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Sebaceous Cysts: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment 

Have you ever noticed a small, slow-growing bump under your skin? This could be a sebaceous cyst, a common, non-cancerous lump formed by the sebaceous glands which produce our skin’s oily sebum. Although generally harmless, their unsightly appearance and potential discomfort often lead people to explore treatment options. This guide offers a comprehensive look at sebaceous cysts, covering their causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and effective treatments to help you manage this skin condition wisely.

What Are Sebaceous Cysts?

Sebaceous cysts are often mistaken for epidermoid cysts. However, they are non-cancerous bumps beneath the skin that typically develop on the face, neck, or torso. These cysts form when the sebaceous glands are blocked by skin cells. The cyst usually contains oily sebum and keratin, a protein that is a primary component of skin, hair, and nails.

Unlike other types of cysts, sebaceous cysts are relatively rare and are specifically related to the sebaceous glands. These glands are part of the skin’s more extensive network of glands and are most active in areas abundant with hair follicles. They secrete oils that help keep the skin healthy and hydrated. However, when they become blocked, it can lead to the formation of a cyst. These cysts can vary in size and may feel tender or firm to the touch. Although typically benign, sebaceous cysts can become uncomfortable and may require treatment if they grow, become painful, or get infected.

Sebaceous Cyst Symptoms

Sebaceous cysts typically present themselves as noticeable lumps under the skin. Here are some of the key symptoms associated with sebaceous cysts:

Painless Lumps: 

Initially, a sebaceous cyst may present itself as a small, painless lump beneath the skin. Often, these lumps are discovered accidentally, as they don’t cause any discomfort in their early stages.


These cysts predominantly occur on the scalp, face, neck, and torso. However, it’s important to note they can develop in any region of the body except the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

Skin Texture: 

The overlying skin may appear normal or slightly shinier than the surrounding area. If irritation occurs, the skin can sometimes become reddened.

Size Variation: 

Sebaceous cysts can range from a few millimetres to several centimetres in diameter. Due to the accumulation of sebum, they might grow larger over time.


In some cases, the cyst might rupture or be intentionally punctured, releasing a thick, yellowish, foul-smelling substance. This is the trapped sebum mixed with skin cells.


While typically painless, if infected, sebaceous cysts can become tender, red, and painful. An infected cyst may also be accompanied by a fever.

Causes of Sebaceous Cysts

They occur due to various factors, each influencing the skin uniquely. Understanding these causes can provide insight into prevention and highlight the importance of treatment when necessary.

Blocked Sebaceous Glands

At the heart of most sebaceous cysts is the sebaceous gland, which produces sebum, an oily substance designed to lubricate the skin and hair. When these glands become blocked, sebum accumulates, leading to cyst formation.

Damage to Hair Follicles

Hair follicles can be damaged through various means such as injuries, surgical wounds, or skin conditions. This damage can pave the way for cysts to develop, as it disrupts normal hair and skin cell turnover.

Increased Production of Sebum

Factors like hormonal changes can increase sebum production. Excess sebum can contribute to the blockage of glands and the subsequent formation of cysts.

Genetic Predisposition

Some individuals have a genetic predisposition that makes them more susceptible to developing cysts. This includes conditions that affect the skin’s turnover process, leading to the collection of dead skin cells beneath the surface.


Bacterial infections can lead to the formation of cysts. The immune system’s response to infection often results in the collection of cellular debris, which can then form a cyst.

Skin Trauma

Any form of trauma to the skin, including cuts, abrasions, or puncture wounds, can increase the risk of cyst formation. Trauma can introduce bacteria into deeper layers of the skin or damage the sebaceous glands and hair follicles, leading to cyst development.

Sebaceous Cyst Treatment

Treating sebaceous cysts effectively involves several approaches, depending on the cyst’s size, location, and symptoms. Here are the most common treatment options:


In many cases, if the cyst is small and not causing discomfort, the recommended approach is to simply monitor it for changes. Regular check-ups can ensure that any progression is noted and addressed promptly.

Incision and Drainage:

 For cysts that are swollen, painful, or infected, a doctor might perform an incision and drainage procedure. This involves numbing the area with a local anaesthetic, making a small cut in the cyst, and gently pressing to drain its contents. This procedure provides immediate relief, but it does not remove the cyst sac; therefore, the cyst may recur.

Cyst Removal: 

To remove a sebaceous cyst altogether and reduce the risk of recurrence, surgical removal of the entire cyst sac is often necessary. This procedure is typically done under local anaesthesia, where the surgeon makes a small incision, removes the cyst entirely, and then sutures the skin closed.

Minimal Excision: 

This technique aims to reduce scarring. A small incision is made to remove the cyst wall and contents while minimising the size of the scar.

Laser Therapy:

 In some cases, the laser can vapourise the cyst. This method is less invasive and may be chosen for smaller cysts or cosmetic reasons.

Punch Biopsy Technique: 

This method uses a punch tool to remove a small section of the cyst wall, allowing the contents to be drained and the cyst wall to be removed through a small hole.


Doctors might prescribe antibiotics to clear the infection if a sebaceous cyst is inflamed or infected. Injections of corticosteroid medications are sometimes used to reduce inflammation.

Sebaceous Cyst Diagnosis

Diagnosing a sebaceous cyst is typically a straightforward process for healthcare professionals, involving steps that ensure accurate identification and appropriate treatment planning. Here’s how the diagnosis is generally approached:

Physical Examination: 

The initial step involves a detailed examination, during which the healthcare provider assesses the cyst’s size, shape, texture, and location. This helps differentiate sebaceous cysts from other types of skin abnormalities, such as lipomas or abscesses.

Medical History: 

Understanding the patient’s history is crucial. Questions may cover the duration of the cyst’s presence, any changes in size, past infections, and recurrence of similar cysts. This helps in evaluating potential hereditary patterns or triggers.

Imaging Techniques: 

For unclear cases, an ultrasound may confirm the lump’s cystic nature and rule out other conditions. In more complex situations, MRI or CT scans might examine the cyst in relation to deeper tissues and structures.

Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA): 

This involves using a thin needle to withdraw contents from the cyst, which are then examined microscopically to confirm the nature of the cyst, mainly checking for the presence of keratin and oily substances typical of sebaceous cysts.


If there’s a concern about the cyst’s nature, a biopsy might be conducted. This involves removing a small section of the cyst wall for histological examination to rule out malignancy and ensure accurate diagnosis.

Advanced Facial Treatments for Skin Rejuvenation

For those looking to enhance their skin’s appearance and health, particularly after dealing with issues like sebaceous cysts, exploring advanced facial treatments can be beneficial. Clinical treatments such as Chemical Peels, Microneedling with Radio Frequency, and Microneedling with Dermapen also offer rejuvenating benefits that can improve skin texture, reduce scarring, and promote a more vibrant complexion.

Chemical Peel

Chemical Peel  involves applying a chemical solution to the skin, which causes the top layers to exfoliate and eventually peel off. The new skin that emerges is typically smoother and less scarred, making it an excellent option for reducing the visibility of marks left by cysts.

Microneedling with Radio Frequency

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MNRF Treatment procedure combines the collagen-inducing effects of microneedling with the skin-tightening benefits of radiofrequency energy. It’s particularly effective for tightening loose skin and improving uneven skin texture and tone.

Microneedling with Dermapen

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A more targeted form of microneedling, Microneedling with Dermapen uses a device equipped with fine needles to create tiny punctures in the top layer of the skin, which stimulates collagen and elastin production. It’s ideal for addressing acne scars, including those from cysts, and enhancing overall skin rejuvenation.

These advanced treatments can not only help in managing the cosmetic aftermath of sebaceous cysts but also significantly boost the skin’s overall health and appearance.


Understanding sebaceous cysts is essential for maintaining healthy, comfortable skin. Familiarity with the causes, symptoms, and treatments helps manage existing cysts and prevent new ones. For expert care, consider consulting a dermatology specialist who can offer advanced treatments and tailored advice. At  Bodycraft Clinic, professionals specialising in dermatological and cosmetic procedures provide effective solutions and comprehensive care, ensuring your skin receives the best treatment. 

FAQs around Sebaceous Cyst Removal

1. Is a sebaceous cyst contagious?

No, sebaceous cysts are not contagious. They form due to the blockage of sebaceous glands and are not caused by infectious agents.

2. Can sebaceous cysts be painful?

Sebaceous cysts are typically not painful unless they become inflamed or infected. In such cases, they might become tender and sore.

3. How does a sebaceous cyst get infected?

Infection of a sebaceous cyst can occur if the cyst ruptures or if bacteria enter through a break in the skin surface near the cyst, leading to inflammation and pain.

4. How long do sebaceous cysts last?

Sebaceous cysts can last indefinitely if not treated. They may remain stable in size or grow slowly over time. Surgical removal is the only definitive way to eliminate them.

5. What is inside a sebaceous cyst?

The contents of a sebaceous cyst include a collection of keratin and sebum, the oily substance produced by sebaceous glands to lubricate the skin and hair.

6. Are sebaceous cysts common?

Yes, sebaceous cysts are quite common. They can occur in individuals of any age but are more prevalent in adults.

7. Can you squeeze a sebaceous cyst?

Squeezing a sebaceous cyst is not recommended as it can lead to infection, cyst rupture, and scarring.

8. How to shrink a sebaceous cyst?

Home remedies like warm compresses can sometimes help a cyst drain and shrink, but medical treatments should be sought for persistent or bothersome cysts.

9. Can a dermatologist remove a sebaceous cyst?

Yes, a dermatologist is well-equipped to remove a sebaceous cyst through surgical procedures, ensuring minimal risk of recurrence and infection.

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