Those things you think are blackheads are essential to your skin health.
You first noticed them in your teens, right? And since then you’ve spent years peering at them in the mirror, poking them, squeezing them and applying pore strip after pore strip — only to have them defiantly return. What we’re talking about are those dots on your skin — they could be on your nose, your chin or both. They vary in colour from flesh toned to grey, and when you squeeze them a worm of white emerges. You thought they were blackheads, didn’t you? They’re not.
Called sebaceous filaments, those annoying little dots are the life force of your skin, and no amount of squeezing will ever get rid of them. The role of these naturally occurring, hair-like threads is to channel sebum (oil) to the surface of the skin to keep it hydrated and functioning. Made up of horny cell layers, the stuff you’re squeezing is the mix of bacteria, sebum and dead skin that’s enclosed in them, which will swiftly return post-extraction. Although you’ll never get rid of sebaceous filaments completely, you can make them less visible. As award-winning skin specialist Rachel Robertson explains, enlarged sebaceous filaments signify a problem with your sebum production.
“There are two main reasons for sebaceous filaments to be larger or obvious. The first is an excess production of oil — this could be due to hormonal factors, age or lifestyle factors such as poor diet, stress and environment. The second is a skin suffering from impaired barrier function — it could be lipid dry, sensitive and it could also be thin in density. This lack of oil can put these filaments into overdrive, making them larger.”
The first step for oily skin types is to get your oil production under control. Contrary to what you might think, the best way to cleanse oil is with oil cleansers.
“They attract impurities and debris to the surface, giving you a deep cleanse without disrupting the skin’s natural balance,” says Rachel, who founded the high-performance skincare brand Prologic.
Oil cleansers are also great for sensitive skin or to rebalance combination skin types. However, if you are using foaming cleansers, look for products that contain coco glucoside rather than sodium lauryl sulfate. “It’s important to use products at home that are not going to strip oil from the natural reserves,” she explains.
As sebum and dead skin cells build up, they block the pore and stretch it, so in order to shrink your filaments you also need to degunk them. Regular face masks containing clay or charcoal will draw away excess oil and help to purify the skin, but the deepest clean-outs come from chemical exfoliants. Although physical exfoliant scrubs remove dead skin cells on the surface, they can’t get deep into the pores.
A treatment containing AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) or BHAs (beta hydroxy acids) will gently remove the build-up of dead skin cells, both in the pores and on the surface of your face. Rachel also recommends a light fruit enzyme treatment containing papaya or pineapple, if you’re after a natural alternative.
If your problem seems to be with barrier function, a bit of love, care and a few of the right oils will strengthen and repair your skin. “Omega-3 is essential in doing this as our bodies only produce Omega-6 and 9, so 100% of your Omega-3 requirements come from topical application and internal consumption,” says Rachel. A daily oral supplement of around 4000mg of quality fish oil combined with a topical product, such as Prologic Omega-3 Treatment Oil, will improve skin that is deficient in essential fatty acids.
Nature’s quiet heroes, essential oils are a powerful tool for regulating oil flow and calming aggravated skin. Alexia Leroy, International Trainer for Decléor, recommends incorporating oils such as manuka, ylang ylang and rosehip into your nightly treatment regime. “You’ll have a better complexion just by using essential oils; they have an antibacterial action, so they’ll clean the cell environment and also reduce sebaceous secretion,” she says.
Whether you’re suffering from excess oil or impaired barrier function, the thing to remember is that shrinking your sebaceous filaments will take time. Thankfully, while you wait, there are a myriad of makeup products designed to smooth, blur and camouflage. Will Malherbe, International Education and Artistry Director at Smashbox, recommends a primer before applying makeup: “The Smashbox Photo Finish Pore Minimizing Primer immediately blurs pores and also mattifies the skin for at least eight hours, leaving you with a smooth complexion throughout the day.” Throw in a blurring product designed for specific problem areas and a dusting of finishing powder, and no one will know what you’ve got hiding underneath.