Let’s admit it.
No matter how perfect your skincare routine is or how amazing your skin behaves, there’s always that small chance of you noticing a sebum plug or a blackhead.
This brings me to my next point – they’re different!
Blackheads and sebum plugs may often be confused but they’re two separate things.
Sebum plugs are a common occurrence for people of all ages and are a true challenge. What should you do with them? Is pulling out sebum plugs with tweezers okay? Or will it lead to some nasty consequences that you don’t really want to have to face?
Well, let’s find out.
I’m here to share all of the do’s and don’ts when it comes to removing sebum plugs.
But first things first, let’s start by exploring what they are in more detail.
Trust me, this matters.
What are sebum plugs?
A sebum plug, also known as keratin plug, is really just a form of acne.
But there’s more to it.
These types of skin plugs are created when sebum (the skin’s natural production of oil from your sebaceous glands) becomes clogged in your hair follicles.
As they’re unable to escape from the follicle, they become trapped.
What happens next is a nasty combo of dead skin cells and inflammation, which inevitably leads to acne lesions. And naturally, the oilier your skin is, the more sebum it will produce, therefore the more sebum plugs you can expect to see on your skin.
What you need to know about pores
Pores play an important role in the skin’s proper and healthy functioning as they produce sebum.
Sebum guards the skin against the surrounding dirt and bacteria that can easily land on your face, for example. Your pores have miniature hair follicles containing baby hair inside them. Although they’re not seen with the naked eye, they’re there.
The pores are how sebum is released to the skin.
However, if the pore is trapped by dead skin, you can expect to see some whiteheads, blackheads, or breakouts.
When it comes to sebum plugs, they can come in the form of inflammatory acne-like pustules and papules. There are also some severe cases like cysts and nodules, which are usually associated with a lot of pain.
However, there are also noninflammatory sebum plugs, which are blackheads and whiteheads.
While acne, whiteheads, and blackheads are normally seen on the face, upper chest, and upper back, other forms of acne like keratin plugs in keratosis are mostly found on the upper arms.
What does a keratin plug look like?
People are often tempted to try pulling out keratin plugs.
They look like tiny pimples and in most cases are pink or skin-colored.
They can be compared to goosebumps or ‘chicken skin’ and can sometimes be itchy. They occur in groups in certain parts of the body and don’t have the noticeable heads typical for blackheads or pimples.
Great, now you’re familiar with some of the key differences between all of the unwelcome guests on our skin.
But what can you do about them? Can you extract sebum plugs and if you can, should you?
For the sake of brevity, we’ll clump up blackheads, keratin plugs, sebum plugs, and any other type of pore plug in the same category in this article. The bottom line is that you want to clear your pores and remove any type of plug that is happening.
Should you extract sebum plugs?
The short answer is no, you shouldn’t extract sebum plugs manually.
Unfortunately, this is not advice that all of you will be able to follow (I’m, sometimes, tempted myself, I’ll admit!).
Ideally, the goal is to use skincare products that will minimize the risks of sebum plugs appearing (I’ll explain in a bit) or attempt to solve the problem in different ways.
However, extracting them manually using your fingers, for instance, is a big no-no.
Because you risk infecting the area and causing inflammation or other, more severe problems.
Your fingernails are perhaps the most prolific breeding ground for bacteria and germs. You touch literally everything around you with your fingers and the microorganisms quickly make their way underneath your fingernails, where they can mate and reproduce (I know, this doesn’t sound very good).
Spreading this bacteria on your skin will only mean that you’re risking a worse breakout. Especially considering that you’re tearing the skin apart to get rid of that dirt, the germs will be quick to penetrate.
Can you unclog pores with tweezers?
People wonder whether you can extract the sebum plug using tweezers.
The truth is that yes, there are specialized curved tweezers that can be used to unclog your pores.
In fact, some specialists use this method for pore unclogging, however, it could be a dangerous tool when used at home by inexperienced users.
The tool that most people use is a metal rod with a hole in one end and a rounded spoon extractor. Its role is to extract the pore’s substance or dirt in this case, including blackheads, whiteheads, and others.
So what does the pulling-out look like using this tool?
Well, for starters, it’s much safer when compared to removing the formation with your fingertips, although it’s still not recommended as it promotes the spreading of bacteria.
In some cases, the sebum plug, whitehead, or blackhead will be buried too deep into the layers of your skin. If so, just leave it alone and don’t put too much pressure on it.
What happens if you pull out sebaceous filaments?
Even if you manage to pluck out the sebaceous filaments gently, without harming the skin or infecting the area, the pore will be left open and vulnerable.
Unless you take proper after-treatment measures, you’re bound to get the same results soon after the extraction.
So what are ways you can use to remove a deep sebum plug safely then?
How do you remove deep sebum plugs – step-by-step?
If you’re decided to remove those unsightly and horrifying sebum plugs, you can.
Basically, you’ll need to start with a nice hot shower or hot steaming your face.
Before you can treat your sebum plugs and pull out the dirt, you’ll certainly need to make sure the pores are nice and relaxed. This will allow you to easily remove the dirt buildup without causing any harm to the skin or tearing any layers. The hotter the temperature, the looser the pores become. Careful, though, too hot and your skin will burn!
Let’s see what the step-by-step process looks like.
Step 1: Heating up
First, either take a hot shower or use the steam from boiling water to loosen up the pores on your face.
You’ll need to put a towel over your head to isolate the face and allow the steam to be absorbed by the pores for that relaxing effect. Stay in this position, over the boiling water, for around five minutes to let the skin loosen up and for the pores to enlarge.
Step 2: Sanitize your tool
Start by ensuring the tool is fully sanitized and clean. You can disinfect it with alcohol pads like the Curad Alcohol Prep Pads.
Step 3: Add some extra softness
Once you get out of the shower or are finished steaming your face, you’ll notice that the sebaceous filaments (or SFs) are now much softer.
However, the hydration can quickly escape when you leave the shower and return to normal temperature.
To avoid this, you can use a moisturizer to lock in the moisture and avoid your pores going back to their hard and closed state.
Step 4: Remove the debris from the pores
While your pores are open and relaxed, gently squeeze the pore containing that unsightly sebum plug or blackhead. It should pop right up!
Use a clean towel to gently wipe the face with and remove any dirt that the pores have naturally released during the steaming phase.
Step 5: Sterilize the area
When you’re finished with the sebum plug extraction, make sure you sterilize the skin carefully to avoid any infections.
It’s best to use a toner or antiseptic cream.
Go for natural and antibacterial ingredients. Tea tree and eucalyptus oil are great choices to treat the spot after this intervention.
You can also apply an ice cube wrapped in a clean towel to reduce the inflammation and soothe the area.
Skipping this step will allow the bacteria to penetrate the pores again, leading to more pimples and problems.
Skincare products to avoid after sebum plug extraction
The skincare products you apply after removing your sebum plugs are perhaps one of the most important parts of the whole process.
It’s best to stay away from strong acids or treatments that involve strong acids.
The stress of the extraction is enough for the skin, it’s not a good idea to put more pressure on it with aggressive ingredients and products. Use post-treatment products that are gentle, and soothing, and will help the skin recover faster.
Skincare products to use after extraction
Any skin barrier supporting products will be soothing and healing for you. They will help your skin to recover faster.
I like to use the Aveeno Calm + Restore Triple Oat Hydrating Face Serum and the Purito Dermide Relief Barrier Moisturizer as they’ve proven to be a nice, healing combo for my skin.
What will dissolve sebum plugs?
You may be wondering if you can get rid of sebum plugs using other, safer methods.
Yes. you can.
You can melt the blackheads and sebum plugs away by using topical medications with specific ingredients, such as salicylic acid and niacinamide.
These compounds have the power to break down the plugs over time and eliminate them from your skin. They clear up your pores and minimize their appearance.
However, keep in mind that the result is not eternal. Your pores will eventually become clogged again if you’re not using anything to prevent that.
There’s not a soul on this planet who can tell you how soon after you’ve cleared the plugs.
Because it all comes down to how you care for your skin, the products you use, the skin type you have, the makeup you apply, and even the food you eat.
How to prevent sebum plugs?
You can fend off sebaceous filaments and blackheads by:
Make sure that your skin is regularly cleaned to remove any excess oil and dirt accumulation.
Cleanse twice daily to remove build-up on the surface, and remove dead skin cells, makeup, pollution, and other debris that you don’t want inside your pores.
Use mild cleansers and stay away from bar soaps with strong detergents as they can strip the skin of natural and useful oils.
I like the Cerave SA Cleanser as it contains a good percentage of salicylic acid and it allows me to incorporate BHAs seamlessly into my routine. It’s great not only for the face, but also for your body, and it’s dirt cheap.
Using a clarifying mask
A lot of people use masks and clay treatments.
However, not everyone truly understands what their role is and how they can benefit their skin goals.
Use masks to your advantage to reduce sebaceous filaments and minimize their appearance.
Look for products with natural beta-hydroxy acids and fruit enzymes. BHAs are water-soluble acids. They’re useful for people prone to pore-clogging as they penetrate deeper into the skin layers, clearing out the debris.
In a combo with AHAs, they can ensure that your pores are clean and your skin is buffed and glows.
I like the Yes To Tomatoes Charcoal Mud Mask as it’s great value for money while containing everything that my clogged pores need – salicylic acid, charcoal, and glycerin. It lasts me ages.
Using an exfoliating toner
Alternatively, you can implement an exfoliating toner into your night routine.
Choose a gentle product that contains salicylic acid or some type of beta-hydroxy acid. These ingredients help the dirt dissolve and can unclog your pores, avoiding a build-up over time.
A staple product in this department is the Paulas Choice 2% BHA Liquid Salicylic Acid Exfoliant. It is a gentle toner and a best seller in the skincare community. Rightly so, I may add.
Remember to apply a moisturizer after using your exfoliating toner.
Retinol and retinoids, in general, can be real heroes in the fight against sebaceous filaments. They promote the skin’s cell turnover and prevent pore congestion.
If you haven’t used one so far, start slowly, with a lower percentage of the active ingredient once or twice a week. If you have sensitive skin, patch-test the product first.
For beginners, I would recommend the CeraVe Resurfacing Retinol Serum as a gentle option at a budget-friendly price. It has encapsulated retinol, about 0.01%, licorice root extract, niacinamide, and ceramides – all amazing ingredients for the skin.
In a nutshell, extracting sebum plugs with tweezers or other tools is not the best idea, though it is doable.
There are other effective ways to prevent their occurrence in the first place and keep your pores healthy and clean.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Share your stories and comments in the comment section below.
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