Have you ever noticed those tiny whiteheads protruding from your pores? You’re most likely looking at sebaceous filaments, which are tube-like structures found in pores that are a critical part of the skin’s natural moisturizing process. As plastic surgeon Smita Ramanadham explains to Bustle, “While they look like blackheads, sebaceous filaments are actually the lining of pores that play a role in directing oil or sebum flow.” Now, sebaceous filaments shouldn’t be removed entirely, but the best way to get rid of the appearance of sebaceous filaments is by using products that contain retinol, activated hydrogen, and exfoliating acids (i.e. AHAs and BHAs). Also, removing makeup, sunscreen, and pollution particles by thoroughly cleansing your skin at night is critical when it comes to keeping your pores clear.
Rachel Nazarian, M.D. F.A.A.D., a New York-based board-certified dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology.
Adam Tinklepaugh, M.D., a New York-based board-certified dermatologist, dual fellowship-trained cosmetic surgeon, and Mohs skin cancer surgeon.
Smita Ramanadham, M.D., F.A.C.S., a New Jersey-based double board-certified plastic surgeon.
What Not To Do
Dr. Ramanadham explains that sebaceous filaments can become noticeable when there is an overproduction of sebum or oil buildup, which can lead to enlarged pores. However, since both oil and sebum are essential for maintaining a properly functioning moisture barrier, you won’t want to remove sebaceous filaments manually, as that can cause dryness and an overproduction of oil in the long run. Dr. Rachel Nazarian tells Bustle, “I don’t recommend trying to physically remove them or using tools—there’s just too much room for user error, and you can damage the tissue and break or scar your pores. You can opt to have your dermatologist gently coax them out, but often the pores still appear enlarged.” That said, you’ll want to avoid using products such as pore vacuums, comedone extractors, pore strips, or anything else that physically pushes sebaceous filaments out of the pores.
How To Treat Sebaceous Filaments
Now, there is a reason to minimize their appearance. “Sebaceous filaments are a natural response from our skin to lubricate,” says Dr. Nazarian, adding, “They are essentially the foundation of our blackheads and whiteheads, and often even our painful cysts. When the sebum oxidizes, it turns black, and are then considered blackheads.” All professionals recommend loosening sebaceous filaments and minimizing the appearance of congested pores with topical skin care ingredients. Dr. Adam Tinklebaugh tells Bustle, “There are several products that combine AHA and BHA, which are very effective at minimizing sebaceous filaments. Mild, over-the-counter chemical exfoliators like salicylic acid or glycolic acid containing toners can be used to gently dissolve sebaceous filaments.”
You can reach for AHAs like glycolic acid and lactic acid, but if AHAs are too harsh for your skin, consider using a gentler PHA or activated hydrogen. Additionally, you’ll want to look for BHAs like salicylic acid or willow bark extract to help loosen up sebaceous filaments. And make sure to use a makeup remover every night to remove pore-clogging makeup, sunscreen, and debris, ideally by double cleansing.
1. Use A Gentle Exfoliator
Dr. Nazarian speaks highly of the Cure Aqua Gel — which happens to be the number-one best-selling exfoliator in Japan — stating, “This cleanser is a great option for gently exfoliating skin and is safe for sensitive skin types. The activated hydrogen is combined with anti-inflammatory extracts to calm skin and avoid irritation.” The activated hydrogen in this water-based gel acts as a gentle alternative to exfoliating acids, while ginkgo biloba leaf extract works to reduce inflammation and aloe hydrates, resulting in a never-tight cleansing sensation. Finally, the rosemary extract in here provides antioxidant benefits while significantly reducing inflammation in acne-prone skin.
Key Ingredients: Activated hydrogen, ginkgo biloba leaf extract, aloe vera extract, rosemary extract Cruelty-Free: Yes Size: 8.8 oz
2. If Your Skin Can Handle It, Use Some Stronger Exfoliating Pads
Dr. Ramanadham says that exfoliating pads are also ideal for minimizing sebaceous filaments and names the Dr. Dennis Gross Alpha Beta Extra Strength Daily Peel pads as one of her favorites. These pads contain glycolic, lactic, and salicylic acids to dissolve clogged pores and loosen sebaceous filaments, while retinol boosts collagen and elastin production, and green tea soothes. These exfoliating pads are a favorite amongst beauty experts for their ability to not only clear out pores but also promote smoother skin and a more even-looking tone. Keep in mind, these pads are on the strong side, so if you have sensitive skin, they may not work for you.
Key Ingredients: Glycolic acid, lactic acid, salicylic acid, retinol, green tea Cruelty-Free: Yes Size: 30 treatments
3. Wash Your Face With A BHA Cleanser
“The best cleansers for sebaceous filaments include salicylic or alpha hydroxy acids,” Dr. Ramanadham says, which is why she says that the ZO Skin Health Exfoliating Cleanser is one that she personally loves and uses to keep her pores clear and skin smooth. This cleanser is great if you have particularly acne-prone skin, as it contains salicylic acid to minimize sebaceous filaments and deep-clean pores, as well as jojoba esters, which are biodegradable beads that physically exfoliate the skin. This exfoliating cleanser also contains vitamin E to provide antioxidant protection and offer further nourishment.
Key Ingredients: Salicylic acid, jojoba esters, vitamin E Cruelty-Free: Yes Size: 6.7 oz.
4. Try A Salicylic Acid Serum
As it turns out, the stuff that makes wine is actually good for your skin, too. Caudalíe’s Vinopure Blemish Control Salicylic Serum contains antioxidant-rich polyphenols derived from grape seeds, which can help shield your skin from environmental aggressors and boost your skin’s radiance. The serum also contains salicylic acid to treat clogged pores and breakouts, niacinamide to brighten the complexion, and hyaluronic acid to hydrate the skin at its deepest layers. This is a great option if you’re in the market to both reduce sebaceous filaments and introduce a protective and hydrating serum into your skin care routine.
Key Ingredients: Rose water, niacinamide, grape seed extract, salicylic acid, sodium hyaluronate, tocopherol Cruelty-Free: No Size: 1.76 oz.
5. ...Or A Glycolic Acid Serum
If you’re after a product that treats both sebaceous filaments and unwanted hyperpigmentation, Dr. Tinklepaugh recommends using the Vichy LiftActiv B3 Serum. This serum is packed with niacinamide (aka pro-vitamin B3) and tranexamic acid, two skin care actives that are commonly used to promote a clearer, more even complexion. The serum also contains glycolic acid, another popular exfoliating acid that “works to break up skin cells and break down skin oil,” according to Dr. Tinklepaugh.
Key Ingredients: Glycolic acid, niacinamide, tranexamic acid Cruelty-Free: No Size: 0.96 oz.
6. Spray On A Clarifying Toner After Cleansing
Another exfoliating option comes in the form of this clarifying toner from K-beauty brand COSRX. It comes in a spray bottle, so you can mist it over your skin after cleansing (or even throughout the day if you have very oily skin), but keep in mind that you don’t need to use an exfoliating cleanser, serum, and toner; pick your vehicle of choice and stick with that, as over-exfoliating can cause dryness, irritation, and breakouts. This toner contains glycolic acid (an AHA) that exfoliates pore-clogging dead skin cells from the surface, while willow bark extract (a BHA) provides gentle pore-cleaning benefits. And to ensure sebaceous filaments are free of debris, this formula employs betaine salicylate, a BHA derived from beets.
Key Ingredients: Glycolic acid, willow bark extract, betaine salicylate Cruelty-Free: Yes Size: 5.07 oz
7. If You Have Sensitive Skin, Try This Gentler Toner Instead
PHAs are molecularly longer than AHAs, meaning the PHA present in this Glow Recipe toner can’t reach deep down into the skin and cause irritation like some AHAs can. This PHA/BHA toner is perfect for someone looking for a gentle alternative to AHA/BHA toners or serums, as it also contains cactus and hyaluronic acid to soothe and hydrate, and cucumber to help calm redness and diminish oil buildup. The BHA in here comes in the form of willow bark extract, which is commonly used in lieu of salicylic acid, to which it’s related.
Key Ingredients: Cactus extract, watermelon extract, glycerin, hyaluronic acid, willow bark extract, gluconolactone, tea tree extract Cruelty-Free: Yes Size: 5 oz.
8. Incorporate A Retinoid Into Your Routine
Dr. Nazarian calls retinoids one of the best ways to minimize sebaceous filaments. Here’s the thing: Most prescription-strength retinoids can cause irritation at first, especially if not used correctly, and there’s also the fact that they require a prescription to get, which isn’t an option for everyone. Instead, the Medik8 Crystal Retinal 1 Serum is a great alternative because it contains encapsulated retinaldehyde, which offers the same pore-clearing and skin-smoothing benefits as a prescription-strength retinoid minus the irritation. Plus, most retinoids tend to degrade in their packaging long before the product is fully used up — but thanks to its encapsulation technology, this retinal lasts until the very last drop. Finally, this formula works to boost your skin’s hydration levels with hyaluronic acid, while vitamin E offers antioxidant protection. Once you’ve worked your way through Crystal Retinal 1, you can increase to Crystal Retinal 3 (and keep woking your way up over time, until you reach the brand’s strongest retinal serum, Crystal Retinal 20).
Key Ingredients: Retinaldehyde, hyaluronic acid, vitamin E Cruelty-Free: No Size: 1 oz.
9. Cleanse Your Skin Thoroughly At The End Of The Day
One of the best ways to keep noticeable sebaceous filaments at bay is to rid your pores of the dead skin, oil, and makeup debris that can clog them in the first place. Bioderma’s Sensibio H2O Micellar Water contains micelles, which are cleansing oil molecules that attract pore-clogging particles like makeup, sunscreen, pollution, and excess sebum. This is a great first step in any double-cleansing routine to keep your pores clear; for best results, you’ll want to follow up with a traditional wash-off cleanser.
Key Ingredients: Water, cucumber extract Cruelty-Free: No Size: 16.7 oz.
Dr. Rachel Nazarian, a board-certified dermatologist
Dr. Adam Tinklepaugh, a board-certified dermatologist
Dr. Smita Ramanadham, a board-certified female plastic surgeon
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