Blackheads and sebaceous filaments: many people have them and nobody wants them. While both blackheads and sebaceous filaments appear as gray or black clogged pores, they aren’t the same thing (learn how to tell the difference HERE), and can’t be treated in the same ways.
And when I say “treated,” that’s not even necessarily accurate–because while blackheads are considered a mild form of acne, a skin disorder that can be prevented and treated, sebaceous filaments aren’t. Sebaceous filaments are just a normal part of skin anatomy for some people that can’t be prevented and won’t go away–though their appearance can be minimized. Even so, both and sebaceous filaments can be managed using simple and holistic methods.
Here are 8 integrative ways to manage both blackheads and sebaceous filaments.
1. Make sure all products you use whether it’s skincare, makeup, or even haircare products contain no comedogenic ingredients. The terms “non-comedogenic,” “non-acnegenic,” and “dermatologist tested” on labels aren’t regulated and aren’t required to be substantiated by the FDA. They are marketing terms. Click HERE for a great list of common comedogenic ingredients found in skin, hair, and personal care products. Clogged pores can make sebaceous filaments more prominent and can lead to the growth of comedones.
2. Don’t over-wash or over-exfoliate your skin. While you might think that foaming cleansers and scrubs might dissolve or dislodge the comedones and filaments, this isn’t likely to happen. While certain retinols and acids like salicylic are known to expel comedones, this is often at the expense of the health of the skin. Foaming cleansers, scrubs, most retinols, and acids irritate the surrounding tissue so much that it makes the skin even more susceptible to inflammation and bacterial growth. This may even cause comedones to grow larger since these products cause skin cells to shed more rapidly, which might attach to the existing comedones and cause them to expand. If you’d like to learn how to make your own skincare cleansers and scrubs, using ingredients that are safe and customized to your skin, check out my Create Your Skincare course.
3. Keep your body and your skin properly hydrated. The more hydrated the skin, the less constricted the pores are and the less tightly they’ll hold on to comedones. Hydrated skin is softer and causes the follicles to expand, and naturally expel whatever’s in them. Drinking enough water also helps the skin maintain a healthy cell turnover rate, which prevents buildup of dead cells and debris.
4. Have enough healthy lipids in your diet as well as in your topical skincare products. Essential fatty acids from whole-food sources like nuts, seeds, dark leafy greens, and small, fatty fish help to strengthen the skin at the cellular and help skin cells retain moisture as they rise to the surface. They also help to promote regular sebum (oil) secretion, and prevent overreactive sebaceous glands. Using non-comedogenic oils (like jojoba) in topical products can help lock in moisture and prevent water loss and keep the follicles hydrated, soft, and lubricated. This can prevent additional dead cells, bacteria, and debris from attaching to the follicle walls or to microscopic hairs inside the follicles. This is especially important after blackheads are extracted, to encourage the follicles to soften and prevent them from “filling back up.”
5. Do weekly at-home facials with steam and a clay masque, and/or herbal compress. The steam helps to dilate the follicles and encourages them to “release” comedones and filaments inside. Naturally absorbing clays and muds like bentonite, French green clay, or Dead Sea mud–as well as compresses made with drawing ingredients and herbs like castor oil, burdock root, and dandelion root naturally help pull out even deeply lodged comedones. Follow with a non-comedogenic oil serum or moisturizer to seal in moisture and prevent reattachment of debris and dead cells following the treatment.
6. Make sure your skincare products contain antioxidants. Blackheads and sebaceous filaments actually have a whitish-yellowish color inside the follicles. They become darker on the surface due to oxidation from free radicals in polluted air, from the sun’s radiation, as well as certain ingredients in skincare products and makeup. Antioxidants help neutralize free radicals and prevent oxidation – I talk about which ones I use in my handmade skincare products here
7. Get regular gentle deep-pore cleansing facials. These facials include cleansing, steaming, a gentle enzyme treatment, facial massage (which can encourage the follicles to release debris and excess oil), professional extractions, a masque, and a moisturizer. They also often include galvanic electrotherapy, which removes clogged pores and comedones by turning excessive sebum into soap (pretty cool, right?).
8. Don’t pick. Again: don’t pick. I know it’s tempting, but DIY extractions often lead to increased spread of bacteria, damaged tissue, broken capillaries, hyperpigmentation, and even permanent scarring. Leave sebaceous filaments alone, since they’ll just fill right back up again anyway; and leave blackheads to the pros.
*Image 1 by “Comedones” by Hilda Bastian – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Comedones.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Comedones.jpg, Image 4 from the ASCP.