Do You Know The Difference Between Blackheads & Sebaceous Filaments?

Photographed by Nai Collins.
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?
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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. Stop the picking, squeezing, popping, and ill-advised DIY extractions, and try these skin-clearing wonder products instead. But just remember: 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.
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There’s a delicate balance between a blemish-fighting cleanser that works to keep skin clear and one that leaves your face feeling dry and tight. Blessedly, this one falls into the first category: The generous 2% salicylic acid medication gently exfoliates and targets dirt, debris, and dead cells for skin that’s fresh and clean, not stripped of its natural moisture.

La Roche-Posay Effaclar Medicated Gel Cleanser, $14.99, available at Target.
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This serum is a pore-clearing powerhouse, packed with lactic, glycolic, and salicylic acids for busting clogged pores and cutting down on the bacteria that causes those clogs in the first place. But thanks to the unexpected ingredient of silver ear mushroom extract, it keeps even the most sensitive skin hydrated and free of irritation.

Renée Rouleau BHA Clarifying Serum, $48.50, available at Renée Rouleau.
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For a truly one-step solution, these pads can’t be beat. They’ve got everything: glycerin to lock in moisture, lactic and salicylic acid to slough off pore-clogging dead cells and debris, grape seed extract and allantoin to nourish and prevent dryness, naturally antiseptic witch hazel, aloe to soothe, and black tea extract for an added dose of antioxidants.

Arcona Tabula Rasa Pads, $33, available at Arcona.
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