads all comes down to refining your skin care routine. 

The first step is cleansing daily to rid your pores of as much grime as possible. If you have very oily skin, cleanse in the morning and at night, but if you have dry skin, stick to cleansing only once a day. Over-cleansing already dry skin can strip the skin of its natural oils which will actually cause the skin to overcompensate, produce even more oil, and you’ll end up right back where you started with clogged pores. Be sure to use a gentle, fragrance free cleanser because fragrance in skin care can further dry out your skin which will, once again, feed into that oil build up we’re trying desperately to avoid.

Find out how to choose a cleanser for your skin type.

The same concept applies to moisturizing your skin. Don’t skip moisturizer for fear that it will make your skin more oily because it will only lead to your skin producing more oil. Just be sure to reach for a non-comedogenic moisturizer specifically formulated to not clog pores. 

Implement an exfoliating scrub and cleansing clay face mask into your routine once or twice a week to slough off dead skin and get a deeper clean than what you get with your daily cleanser.

You also want to avoid touching your face, remove your makeup every night, and keep hair product to a minimum to keep the bacteria and dirt buildup to a minimum.

Do Pore Strips Work?

Hypothetically, pore strips are supposed to remove the outer layer of dead skin cells and blackheads using adhesives. If used correctly, they do extract some of the buildup, but they are only a temporary fix. When you peel off the strip you’ll see the impurities that were clogging your pores, but they don’t solve the problem that causes that buildup in the first place.

The adhesive on pore strips and the tugging at your skin can also be irritating for sensitive skin. A clay mask will have similar results as a pore strip without the potential irritation.

Other than that, sticking to frequent cleansing and exfoliating is the most foolproof way to deal with blackheads and whiteheads.

How to Remove Sebaceous Filaments

Sebaceous filaments are natural and perform an important role in your skin’s maintenance, so trying to remove them is not recommended.

Even if you extract sebaceous filaments, they will eventually come back since they are an inherent part of your skin. If the appearance bothers you, you can use similar treatment options to blackheads, but be prepared for them to quickly come back as your skin’s oil flow continues.

Hopefully we've helped clear up the differences between blackheads, whiteheads, and sebaceous filaments so you can find the right solution, and smooth your skin.

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