thought it was a blackhead, but it's a bunch of tangled fibers
October 2, 2011 2:18 AM   Subscribe

Weird disease? While cleansing my skin (oil cleansing method), I eventually pulled out what I thought were blackheads, but were actually a mass of black fibers tangled together (too thin for hair). Since noticing this, I realize that some of the blackheads my skin releases appear to be these same fibers. The only thing I can find online is Morgellons disease, but I don't have the feeling of bugs crawling under my skin, and I don't have lesions. Any ideas?

A lot of people with Morgellons find red or blue fibers, but I've only found black. I've noticed these on my face, and once found one on my shoulder (looked like a black thread under my skin). The ones I've gotten out of my face look exactly like this (on left side, 3rd image down:

Any ideas?
posted by wannaknow to Science & Nature (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Clothing fibres. As your blackhead develops it's nice and oily, great for grabbing fibres off your clothes (and indeed the world around you); the oil then forms a plug over the fibre so it looks like it's coming from the inside rather than the outside.

Here's a nice comparison of 'Morgellons' fibres and laundry lint:
posted by Coobeastie at 2:36 AM on October 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

Morgellons is a mental disorder rather than a physical one.
posted by joannemullen at 3:02 AM on October 2, 2011 [10 favorites]

joannemullen - a lot of studies have backed up the findings that these are not simply clothing fibers:

I don't think I have Morgellons or whatever it is all these people are suffering from. I don't think of fiber of my clothing could have been pulled that deep into my skin (or they should be all over mos tof my body)
posted by wannaknow at 4:39 AM on October 2, 2011

do you have pets? Due to your post I looked up Morgellons, fascinating stuff. How long were the fibers? Can you look at them under a microscope? if you are consistently having this I would recommend a dermatologist.
posted by gypseefire at 4:40 AM on October 2, 2011

Well, usually hair splinters hurt a bit, and are straight and you said they're thinner - but could that be a possibility?

That said, the lint suggestion sounds plausible too.
posted by peagood at 4:52 AM on October 2, 2011

Oh my god, please don't go down that rabbit hole. Morgellon's disease is a mental problem. It's not a physical problem.

They're almost definitely clothing fibers or some other kind of fuzz. Please don't drive yourself crazy looking for some other explanation and don't read any more websites about Morgellon's. It's not real.
posted by empath at 4:53 AM on October 2, 2011 [13 favorites]

[please, let's not make this a thread to debunk Morgellon's; if you have advice to help the OP figure out what the problem is, or advice about what sort of practitioner could help diagnose the condition, or any practical advice, share that. Helpful answers, please.]
posted by taz (staff) at 5:17 AM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Why not put some of the fibers in a small container and take it to a doctor? They will have good advice.
posted by Houstonian at 5:22 AM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Why not put some of the fibers in a small container and take it to a doctor? They will have good advice.

That's the matchbook sign.
posted by empath at 5:37 AM on October 2, 2011 [12 favorites]

Do you have hair that grows more-than-one to a follicle? For some reason, I have follicles that produce a small collection of really fine hairs instead of just one...sometimes after I shave, only the first one makes it out and the others coil up under the skin. You might want to see if that's your problem.


"Pili multigemini is a rare malformation characterized by the presence of bifurcated or multiple divided hair matrices and papillae, giving rise to the formation of multiple hair shafts within the individual follicles.[1]:768[2]"
posted by aquafortis at 6:24 AM on October 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

How long are we taling here? Fibers are a common motif for proteinaceous macrostructures (hair, tendons, i.e. you) Blackheads form in the orifices of hair follicles and not all hairs are equal, so I'd say you're looking a something that's happening to the finer hair follicles and could be linked to some environmental cause - some combination of soap, makeup, who-knows-what-else that is sufficient to keep the larger follicles open but is clogging some of the smaller ones.

The analysis of Morgellons fibers didn't exactly leave me full of confidence and poking around the site didn't bolster that any. A page where they told me that the Morgellons fibers resisted every digest condition they threw at it but they ran it on a gel anyway and didn't find anything conclusive reminded me of all the poorly developed, must meet a deadline, write a report that says this is good enough crap that made me not really feel too bad when I got laid off at the very big biotech corporation of America.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:26 AM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

gypsyeefire- I do have a healthy 10 year old cat who never goes outside.

It's hard to tell how long the fibers are since they usually come out in a big tangled glob. Unfortunately I don't have a microscope, but I stared at/examined them under a bright light and they look identical to the image I linked to in the post.

aquafortis - I did come across that while researching, but the pictures don't look like the things I'm finding.

Kid Charlemagne - your comment about some kind of environmental factor causing something within the pore is what I think is the case. The problem is I just can't find anything that would explain that in my research of blackheads, hair and skin conditions. More than anything, I'm so freakin curious now! The only reason I bring up Morgellons is that the pictures are identical to what I've pulled out of my skin. I'm wondering if those people's bodies are producing /reacting withing something that have to do with a disease, whereas my skin is doing it based on something else. That link wasn't a great example of the studies--there are better ones if you're curious, I just didn't want to go too deep into arguing with people about whether the disease exists, I'm just trying to figuring out what I'm experiencing.
posted by wannaknow at 6:37 AM on October 2, 2011

I'll say this, I find the pores on my nose, and along the creases beside it do often have very fine hairs in them. If I use my fingernail as a hard edge I can sometimes force them out, and they sound a lot like what you're describing. A bunch of very fine hairs that when clumped together resemble a blackhead. I don't think that they are TOO fine to be hairs, though. Maybe you should reconsider that part. Hair can be very very fine, even facial hair.
posted by dnesan at 6:48 AM on October 2, 2011

Those sound like ingrown hairs to me. I've had a few that didn't get infected but just kept on growing until I plucked them out. A couple just sort of kept growing in a little coil. When I removed them, they looked like tiny pieces of gravel, but I could break them apart to find a tiny curled-up hair coated in a waxy substance. Another one, on my knee, grew in a straight line just under the skin, like the one on your shoulder, and managed to get a couple inches long before I figured out what it was. It was dark, and thinner than my usual body or head hair. Totally fascinating.

If they aren't getting inflamed or causing irritation, don't think of them as a disease. If they are bothering you, though, make an appointment with a dermatologist. Do NOT pick the things out and put them in a baggie; let the doc see how they look in your skin.

Keep in mind that it's really easy to worry about skin conditions, bugs, etc., and start actually feeling physically itchy; the skin is surprisingly sensitive to the power of suggestion. Also keep in mind that picking at your skin, though it's tempting, will aggravate things more than leaving it alone.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:37 AM on October 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

Could they be (harmless) sebaceous filaments, sample link?
posted by argonauta at 7:42 AM on October 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

They're probably hair. I got mad huge blackheads in the "sideburn" region of my face where very fine and usually not visible hair grows when I did the OCM. Also if you're using a fabric washcloth to take the oil off, you're likely depositing fibers on your face where the oil would make them stick.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 9:52 AM on October 2, 2011

sebaceous filaments
Link to photo of nose with sebaceous filaments, fyi.
posted by flug at 10:00 AM on October 2, 2011

We're only on the threshold of any sort of personal medicine and there, only in very limited and specific cases for very serious diseases. Figuring out how a protein folds based on the DNA sequence from which it comes is still more art than science. Working out macro phenomenon from first principles, not so much.

For example, we understand the nature of the plaques and tangles associated with Alzheimer's disease, how they are made up of Beta Amaloid and Tau - but there is still debate on what these structures are and do despite the fact that the NIH and drug companies have thrown billions of dollars at Alzheimer's research.

Microanalysis of non-life-threatening skin lesions isn't going to be high on anyone's to do list but about as difficult as figuring out the plaques and tangles in Alzheimer's (except for the sample collection issues). So, like most medicine, you're mostly going to be dealing with empirical observation. And yes, that would be the same empirical observation that causes some people to wear their lucky socks whenever they have to take a test at school.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:14 AM on October 2, 2011

One more thing: keep an eye out to see if these fibers tend to reappear in the same spot. Sometimes you'll have a random hair follicle that likes to produce bizarre rogue hairs, and they just reappear in the exact same spot after you pluck 'em out. Again, not a disease, just a weird and harmless skin quirk.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:26 AM on October 2, 2011

Do you wear a lot of dark clothing?
posted by 6550 at 10:37 PM on October 2, 2011

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