Sebaceous Cysts

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In short, sebaceous cysts (interchangeably known as epidermoid cysts) are benign cysts formed in the outermost layer of skin (the epidermis). Sebaceous cysts form when keratin, a protein fundamental to structuring the epidermis blocks the sebaceous gland. In turn, this causes sebum, a white oily (and also quite an odorous) substance, to occupy a sac in the sebaceous gland. This can be detected if you can feel pale protrusion of very movable skin emerging.

Where are sebaceous cysts found?

Sebaceous cysts tend to develop in areas where hair is prominent: the scalp, the chest, the back, the face, or the upper arm. With men, sebaceous cysts can appear on the scrotum, but it should be stressed that sebaceous cysts should not be confused with genital warts! Essentially, sebaceous cysts could arise anywhere apart from (mostly) the palms of your hands, or your feet (although, in extremely rare cases, they can be found on your feet as well).

Causes of sebaceous cysts

Broadly, sebaceous cysts can be caused by skin trauma, large testosterone levels, and the swelling of hair follicles. Sebaceous cysts can also be symptomatic of hereditary syndromes such as Gardner’s syndrome.


There are a number of symptoms which may indicate that you have a sebaceous cyst: if the area you think may be a cyst becomes infected and becomes appear sorer and redder, if it appears more bulbous and bulging, and if when the affected area is squeezed a white discharge then shoots out, then in all probability, you may have a sebaceous cyst. While sebaceous cysts can be spotted by the trained eye, a doctor may have to confirm this for definite with a professional diagnosis.


A simple method to cure a sebaceous cyst is to place a (sterilised) heating pad to the affected area for up to twenty minutes twice a day. If this is applied to the cyst for up to ten days, it should help with the healing process. However, patients tend not to prefer manual treatment, opting for a doctor’s treatment instead. For instance, your doctor can excise your cyst through a small incision in the closed sac. Full surgical treatment might also be necessary, where the entire sac is removed and drained of all of its sebum. If the cyst is large but not inflamed, the minimal excision method is perhaps best; since it leaves very little scarring and enables a quicker healing process. Here, a small incision is made to get rid of the cyst wall, and all the contents contained within the sac are drained. The doctor may then vaporise the area with a carbon dioxide laser (this process, called clinical lancing, is designed to minimise scarring). This method should not be considered at all if the cyst has ruptured prior to the operation. If this is the case, your doctor will first make an injection of corticosteroids into the cyst, and potentially could prescribe you with antibiotics; this will help reduce the inflammation of the cyst. Should the swelling of your cyst shrink in the weeks following this prescription, the removal operation can go ahead as normal.  

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