Sebaceous Cysts Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Sebaceous Cysts Usually Go Away Without Treatment

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Sebaceous cysts may be a foreign term to you, but many women have indeed experienced them -- perhaps without really knowing what they were at the time.

Sebaceous cysts are small, painless lumps or bumps that grow slowly just under your skin. To be more specific, they are closed sacs that contain sebum, an oily, odorless substance.

Sebaceous cysts are often inaccurately conflated with epidermoid cysts, which can be differentiated by the fact that they contain keratin -- a "pasty" or "cheesy" looking protein that often has a foul odor.

Is It Genital Herpes Or a Cyst?

Although you can usually find sebaceous cysts on your face, neck, and trunk, these bumps also occur in the vaginal area or other parts of the genitalia. In cases of the latter, it is not uncommon for women to fear that they are the result of genital herpes. But genital herpes creates a blister-type sore that eventually becomes crusty, not just a bump or lump under the skin.

What Causes Sebaceous Cysts?

Sebaceous cysts are often the result of swollen hair follicles or skin trauma and you may be more likely to get them if your family members do.

Symptoms and Signs of Infection

Sebaceous cysts are usually painless, slow-growing, small bumps or lumps that move freely under the skin. It's important not to touch or try to remove the substance inside to prevent tenderness, swelling, and infection of a sebaceous cyst.

Occasionally, infections may occur. Signs or symptoms that may indicate infection of sebaceous cysts include:

  • redness
  • tenderness
  • increased temperature of the skin over the bumps or lumps
  • an oily, waxy fluid or in the case of epidermoid cysts, grayish white, cheesy, foul-smelling material draining from the bump or lump

How Are Sebaceous Cysts Diagnosed?

Sebaceous cysts, to the trained eye, are usually easily diagnosed by their appearance.

In some cases, a ​biopsy or skin culture may be necessary to rule out other conditions with a similar appearance. You should see your doctor to receive a formal diagnosis if you suspect that you have a sebaceous cyst.

Treatments for Sebaceous Cysts

Sebaceous cysts most often disappear on their own and are not dangerous. As stated, however, they may become inflamed and tender.

Sometimes sebaceous cysts grow large enough that they may interfere with your everyday life. When this happens, surgical removal may be necessary, and this procedure can be done at your doctor's office. Small inflamed cysts can often be treated with injecting of steroid medications or with antibiotics.

A study published in Archives of Plastic surgery reports on a new CO2 laser treatment to remove sebaceous cysts with minimal scarring and low recurrence rates.

Complications of Sebaceous Cysts

If sebaceous cysts become infected, they can form into painful abscesses.

The surgical removal of a sebaceous cyst that does not involve the excision of the entire sac may cause the cyst to come back (although, recurrence is not usual).

Remember to consult your healthcare provider any time you notice any type of growth, bump, or lump on your body.

Although sebaceous cysts are not dangerous, your doctor should examine you to ensure that another more dangerous concern is not present.


MedlinePlus: Sebaceous Cysts (2013)

University of Maryland Medical Center: Sebaceous Cyst (2015)

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