Those things on your nose might not be blackheads after all

Once upon a time when I was in Grade 4, there was a commotion in the school assembly area. Everyone was lining up in front of this girl who was assessing everyone’s noses, declaring whether people had blackheads, whiteheads, or baby blackheads. While many pubescent changes such as acne and body odor disgusted us, getting comedones were treated as a badge of maturity that we were all excited to claim. Now that I’m much older and way past puberty (thank heavens!), I have a more fuck off attitude towards the little clogs that peppered my nose. But what I’ve known my whole life is apparently a lie: those aren’t blackheads!

So, what are they?

The quick answer is “sebaceous filaments” but before we talk about what those are, let’s first take a look at our skin’s structure. If you’ve ever wondered why the hairs on your head, your arms, and your face look different, it’s because they are. There are three types of hair follicles, with the first and most immediately noticeable one being the terminal follicles. These are what we would call normal hair such as our head hair, eyebrows, and armpits. The second type is called vellus follicles and they consist of the finer hairs that don’t have much pigment. They cover most of the rest of the body, and look like peach fuzz or balahibong pusa.

Finally, we come to the sebaceous follicle. It’s basically a hair that’s connected to a sebaceous gland underneath and is most commonly seen on the nose. A sort of tube-like structure (the filament) builds around the hair from collected sebum and dead skin cells, and it has white or yellowish appearance. This occurs naturally and isn’t as bad as it sounds!

Image via WebMD

Image via WebMD

 Knowing these characteristics, three things begin to make sense. When I squeeze these fake “blackheads” on my nose, I sometimes get a gross, impossibly long string that makes me wonder how it all fit under my skin! Secondly, I feel a sense of comfort in realizing that there is nothing abnormal with my skin nor is it just dirty. As there’s more hair on my nose than I originally realized, it’s natural that I have so many visible sebaceous filaments concentrated on a certain area.

Last but not least, I now know why the “blackheads” didn’t look black at all. I used to think they appeared greyish because I have dry skin and produce less oil! Sebaceous filaments can look white, grey, yellow or even tan due to their contents and structure.

Can I get rid of them?

When we prick a blackhead, that is normally the end of the story. As blackheads are merely ‘dirt plugs’, removing them fixes the problem. However, people who use pore strips or squeeze out the sebaceous filaments will never completely get rid of them. They’re part of our natural skin structure, so they will just keep coming back.

That said, it’s possible to minimize their appearance and make skin look clearer and smoother. Pore strips are a popular option but since they only remove that top part of filament, the buildup continues to stay deep in the skin. Just as with the rest of our body, the best way to remove shed cells and sebum is through exfoliation and oil purging. Don’t force them out on your own; you can wound yourself and even causes broken skin capillaries. Instead, go for these gentle yet effective options:

BHA exfoliants or solutions

Beta-hydroxy acid is an oil-soluble chemical exfoliant and therefore able to penetrate deep into the pore. It’s one of your best bets in attacking sebaceous filaments at the root as it causes all the blockage to get purged. Salicylic acid is technically not a BHA, but can also help in de-gunking pores. However, it works best as a spot treatment rather than something to apply all over your face. Instead, opt for a light liquid solution, such as CosRX BHA Blackhead Power Liquid (P963 at theskincarecurator.com). Rest for about 20 minutes after application to allow the acid to work before proceeding with your skincare.

As acids are very potent (and thus effective) skin care products, we recommend consulting with a dermatologist about precautions and contraindications prior to usage. I know many Filipinas are scared about using acids in their skincare routine, and rightfully so, but starting at 2% twice a week for about a month should help you get a feel of what your skin can manage. If unexpected irritation occurs, use due diligence in deciding whether less frequent usage or complete abandonment of the routine is necessary. If you feel your pores are hyperactive and fill up much faster than a twice-a-week routine can manage, definitely consult with a dermatologist!

Clay masks

As a highly porous material, clay is very effective at stripping oil and dirt on the surface of the skin. It’s a particularly good addition to your weekly routine if you have very oily skin. Personally, I love the soothing texture of Innisfree’s Jeju Volcanic Pore Clay Mousse Mask (P520 at Althea PH).

Oil cleansers

It sounds strange but the best way to remove excess or hardened oil/sebum is to use an oil cleanser! The cleansing oil melts the buildup and, combined with a gentle facial massage, gently dislodges it from the pore. My favorite is Banila Co’s Clean It Zero (P890 at Banila Co), which also works great at removing even waterproof makeup.

I already use the clay mask and oil cleanser but it looks like the BHA is key to making everything work. I’m hoping to add that to my collection soon and doing a #30daysofporechallenge! From what I’ve read on the Fifty Shades of Snails blog, the secret to smaller looking pores is to apply the BHA for the recommended period of time, apply the clay mask, wash it off, apply and allow that oil cleanser to penetrate, then massage before washing it off with a cleanser.

Do your sebaceous filaments bother you? Have you tried using a BHA before? What products have you tried and would recommend as effective?

Sources: NCBI, Vuality