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Sebaceous cysts are small bumps or lumps beneath the surface of the skin, found particularly on the neck, face, upper back or the chest.

Cysts are closed sacs that can be found under the skin anywhere on the body. They are slow-growing lumps that may or may not move under the surface of the skin. They are usually filled with dead skin cells that contain keratin—a protein which is found in our nails and skin.

Read more: Ganglion cyst

Sebaceous cysts are usually harmless, although they may cause irritation if they rub against the collar of your shirt or other similarly stiff fabric. People might also become conscious of their appearance if the cysts are visible on the face or neck.

They are also known as epidermoid or epidermal cysts (although they are different) and are mostly non-cancerous and do not cause any pain, which is why most people don't even notice them until they have reached a considerable size.

Despite the harmless nature of sebaceous cysts, they can become infected. The symptoms of infection in sebaceous cysts include red skin over the surface, tenderness and pain. Read on to know more about sebaceous cysts.

  1. Sebaceous cyst symptoms
  2. Sebaceous cyst causes
  3. Prevention of sebaceous cyst
  4. Diagnosis of sebaceous cyst
  5. Sebaceous cyst treatment
  6. Sebaceous cyst risks and complications

Sebaceous cyst symptoms

Sebaceous cysts are one of many kinds of cysts that appear on the skin. They can be identified by the following signs:

  • Small lump under the surface of the skin: Most sebaceous cysts are identified by a lump that is visible to the naked eye or felt on touching the area.
  • Sebaceous cysts do not usually cause any pain upon touching, even though some can become infected and cause pain as a result.
  • Sebaceous cysts often appear on the face, neck, upper back, shoulders, chest, or on the scalp. But on rare occasions, they have also been known to appear on other parts of the body.
  • A cheesy, foul-smelling liquid may sometimes ooze or drain from the cyst.

Sebaceous cysts are usually nothing to worry about. However, do look out for these signs:

  • Sebaceous cysts are usually less than 5 cm in diameter. If they grow bigger than that, it may be a cause for worry.
  • If the sebaceous cysts are frequently infected with visible signs of redness, pus oozing out of it, or pain, visit a doctor.
  • If cysts tend to reappear on the body even after having them removed.

Sebaceous cyst causes

The main difference between sebaceous cysts and epidermoid cysts is the way in which they develop on the body: sebaceous cysts emerge due to swelling in hair follicles while epidermoid cysts are caused because of skin cells. Here are the main causes behind the development of sebaceous cysts:

  • Sebaceous cysts start forming due to swollen hair follicles. (Read more: Folliculitis)
  • The sebaceous gland, which is responsible for the production of oil—called sebum—that moisturizes the skin and hair, is behind the formation of sebaceous cysts.
  • Sebaceous cysts also form if the sebaceous gland or the duct through which the oil is secreted becomes blocked for some reason.
  • A wound, skin conditions like acne or scratches are often behind the emergence of sebaceous cysts, which begins to form slowly.
  • Adults are more at risk of developing sebaceous cysts than children.
  • A surgical procedure on the skin can also cause damage to the cells that may result in the formation of sebaceous cysts.
  • Certain genetic conditions are also known to cause sebaceous cysts, such as basal cell nevus syndrome and Gardner's syndrome.

Prevention of sebaceous cyst

As mentioned earlier, sebaceous cysts are usually harmless. However, if they are bothering you, you may get them removed by a doctor.

Sebaceous cysts can be irritating to the touch, simply because they aren't supposed to be there, prompting you to pick at them with your fingernails, which can lead to infections later on.

Instead, frequently cleaning any cysts with mild, antimicrobial soaps or applying warm compresses can help soothe any pain that it may be causing upon infection.

It is also not advised to cover up the cysts with makeup or other kinds of cosmetics. Infected cysts should also be cleaned with warm water and dabbed dry to keep the area clean.

On rare occasions when sebaceous cysts do become infected, it is wise to visit a doctor and get them checked.

Diagnosis of sebaceous cyst

A simple, routine physical examination from a general physician can help you identify the lump under the surface of your skin as a sebaceous cyst, especially after you let the doctor know about the symptoms and history of the cyst. If there has been anything unusual you may have noticed about it, the doctor may prescribe further tests to rule out cancer

Read more: Skin cancer

Imaging tests are also needed if you are getting the cysts surgically removed. Imaging tests include CT scans to spot anything unusual about them, and ultrasounds to identify the contents of the cysts. A biopsy by taking a small tissue from the cyst can also be performed to check for cancer.

Sebaceous cysts also tend to appear on certain parts of the body, so if there are cysts appearing on places that are unusual for this type of cyst, you should visit a doctor.

Sebaceous cyst treatment

Most sebaceous cysts are harmless, which means that people can live with them. Although there is a growing trend of people wanting to have them removed, purely for cosmetic reasons.

Unless the cyst has been causing any trouble, it isn't necessary to have it removed.

A large cyst that has become inflamed or tender to the touch can be drained by a medical practitioner.

Some of the larger cysts that appear on the scalp also cause pain, lead to hair loss, or even irritate the skin while wearing any type of clothing. A doctor can remedy this by simply removing the cyst.

A doctor will be able to provide the correct diagnosis of a sebaceous cyst, by first ruling out other harmful causes and then working on the best treatment plan for you. If there is any infection, the doctor may advise against performing a surgery and work on treating the infection first.

Sebaceous cysts can return if they have been drained earlier, so having them surgically removed is the route most people tend to take. A minor surgical process involves administering local anesthesia to the affected part and having removing the cyst. A soothing antiseptic ointment is usually recommended to be applied to the part after the surgery.

Sebaceous cyst risks and complications

Most cysts that break out under the surface of the skin are harmless, although if they appear on a visible part of the body, they can draw unwanted attention.

All sebaceous cysts must be observed for signs of infections.

Cysts are not known to be attached to any part of the body—the skin often moves around over them even on touch. If the cyst doesn't move around, it should be a reason to visit a doctor and have it checked out.

Infected cysts can cause significant discomfort and must be addressed immediately.

Sebaceous cysts tend to return even after you get them drained. Additionally, if a part of a sebaceous cyst is missed or not removed during surgery, the cyst can make an aappearance again.

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