Sebum Plugs

Sebum Plugs; Are They a Matter of Concern? How to Get Rid of It?

Whenever you look in the mirror, you can see some pores on your face, especially on your nose, chin, and forehead.

Do you have such an experience? If your answer is yes, you will be concluding it as blackheads. You will be surprised if I tell you that all are not blackheads. They are something called sebum plugs or sebaceous filaments. Of course, it is not a serious problem. There is no need to fear if you have such an issue.

How can you tackle the situation? Do you want to know more? Stay Tuned.

What is sebum?

Sebum is an oily and waxy substance produced by the sebaceous gland present in our body. The sebaceous gland is present in the middle layer of the skin near the hair follicles. The sebum provides lubrication to the skin to protect it from friction and makes it impermeable to entering moisture through the skin. It also protects the skin from bacterial and fungal infections.

In our body, sebaceous glands are present in all parts except the palms, soles, and dorsa. In both males and females, the secretion of sebum is stimulated by hormones, especially androgens(the male sex hormones). The sebaceous glands remain relatively inactive during childhood. It gets activated at the time of puberty in both males and females when the production of sex hormones increases. 

The increase or decrease in the secretion of sebum can cause skin problems. When it is more, it will make the skin oily, and acne will be there. When the sebum secretion is less, it will lead to dry and itchy skin. The sebum level should always be maintained in a balanced condition for healthy and beautiful skin.

What are sebum plugs or sebaceous filaments?

When the production of sebum from the sebaceous gland is more, it will make the skin oily. The skin pores become more prominent. Inside the pore, the excess sebum combines with the dead cells of the skin, forming a plug. They block the sebum from reaching the surface. This sebum plug can be the precursor for blackheads and pimples. This plug also captures bacteria inside it, thus causing inflammation of the skin. Eventually, the plugs rupture releasing the sebum, dead cells, and bacteria to the near-lying tissues and developing acne lesions.

The sebum plugs can occur anywhere on the body, but they are most commonly seen on the nose, chin, and forehead.

Why do the sebum plugs occur?

Sebum plugs occur when the sebaceous gland secretes excess sebum to the skin. The reason for the excessive secretion of sebum may be due to

  • Hormonal changes and hormonal imbalances.
  • Elevated androgen levels.
  • Due to excessively oily skin.

What do the sebum plugs look like?

It is easy to identify blackheads. But it is not the case with sebum plugs. When you look at them from a distance, you can see a tiny spot on your face, or it may stick on your skin like a grain of sand. When you look at them more closely, you can understand that they are not at all black; they are sometimes clear or light yellow. When they are squeezed out of the pore, they look like a thin filament, hence the name sebaceous filaments. 

What are the types of skin plugs?

The most common types of sebum plugs are

  • Blackheads

Blackheads are open skin pores or hair follicles filled with oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria and also known as comedo. Since the air changes the colour of the serum, it appears black, and it is not dirt.

  • Whiteheads

Whiteheads are closed skin pores or hair follicles with oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria. They remain under the skin and produce white bumps.  

  • Keratin plugs

White or skin-coloured bumps that are developed on the skin. They are rough-natured and appear in groups, commonly underarms and bottom. 

  • Other types of acne

Inflammation of the sebum plug can lead to the formation of a small pink bump called a papule. They are tender to touch. A papule can then turn into a pus-filled lesion known as a pimple or pustule. They are having a red base and then the pimples become larger and more painful, they are known as a cyst. It requires the service of a dermatologist.

Sebum plug on the scalp and hair loss

The hair follicles that are present on the scalp produce sebum. This sebum lubricates hair follicles and prevents the loss of moisture from the scalp. A condition called hyper seborrhea is which overproduction of sebum. Accumulation of sebum, sweat, dead skin cells and hair products results in sebum plugs on scalps. This condition is characterized by a flaky scalp, oily skin, scalp redness, and itchiness of the scalp. If this condition is prolonged, then you will have hair loss, oily dandruff, acne around the hairline, and seborrheic dermatitis. Proper hair care routines like regular hair washing, avoiding harsh chemical products on hair, and exfoliating help prevents scale-up building to some extent. If such care doesn’t work out, consult the health care professionals to seek the best medical care. 

Can you squeeze or pop the sebaceous filaments?

Sebum Plugs in the Skin
I’m not letting a zit ruin my day!

The answer is ‘No’, you should never do it. It is not very easy to follow it because our fingers will be tempted to do it. It is not recommended to squeeze the sebum plugs out of the pores especially using your fingers, because it will cause injury to the skin, resulting in scarring. More than that, when we are applying pressure to squeezing the plug it will damage and stretch the pores making it more prominent. Fingers may contain microorganisms that can cause infection to the pores.

Can you pull out sebaceous filaments using tweezers?

Yes, it can be pulled out using specialized curved tweezers that are used to unclog the pores. But after unclogging the pores, it remains open and more vulnerable to infections. It is better to do this with the help of an experienced professional.

How to get rid of sebum plugs or treatment of sebum plugs?

As we discussed earlier, sebaceous filaments are healthy as your skin needs a certain amount of sebum to maintain its health. So our goal is not to completely get rid of sebaceous filaments. Our objective should be to prevent them from turning into actual breakouts or cysts. Some of the recommendations are

Exfoliate the skin by the use of chemical exfoliates

The best treatment for sebum plugs is the use of medicinal topicals. Regular exfoliation is the best way to treat sebum plugs and keep them from popping up. Since oils cause the sebum plugs, it is best to use beta hydroxy acids (BHAs). BHA exfoliants works on the upper layer of skin lifting the dead skin cells away from the layer of radiant skin hidden underneath They are oil soluble and easily penetrate the pore and break the blockages that cause the bumps. BHAs are particularly suitable for people with normal to oily skin, congested or enlarged pores, acne-prone skin, and signs of skin ageing.BHAs are useful even if you suffer from flesh-coloured bumps known as milia.

The pH value of the BHA exfoliant is very important. Salicylic acid works best at a pH value between 3 and 4. Products which come outside this range will be less effective or may not work at all. 

Salicylic acid is an excellent comedolytic, pore clearing ingredient. It exfoliates the skin surface and penetrates the pores to remove sebum.

Glycolic acid can also be used as an exfoliant to remove dead cells and in hyperpigmentation. But salicylic acid is the better option.

I would like to remember you that, excessive use of these chemical agents can lead to a reduction in the secretion of sebum from sebaceous glands. Without sebum, your skin will become drier as the days progress. 

Use of topical retinoids

They are medications derived from vitamin A. Topical retinoids when applied to the skin unclog pores, allowing the penetration of other medicaments through it. They prevent the clogging of pores by preventing dead cells, thus reducing the acne outbreak and formation of acne scars. Retinol and tretinoin are used to unclog pores.

Use of oral medication

The use of oral medication is not required in all cases of sebum plugs. It is only required in severe cases of acne. Isotretinoin is prescribed in such cases. It reduces the secretion of sebum from the sebaceous gland. This kind of medicine can be taken only by the prescription of a registered medical practitioner. Apart from effectiveness oral medications have their side effects also, hence they can’t be taken as your wish.

Visit a dermatologist

For the extraction of the sebum plugs, always visit a dermatologist for getting the best professional service. 

Do’s and don’ts of sebum plug treatment?

Do’s of sebum plug treatment

  • Always consult a dermatologist to treat your acne.
  • Moisturize your skin regularly.
  • Exfoliate your skin.
  • Approach skilled professionals to extract sebum plugs.
sebum plugs treatment
Adult Woman on Anti Aging Beauty Treatment at Dermatologist

Don’ts of sebum plug treatment

  • Never use your fingers to squeeze the plugs.
  • Try to remove the plug on your own.
  • Not to touch your skin unnecessarily.
  • Not to share your makeup tools that touch your skin such as brushes with others.
  • Avoid sunlight and UV light. 

Sebum plug vs keratin plugs?

Occurs when sebum gets accumulated in the hair follicles. Occurs hair follicles get accumulated with keratin and dead skin cells.
Caused by genetic, stress, and hormonal changesCaused by genetics, and dry skin conditions such as eczema.
Commonly seen in the nose, chin, and forehead.Commonly seen in upper arms, upper thighs, buttocks, and cheeks, among other areas.
Have a smooth appearance with pus or debris-filled within.Having a scaly or rough appearance
 Table: Sebum plug vs Keratin plug

Homecare tips 

You can reduce your skin plugs to a certain extent if you follow these steps,

  • Regular washing of your skin gently and regularly with alcohol-free, non-abrasive cleanser.
  • Regular moisturizing of your skin.
  • Use of oil-free and non-comedogenic moisturizer.
  • Not to scrub the skin harshly. Use fingertips to wash your skin.
  • Rinse the skin with lukewarm water.
  • Always remove make-up before sleeping.
  • Avoid the use of harsh chemical products that cause skin irritations or any kind of dryness to the skin.

When to see a doctor?

 When your routine and over-the-counter drugs are found to be ineffective in controlling your plugs you should consult a dermatologist. When the sebum plugs become pimples and then burst into acne, you should immediately seek expert advice. 

Bottom line

We know that sebaceous filaments are healthy. It is not a dangerous condition to be frightened. They can never be prevented completely. Once removed, they will be reappearing after 1 or 2 months. So the better way of prevention is to make skincare a routine. Identify the type of plug and then proceed with the treatment. They will become worsened when they break out into acne. Consult a dermatologist at the right time because severe acne conditions can lead to other serious infections. Better not take any self-treatment procedures on your skin on your own, it will greatly affect your external appearance also. Hope you will find this article helpful in tackling many of your doubts. Don’t forget to comment on the article.


  • Do sebum plugs cause blackheads?

Sebum plugs are the precursor for blackheads. Blackheads are formed when too much sebum, dead cells, and bacteria clog a pore.

  • What are hard sebum plugs?

When the sebaceous glands produce an excessive amount of sebum, it will lead to the formation of hard sebum plugs. They can lead to other forms of acne. Sometimes hard sebum plugs are developed when the enlargement of sebaceous glands occurs. This condition is known as sebaceous hyperplasia when excess sebum is produced.

  • Hard sebum plugs on the face?

The plugs formation takes place by hormonal imbalance or increased stress levels. It usually develops on the face, including the forehead, chin, and nose. They have a head and look like pimples. Sometimes they become pimples. 

  • What do you mean by noncomedogenic products?

They are products that do not have the potential to clog pores in the skin. They do not cause blocked pores.

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