I had a big issue with my eyebrows and my nose when I was younger. My eyebrows went through a high school fish-hook phase to a college Cara Delevingne phase, and they’ve now settled into a good thick-ish shape and I’m pretty happy about that. However, I’m just coming to terms with my nose, and that’s because I finally understand what the little dark dots are that cover it.

For years, I thought my nose was gross and terrible, filled with mixture of icky things that made my skin oily and shiny. I apparently missed the part in high school health class when they explained how acne works (or it’s possible they never did). I have been convinced for most of my twenty-three years on this planet that my nose was not only beak-like, it was also covered in little blackheads that somehow produced weird, stringy white gunk that always came back no matter how many times I washed my face. Basically, I felt gross and resorted to using pore strips over and over again, wondering why my pores never got any smaller and why the white gunk always appeared.

I came to see the error of my ways when my roommate sent me an article, that told me the battle I had been fighting all along was a lost cause. My “blackheads” and “whiteheads” were actually just sebaceous filaments. Everything I had ever known to be true was a lie. The whole world knew what they were, and I didn’t. I felt like a skincare failure.

Here’s the short version of their differences:

Sebaceous filament (or gland): They are connected to hair follicles which deposits sebum, an oily and waxy substance, on the hair. They aren’t raised off the skin, but appear to blend in with it.

Whitehead: Build up of excessive sebum in your sebaceous filaments. The sebum builds to a white head and is blocked from the surface of your pore, keeping it’s white color.

Blackhead: A blackhead appears when the clogged sebum reaches the surface and oxidizes, giving the blockage a darker color due to the melanin the sebum contains.

(And this video here can help you visualize it.)

In an effort to sell you beauty products designed for women with oily skin, Sephora calls sebum “the skin congesting opponent of clear skin,” but a more scientific explanation from the Western Journal of Medicine is this:

“Sebum is a holocrin secretion that flows slowly from the gland into the hair follicle via one or more sebaceous ducts.”

In short, white squiggly stuff made up of oil, skin cells, and bacteria. It moisturizes and protects your skin and hair, but gets you into skin trouble when there’s too much of it, due to hormones, certain medications, or your diet.

If you already knew all of this, then you are definitely ahead of the curve. I’ve been cursing my large greyish pores and the white, squiggly stuff that comes out of them for years. No amount of squeezing, pressing, or washing could remove them from me. I had always assumed that something was wrong with my nose.

And here’s the secret that a lot of beauty products fail to tell you: WE ALL HAVE SEBUM IN OUR NOSES. Some of us may suffer from clogged pores more than others, but the root of the problem, the sebum, will always be there. It can maintained and lessened through the help of face oils (which only sounds more harmful than helpful, it actually really works), but it will always be there, lurking in your nose, doing no harm as long as your treat yourself right.

Treating yourself right in this case includes not touching your face and getting bacteria in your little sebaceous filaments and not squeezing or picking at them since the sebum will reappear and will most definitely be angry with you.

If you aren’t happy with the little amount of sebum that’s there and causing an oily sheen on your face, even if it’s not forming blackheads or whiteheads, you can use help reduce sebum excretion with these products:

I’ve probably spent hundreds of dollars over the years on dumb products to clear the skin on my nose when really, my nose was just doing what a nose is supposed to do. Countless companies have been pedaling this “totally clear skin” myth that is unattainable unless you’ve got built-in photoshop or a bucket of makeup on your face.


bathroom with nose strip on my face

Via my iPhone in “meh” bathroom lighting

I’ll leave you all with a terrible joke my mom an unnamed family member used to tell me when I was self conscious of my big, sebum-filled nose: “You don’t have a big nose, you have a Roman nose…ROAMIN’ ALL OVA YO FACE.”