Sebaceous Filaments and Oil Pulling: Is It Worth It?

Recently, people have been using oil to pull sebaceous filaments out of their skin! This is called "oil pulling," but how did this all start, and what is it? Firstly, let’s explain what sebaceous filaments are.


What are sebaceous filaments?

Sebaceous filaments are made of sebum. Our sebaceous glands naturally produce oil or “sebum.” Sebaceous glands are located in our pilosebaceous unit. Hairs come out of pilosebaceous units, and sebum transports itself to the top of our skin by moving up the hair. Once the sebum moves up the hair and to the skin’s surface, it helps create something called “the acid mantle.” 

Photocred: GoodieCo


The acid mantle is not technically a layer of skin. It is simply a layer of oil that our skin secretes. When you touch your face at the end of the day, you can feel it, and it comes off on your hands. It’s the skin’s first layer of protection against invaders. Additionally, the acid mantle waterproofs your skin, protects your skin, and transports very important nutrients such as antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids to the skin’s surface. However, sometimes too much oil is made, and all of it cannot climb up the hair. 

When there is too much oil, not all of it will make it to the skin’s surface. Likewise, the pilosebaceous unit can get clogged. And if there's bacteria involved, this clog can become a pimple.

However, if that acne bacteria isn't all that present, the sebum will mix with dead skin cells and dry up. From there, it will become a yellow or white piece of paste, known as a sebaceous filament. Sebaceous filaments can become so dry that they turn into little gold nuggets or pieces as well.

When you look in the mirror, sebaceous filaments look like little white dots. When you squeeze these dots, that white paste will come out. These are not blackheads though. Blackheads have black tips, and they tend to be firmer when squeezed out. 

But in reality, you shouldn’t squeeze your skin because doing so is very irritating. There are other ways to remove sebaceous filaments or blackheads from your skin, and oil pulling is just one way. 


What is oil pulling?

Oil pulling is when people use skincare oils or even cooking oils to get gunk or “sebaceous filaments” out of their pores. Oil pulling requires you to rub oil into your face for 5 to 30 minutes. But, what is the reason for this?

In chemistry, when you mix a bunch of oils together, they combine. So, when you rub oil on the skin, it combines with sebum or sebaceous filaments. And when you’re rubbing it, you’re able to dislodge, loosen, or pull some of it out. 

This is very different than oil cleansing. Oil cleansing is when you remove something like makeup or sunscreen, and then, you follow up with a regular cleanser. 


How do you do oil pulling for the skin?

Simply take your oil of choice, and rub it on your face. However, you don’t want to use an oil that’s going to cause your skin to break out . If you have oily skin, you might not want to use this method at all.

But even though Cassandra has oily skin, this is how she did it. Cassandra used olive oil and rubbed it on her face for 30 minutes. It took about 3 minutes to get her first sebaceous filament out, and by 5 minutes, Cassandra actually had a few chunks come out. Around 17 minutes, her sebaceous filaments truly started to lift. After 20 minutes, her skin started to get a little red.

But after a while, it just felt like she was exfoliating her face with her skin’s own debris. It took a while to work, and it did work to remove sebaceous filaments, but Cassandra would rather stick to chemical exfoliants. 


Does oil pulling work on the skin?

Well, it can work to pull out sebaceous filaments. But, just because it pulls out sebum doesn’t mean that it helps the skin or yields results. For example, Cassandra often deals with sebaceous filaments, and this was not a fit for her skin. It was a very oily process. On top of that, what prevents the sebaceous filaments from returning? There’s nothing in oil that prevents sebum from building back up and getting stuck again. Likewise, "oil pulling" removes things, but it doesn’t truly help the skin in the long run, especially if you have oily skin. 

Plus, if you have acne, rubbing the skin for this long can make the skin red and inflamed. And ultimately, the acne might look worse afterward. That’s what happened to Cassandra. She not only broke out more the next day, but she broke out even more the following week.

There’s also the risk of accidentally using an oil that doesn’t work for your skin. 

If you are going to do oil pulling, Cassandra would recommend using a skincare oil as opposed to a cooking oil. Here are some that Cassandra likes. 


Trader Joe's SPA 100% Pure Jojoba Oil - $13.25



This is technically not an oil. It’s a waxy esther. It mimics sebum which can help with oil control. It’s inexpensive, fragrance-free, and non-irritating. This is a great option. It’s basic, and it works for the skin. People also use almond oil and marula oil. The Drunk Elephant has a marula oil for $70, but The has a marula oil from the manufacturer for $11.

But once again, chemical exfoliants, serums, and cleansers are much better options for breaking down sebaceous filaments. 

There are three key ingredients for this: BHA (salicylic acid), retinoids, and niacinamide. Salicylic acid is oil soluble so it can get into pores. It’s antibacterial, and it helps to remove and dissolve sebaceous filaments. It also prevents them from coming back. 

Retinoids are also a great option. They help with wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and scars. But, they can also help if you have enlarged pores that are prone to sebaceous filaments. Retinoids go deep into your skin and stimulate your body to create more new skin cells. If your skin is resurfacing more often, there’s a lower chance of your pores getting clogged with sebaceous filaments and likewise dead skin. However, you might get redness, peeling, and irritation from retinoids, especially if you’re using prescription stuff.

Also, niacinamide better known as vitamin B3 is a fantastic option, and it helps regulate oil production. Niacinamide can help lessen the appearance of pores on the skin. It goes into the pores, and it helps to regulate how much oil your skin produces. It also helps with the uneven spread of pigment. If you’re prone to splotchy skin, niacinamide can be a great option.  

So, for sebaceous filaments, you want to look for BHAs, retinoids, and niacinamide. But, if you enjoy oil pulling, you can. However, products like these will yield better and longer-lasting results.

Wishful Yo Glow AHA & BHA Facial Enzyme Scrub - $39 


Mixsoon Bean Essence Exfoliating Serum 

People have been using these products to pull sebaceous filaments out of the skin. 


Haruharu Wonder Centella 3% PHA Gentle Liquid  - $28

This is plant cellulose or plant fiber. The product balls up on itself, and it exfoliates. Likewise, it can also pull some blackheads or sebaceous filaments out. However, the most consequential step in removing excess sebum or sebaceous filaments is cleansing. 

Dermalogica Oil to Foam Cleanser - $56 

This removes excess sebum in a few minutes instead of 30 like oil pulling.