The body knows when it’s been staring at its perceived “imperfections” in the bathroom mirror for just a little too long. First, the vision starts to blur. Things get fuzzy; you lose the ability to recognize your own face for what it is. Then comes the next phase: the hallucinations. Are those your barely-there crow’s feet from squinting at the sun all those times you left your sunglasses at home, or are they wide cracks in the earth’s surface? Is that a fine line on your forehead, or is it the “really big one” you read about in the New Yorker?
Lastly, there’s the final and most dangerous stage: the picking. You may know it by one of its other names, like “popping” and “squeezing,” but it’s all the same. It’s you, alone, hovering over the sink, pressing your fingers onto your skin with brute force until it finally spits something out. But the next time you find yourself going through this familiar cycle — and trust, it will happen — pause for a second. Take a deep breath. Ask yourself: “Are these really blackheads, or are they just sebaceous filaments?”
Sebaceous filaments look like blackheads, but they’re different. It’s not an easy distinction to make, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Blackheads are clogged pores that need to be unclogged — with an exfoliator, with some alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) or beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), or extractions by a professional’s trained hand. Consider them the evil twin(s) of sebaceous filaments, which are healthy, totally fine hair follicles with a little bit of dead skin around them. You can’t get rid of them; they will always be there. As one wise Reddit user pointed out, this lemon looks to have sebaceous filaments, not blackheads. Don’t squeeze them. They’re normal.
And because sebaceous filaments are innocuous, there’s no need to deal with them harshly. You absolutely should not be removing them with hot wax, as you would your armpit hair, even if you see someone in a “how-to” video doing it — because even though they’re hair follicles, they are still on your face. “There certainly are safer methods to help improve the appearance of prominent pores on the nose,” says dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD. “Traditional nose strips do a similar job, without the risk posed by hot wax.”
So skip the wax and use a Bioré strip, for your own sake. Use a gentle salicylic acid cleanser, like La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser; a BHA liquid, like Paula’s Choice Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant; a spot treatment, like Clean & Clear Advantage Acne Spot Treatment — they’ll help remove excess oil and exfoliate those dead cells, so your pores will be less visible.
But if there’s one thing we know about pores — and therefore sebaceous filaments, and blackheads, too — it’s that nobody really notices except you. And your bathroom mirror, of course. Your mirror sees all.