BlemishFilter: What are these tiny, black things?
December 17, 2007 2:28 PM   Subscribe

what is this thing on my back?

every once in great while i feel a really tiny black bump on my back and when i scratch it, it will dislodge, leaving an equivalent-sized pit in my skin that might sometimes fill with a minuscule amount of blood. what gets scratched out itself is like a really hard, tiny black seed/grain/pebble like thing. i've tried to squeeze them a few times and they don't really squish. also, i have only ever had them on my back. what is this?? does anyone know what i am talking about? i have tried googling it but haven't come up with a satisfactory answer. my boyfriend, while not having seen what i am describing, says the only thing he could think of is that it's a blackhead. is it a blackhead? if so, are blackheads hard like that? i always thought they were just like whiteheads (soft) except that they were…black?
posted by violetk to Health & Fitness (21 answers total)
Blackheads are when a pore gets filled with oil and dirt, and despite their name are usually yellowish in color. The stuff that makes a blackhead is the same texture as a whitehead. What you're describing is something different.
posted by hamhed at 2:38 PM on December 17, 2007

Ok, I've had one of these before, and the answer that I got from my dermatologist was that it was a "deep melanin spot," essentially a mole that would never surface. I could have it cut out if I wanted, but he didn't see a reason to do so unless it really bothered me.

I found it when the skin above it got a pimple, and digging at it was what got the little bit of black stuff (but not all of it) out. The dermatologist said that it was likely the remnants of some sort of skin infection over the mole.

Blackheads are bits of dirt that clog pores, leading to raised pimples. The black head itself is often hard (because it's just dirt and dead skin).

There are also ingrown hairs, at least on me, that look similar and are generally harder than pimples.

There—now you know more about my backne than anyone aside from my girlfriend.
posted by klangklangston at 2:41 PM on December 17, 2007

Might it just be dried blood?
posted by fire&wings at 2:56 PM on December 17, 2007

Sounds like an old blackhead. When left alone they gradually get harder and blacker, and eventually start to get pushed out of the skin naturally. The hole left behind is a distended pore.
posted by Manjusri at 2:59 PM on December 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: okay, i had a feeling they weren't blackheads…

fire&wings: no, it's definitely not dried blood.

klangklangston: this would make sense as i am prone to getting moles (which is why i am hyper-vigilant about what goes on with my skin). the ones i get are almost always on the surface tho (have only had to dig it out on a few occasions over my lifetime) and scratch out easily. often i don't even realize i've scratched on out until i see it under my fingernail afterward.

anyone else have other ideas?
posted by violetk at 3:02 PM on December 17, 2007

Response by poster: manjusri: this makes sense too.
posted by violetk at 3:02 PM on December 17, 2007

Oh wow! I have never heard about someone else having one of these before (pardon my excitement!).

Too many years ago, when I was 19, I discovered a lump on my back. After much prodding and poking, I decided to perform surgery with a fingernail (yes..ew..I was 19). The prize was exactly what you described, a hard, black ball almost the size of a pea. I, for one, do not think it's a blackhead. You see, my curiosity got the best of me and I bit off half of it to get a feel for the texture (yes..ew..I was 19). It had no flavor, but very much had the same texture as the skin on the sides of a fingernail mixed with the texture of a fingernail.

From this, I deduced that it was a dermoid cyst (only because I also had one in my brain). A dermoid cyst, being a conglomeration of skin, nail and hair tissue, may very well be what I had dug out of me that day. It could be what your thingy is, too.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 3:14 PM on December 17, 2007 [2 favorites]

Cat Pie Hurts, it could also be a giant comedo (read "big huge dried-out blackhead").
posted by lleachie at 3:19 PM on December 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: cat pie hurts: wow—that's huge! mine are actually really tiny, like half the size of a sesame seed.
posted by violetk at 3:24 PM on December 17, 2007

For the record, my blackheads are indeed black, and sometimes they are like what you describe. They aren't like the big squishy mounds of gunk that come out of regular pimples; they're very tight, dried up, poppyseed-like things. Sometimes there will be more, non-black stuff beneath. (Usually they are flush with the skin, but sometimes they're a bump that can be scratched off with a fingernail.)

I should tell you that I'm bowing to you right now, as you're the only person I'm aware of who didn't have acne in her youth. Or maybe you're still in your youth? :) (Blackheads are just one kind of acne.)

So, that could be what it is, or it could be something else. It wouldn't hurt to have a dermatologist who you could go to see when weird skin stuff happens.
posted by iguanapolitico at 3:41 PM on December 17, 2007

Oh wow, those pics that lleachie posted are gross, but right on. :) The top left is what I'm thinking of. (Open comedone = blackhead.)
posted by iguanapolitico at 3:43 PM on December 17, 2007

It's a blackhead. I get them sometimes, and they are like a large grain of sand. Mine don't fill with blood.

Nothing to worry about.
posted by mphuie at 3:51 PM on December 17, 2007

Wow, I know this is a little sick, but I feel excited that Cat Pie Hurts has described what I have had. One time on my back, one time on my arm (both a little smaller than a pea). I always thought it was a foreign irritant and the black stuff formed around it as a body defense thing.
posted by spec80 at 3:54 PM on December 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: iguanapolitico: poppyseed-like is exactly how i would describe it—thanks!

no, i'm squarely in my mid-30s. except for a breakout phase when i was 12, i have rarely had pimples at all. i have been fortunate enough to have always had the kind of skin that cosmetologists and dermatologists exclaim over. i attribute this to the fact that i have always drank a ton of water and rarely drink soda or sugary drinks. my brother, who was the opposite (drank a ton of soda and rarely any water) was scarred with acne.
posted by violetk at 3:56 PM on December 17, 2007

I get these too - little dark "seeds" filling a pore. I squeeze 'em out all the time, but I am an incorrigible picker.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:05 PM on December 17, 2007

Probably blackheads. I had very oily skin as a teenager, and my pores were always larger on my back around my shoulders. Bigger pores, more blackheads.

i attribute this to the fact that i have always drank a ton of water and rarely drink soda or sugary drinks. my brother, who was the opposite (drank a ton of soda and rarely any water) was scarred with acne.

Check out this site. Drinking water may very well benefit your skin to some degree. Diet does not - that's a myth that was dispelled quite awhile ago. You got the good genes. Your brother got the bad ones. I suffered from acne for many years. It scars you physically and mentally. Perpetuating the idea that it's somehow the fault of the sufferer for having bad hygiene or a poor diet makes it worse.
posted by Evangeline at 5:24 PM on December 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

I also get these occasionally on my arms. They are definitely blackheads, but unlike some blackheads they are a bit broader and harder to detect, and I have mistaken them for small moles or tiny scabs. Gentle squeezing causes the whole thing to slowly pop out, and it is quite hard, leaving behind a very clean pore and sometimes a little blood.

I believe it is because the sebum that forms gets harder and darker in colour the longer it sits, normally they are expelled when hard through rubbing or scratching.

They are a big gross, but immensely gratifying!
posted by tomble at 5:28 PM on December 17, 2007

I know what you're talking about, and it's probably not a blackhead. My sister had one on her completely zit-less back, she went to the doctor who said it was a small cyst and she could have it taken out, or she could ignore it. She never did anything about it. So...I say go to a dermatologist or forget about it.
posted by piper4 at 7:35 PM on December 17, 2007

Response by poster: piper4: it's not something that needs to be "taken out." like i said, they just scratch off easily, sometimes without my realizing it and i only do because i will see this poppyseed looking thing under my fingernail.
posted by violetk at 7:42 PM on December 17, 2007

I had someone squeeze a massive plug out of my back which had a pointy thing on the outside of it. It may very well have been a seed but then, my pores were/are the kind that harboured all kinds of terrible things if squeezed hard enough (hi boys!). I'm guessing yours is a big, juicy blackhead.

My grandmother wanted me to squeeze the massive blackheads that formed in the wrinkles on her neck. I loved my grandmother more than anyone but that whole taking pleasure in squeezing grossness out of people has always eluded me. They were sesame seed sized too.
posted by h00py at 4:18 AM on December 18, 2007

lleachie, thanks for the link..I think you may have nailed it! (mine, at least).
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 4:56 AM on December 18, 2007

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