Sebaceous cysts


Sebaceous cysts are painless, slow growing little bumps that appear normally over the portions of neck, the genital area, trunk and the face. Generally they do not cause any problems or need any thorough medical treatments. Sebaceous cysts develop and rise from the glands that produce the oily substances for lubricating the skin and hair.

Sebaceous cysts can be removed by incision, if it causes distress and is irritating. If it gets ruptured, it can cause infection. Sebaceous cysts are non cancerous and as such there is very rare possibility of it causing any cancer alarm.

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Sebaceous cysts symptoms

The following are some of the signs of sebaceous cysts:

  • Sebaceous cysts are round little bumps which can be easily removed by incision.
  • Normally the cysts are yellow or white in color. But persons with dark complexions may have a dark or pigmented appearance of the cysts.
  • Sebaceous cysts are of the size of quarter inch to two inch diameter only.
  • Normally the cysts occur over the neck, face and trunk. But it can occur on any part of the body.
  • Cysts may have a central opening, closed by a black head which may be the remnant of the hair follicle, wherefrom the cyst formed. Thick and cheesy fluid can be squeezed out through the opening. A dermatologist may be consulted to avoid the problems of infection.
  • Long-term or prolonged use of creams and cosmetics can also cause cysts.
  • Milia-Miniature Sebaceous cysts are deep rooted with tiny white heads, and they do not surface over the skin. It can be seen among older persons.

When the cysts get infected, they show the following symptoms:

  • Swelling, tenderness and a reddish appearance around the cysts.
  • Flowing of thick yellow fluid from the cysts along with emission of foul smell.

Pilar or trichilemmal cysts which are the little bumps that occur on scalp are slightly different from the sebaceous cysts. Pilar cysts tend to move freely under the skin.

In rare cases, the sebaceous cysts can cause basal and squamous cell skin cancers.

Other complications of sebaceous cysts are as follows:

  • Abscess and infection can occur due to rupture of sebaceous cysts which may require urgent treatment.
  • Sebaceous cysts are removed after the swelling is subdued, because of its tenderness during the inflammation period.
  • Genital Sebaceous cysts cause pain during urination and intercourse.

What causes sebaceous cysts ?

Cells of thin protective layer cover the skin surface. The body sheds this layer continuously. Much of the sebaceous cysts forms over the surface cells, and goes deeper inside the skin and multiply. Sebaceous cysts occur mostly on hair follicles and oil glands.

Epidermal cells which secrete protein keratin in interiors are the thick yellow fluids that flow from the cysts.  The epidermal cells form the walls for the cysts.

The factors responsible for the production of abnormal cells are:

  • Bursting of sebaceous gland: Sebum which is an oil that promotes the health of the hair shaft and lubricates the skin, is produced by the sebaceous glands. The inflammatory skin disorders rupture these glands and cause sebaceous cysts.
  • Damage of hair follicle: Hairs grow from the follicle pockets in dermis, which is a layer of skin just below the epidermis. Wounds, injuries and abrasions which cause damage to hair follicles block the surface of cells.
  • Developmental defects: If the stem cells of hair, nail or the skin of a developing baby become trapped in cells of some other tissues, then it can also cause the sebaceous cysts.
  • Hereditary: Gardner’s syndrome which causes growths in colon is a genetic disorder. Similarly basal cell nervous syndrome, which causes several health defects, is also an inherited disorder. Both the genetic conditions can cause sebaceous cysts.

Following factors make the persons more vulnerable to sebaceous cysts:

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  • Normally, sebaceous cysts do not affect individuals before puberty.
  • Sebaceous cysts are more common among the people with acne history.
  • Skin injuries and abrasions increase the risk level of getting sebaceous cysts.
  • Men are increasing prone to sebaceous cysts as compared to women.
  • Prolonged exposure to sun causes Milia, which is more common and occurs on the face.

Sebaceous cysts treatment

Sebaceous cysts that do not result in any cosmetic or functional issues, as such do not need treatment. However the following treatment can be given for ruptured, inflamed and infected cysts:

  • Doctors can flush out the cyst fluids by a simple incision. But it may recur.
  • Corticosteroids or triamcinolone acetonide are given for uninfected inflammation.
  • After controlling the inflammation, the cysts can be surgically removed, which prevents the recurrence.
  • The cysts on face and on other sensitive areas can be vaporized by using lasers, which minimizes the scars.
  • Doctors may prefer the procedure of minimal excision, to remove the cyst wall and the fluids, which causes the minimum amount of scarring.

Avoiding sun exposure and using oil free care products can prevent contracting Milia. Avoiding the squeezing of the cysts also helps to prevent scars and infection.

Sebaceous cysts pictures

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