Sebaceous cyst: what is it? See types and home treatment


What is sebaceous cyst?

The sebaceous cyst , also known as an epidermal cyst, is a painless lump that appears under the skin and can appear in any region of the body. It has a rounded shape and, when pressed, moves under the skin. It does not cause pain and does not usually change in size.

Although it is frightening, it is a benign (non-cancerous) condition that does not cause many complications. The cyst itself is composed of a mixture of keratin, dead cells and sebum , substances abundant in the skin that end up accumulating and forming a capsule, preventing its contents from being reabsorbed by the body.

Most of the time, the cyst causes only aesthetic discomfort and does not need treatment. However, it is necessary to keep an eye out to see if the nodule does not grow too much or if it presents symptoms such as pain, redness, release of secretion, among others, which may indicate an infectious process.

It can appear in the most diverse areas of the body, but it is more common on the face, neck or trunk, and the lumps rarely reach more than 6 centimeters. Still, when very large, they can cause symptoms such as pain, discomfort and itching.

It is worth remembering that a sebaceous cyst is considered a danger sign – or even a cancer – when its diameter is greater than 6 cm, its recurrence occurs quickly after removal or when there are signs of infection, such as redness, pain and pus.

The main places where the cysts appear are the face, back, groin and neck.


It is known that the sebaceous cyst is due to an accumulation of some substances naturally present in the skin, such as keratin and sebum . Our own body spontaneously absorbs these substances when they are in high quantities.

In the most superficial layer of the skin, there are protective cells that, over time, get old, die and “fall”, so to speak.

The problem is that, in the case of the cyst, instead of these cells detaching from the skin surface, they end up migrating to deeper layers, and this creates a block for the reabsorption of substances such as sebum and keratin.

Thus, the organism tries to isolate this accumulation, creating a kind of protective capsule. As a result, the body is unable to reabsorb these substances, giving rise to a benign lump under the skin.

In general, all of this can happen because of:

Damage to the hair follicle

The hair follicle is a structure that gives rise to body hair. Every hair has its own follicle. When something – such as a lesion – damages one of these follicles, substances in the skin can accumulate there and form a capsule, giving rise to a cyst.

Rupture of a sebaceous gland

The glands that produce sebum (that is, sweat) are called sebaceous glands and can often be involved in the appearance of an epidermal cyst.

When there is an injury or rupture in any of these glands, there may be an accumulation of sebum (or sebum ) and other substances, leading to the development of a cyst.

It is worth remembering that acne is a major risk factor for the rupture of a sebaceous gland. Therefore, anyone who suffers from this condition should be aware of the appearance of painless nodules and larger than pimples.

Developmental defects

Cysts can also be congenital, that is, have a connection with the baby’s development when he was still in the womb.

This means that at some point during development, there may have been an accumulation of sebum and keratin that was isolated from the rest of the organism, leading to the formation of an epidermal cyst.

Inflammatory diseases

There are several inflammatory skin diseases that can lead to the appearance of cysts due to the damage they cause to hair follicles and sebaceous glands.

An example of these diseases is hydrosadenitis suppurativa, which causes cysts and abscesses in the parts of the body where the apocrine sebaceous glands (which produce a bad smell), such as the armpits and groins, are located.

Frequent Locations

There are some parts of the body in which the cyst is more frequent. Are they:

In the face

Perhaps the biggest problem with the cyst on the face is the immense aesthetic discomfort it causes. However, it should not be removed by the patient himself. If there is interest in removing the cyst, it is recommended to seek a dermatologist.

On the back

The cyst on the back is probably one of the most uncomfortable cysts that can arise. This is because, if inflamed, it can be very unpleasant at bedtime, sitting back in the chair, among other situations in which the back comes into contact with another surface. They are often mistaken for pimples.

It is also in this area of ​​the body that the cysts tend to be larger and require surgery.

In the head

In general, the cyst on the head does not cause much discomfort apart from aesthetic comfort. However, it can be unpleasant to wash and comb your hair.

Sometimes the cyst on the scalp is not exactly a sebaceous cyst and its lining (capsule) is thicker, but the treatment is very similar.

Risk factors

There are some risk factors that can lead to the development of a cyst. Are they:

After puberty

Although cysts can appear at any age, they are not very common in children. Its manifestations occur, mostly, after puberty.

Be a man

It is not known exactly why, but men are more prone to the appearance of cysts.

Sun exposure

Prolonged sun exposure causes damage to the skin, especially when there are burns and, as a result, cysts can appear.

Skin lesions

Any type of skin lesion, be it an open wound or a crush, can damage the skin and contribute to the appearance of cysts.


In general, the cysts show no symptoms other than the lump under the skin. However, they can become inflamed, presenting symptoms such as pain, redness, increased local temperature, itching , among others.

At first, this is not very worrying, but the patient must keep an eye out for signs to make sure it is not an infection.

Features of sebaceous cyst

Some basic characteristics of sebaceous cysts are:

  • The nodules are small, round and can be moved with your fingers;
  • They are white or yellowish in color, but people with dark skin may have pigmented cysts;
  • They can vary from a few millimeters to 6 centimeters in diameter;
  • Sometimes, they may have a central opening, connected to a small clove .

Can I burst a sebaceous cyst?

Definitely not! The cyst is not a common pimple that can be easily removed just by pressing on the skin around it. On the contrary. The lump is found deeper in the skin and is covered by a capsule that does not burst easily.

Thus, an attempt to burst a sebaceous cyst would only bring frustration: in addition to not breaking the skin to pass, it could cause inflammation and increase the chances of infecting the site.

How is the diagnosis of sebaceous cyst made?

Generally, the diagnosis of sebaceous cyst does not require complex tests. In fact, a dermatologist will be able to diagnose the condition just by looking at the lump, on a simple physical exam.

If the doctor has any doubts about the nature of the cyst, he may order the following tests:

Computed tomography

In this type of examination, a device uses radiation to create images of the soft tissues inside the body. With it, the doctor will be able to have a better idea of ​​the content of the cyst.


Ultrasonography, in turn, is an examination that uses sound waves to visualize the interior of the cyst. It can be useful to reveal the cyst content more accurately.


Ultimately, when the doctor is still unsure about the nature of the lump, he may order a biopsy. In this examination, a small sample of the tissue is collected and sent to a laboratory. This is done to make sure that it is not a malignant tumor (cancer).

When to see a doctor?

As frightening as the appearance of a lump at first, it is not always necessary to see a doctor to treat the sebaceous cyst. In fact, a visit to the health professional is only necessary if:

  • You feel aesthetic discomfort and want to remove the lump;
  • The lump came up somewhere that has recently suffered trauma;
  • The cyst shows symptoms of inflammation such as redness, pain and itching;
  • Cyst growth is accelerated;
  • There is a rupture of the cyst due to rapid growth;
  • There are symptoms of infection, such as purulent secretions.

What to do with an inflamed cyst?

When inflamed, the cyst causes pain and even itching. There are several unpleasant symptoms that can disrupt the patient’s routine. It is recommended to see a doctor – preferably a dermatologist – when the cyst presents these symptoms, as only he will know how to tell you what to do.

It is possible that he recommends anti-inflammatory drugs and proposes surgical removal. If he perceives something out of the ordinary or is in doubt, he must order the tests mentioned above in order to proceed with the treatment.

Does sebaceous cyst cure?

Yes, the sebaceous cyst can be cured . There are several techniques to assist the resorption of the cyst by the body, as well as the possibility of removal, in the case of larger cysts.

However, it is worth remembering that the cysts can come back, especially if the capsule that houses it in the body is not entirely removed.

If you are dealing with a cyst right now and have doubts about your condition, consult your dermatologist, as only he will be able to tell you what can be done in your case.

What is the treatment?

Although the cyst rarely needs treatment, there are those who prefer to get rid of it even when it doesn’t bother them. In these cases, treatment is limited to the removal of the cyst, which is often done surgically. Understand:

Injection of corticosteroids

In order to decrease inflammation of the cyst, the doctor may give you a local injection of corticosteroids. These substances act in a similar way to the anti-inflammatory hormones of our own body, reducing swelling, pain and redness.

Incision and drainage

It is a simple and quick procedure, but not very effective. The doctor makes an incision (cut) in the cyst and drains its contents. Although the person will be free of the cyst for some time, it tends to come back, since the cyst capsule is not entirely removed and can be easily refilled.

Laser incision

A variation of the drained incision is the laser incision. In this procedure, a laser is used to open a small hole in the patient’s skin, where the cyst will be drained. About a month later, the patient must return for the total removal of the capsule, in order to avoid recurrences.

Total excision

In this technique, the risk of recurrence is much less, as the cyst is removed entirely, including its capsule. However, it is not usually performed when there is inflammation.

Therefore, depending on the condition of the cyst, the doctor may prescribe corticosteroids to reduce the symptoms of inflammation and, after about 5 weeks, he will perform a total excision, removing the entire cyst.

It is worth remembering that total excision requires stitches (sutures) and, therefore, it will be necessary for the patient to return after 1 to 2 weeks to remove the stitches.

Excision with minimal scar

Excision with minimal scarring is a mixture of total excision and drainage methods. At first, the doctor makes a small incision and drains the contents of the cyst. Then, he uses an instrument to “pull” the capsule through the small cut, leaving a small scar.

This technique also requires stitches.

Home treatment

For cysts smaller than 1 cm, there is no need for surgery. In fact, some home treatments can help in these cases. Are they:

Hot compress

A daily hot compress can help to melt the fatty material inside the cyst, facilitating its resorption by the body. To do this, simply:

  • Heat a small amount of water until it reaches a temperature slightly warmer than the bath water (never make compresses with boiling water, as this can cause burns);
  • Place the heated water inside a hot water bag;
  • Apply the bag over the skin, over the cyst, for 15 to 30 minutes;
  • Do this process 2 times a day, for 10 days.

With these compresses, the cyst should gradually shrink until it disappears. If not, contact your dermatologist.

Other home remedies

Some people like to apply, in addition to the hot compress, essential oils from plants and other home remedies to relieve inflammation and prevent infections.

It is worth remembering that the effectiveness of none of these substances has been scientifically proven , and there is no guarantee of safety when using these methods.

Some home remedies that can be applied to the cyst are:

  • Lavender essential oil;
  • Rosemary essential oil;
  • Slug gel;
  • Witch hazel extract;
  • Apple vinegar;
  • Chamomile tea;
  • ½ teaspoon of dried burdock + 1 spoon of honey;
  • ⅛ teaspoon of bloodthirsty + 2 tablespoons of castor oil.


Not all of these home remedies are entirely safe to use in any way. Just because something is natural, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t pose risks. Bloodthirsty, for example, is a plant that can be very toxic in inappropriate amounts. There is little care!

Medicines for sebaceous cyst

There are no specific medications for the treatment of sebaceous cyst, but it is common for some doctors to recommend corticosteroids to relieve inflammation, such as:

  • Prednisone ;
  • Prednisolone;
  • Dipropionato de Betametasona.


NEVER self-medicate or stop using a medication without first consulting a doctor. Only he will be able to tell which medication, dosage and duration of treatment is the most suitable for his specific case. The information contained in this website is only intended to inform, not in any way intended to replace the guidance of a specialist or serve as a recommendation for any type of treatment. Always follow the instructions on the package insert and, if symptoms persist, seek medical or pharmaceutical advice.


As much as the sebaceous cyst is a benign nodule, there are some complications that can rarely occur. Are they:


Inflammation is the body’s natural reaction to anything the body believes to be out of the ordinary. It causes symptoms such as pain, redness, itching, swelling and local heat, in addition to impairing the cyst’s surgical removal.

Rupture, infection and abscesses

If the cyst continues to grow or increases in size at an accelerated rate, it may eventually rupture. This opens a gap for microorganisms to enter and infect the site, which leads to the formation of an abscess .


When the cyst is removed, depending on the technique used, a scar may remain where it used to be.

To try to reduce the possibility of scarring, you can apply hot or cold compresses, which help to improve inflammation. Avoiding squeezing the place is also a good recommendation.

Malignant evolution

Although extremely rare , some cysts can develop into a carcinoma, a type of malignant tumor that develops in the epithelial tissues – which line most of our organs, including the skin.

Impaired self-esteem

For many people, the sebaceous cyst is not a pleasant sight. Depending on where it arises, the lump can severely damage the way a person sees himself, leading to problems with self – esteem due to aesthetic discomfort.

How to prevent sebaceous cysts?

There is no specific way to prevent the appearance of sebaceous cysts, as they are nodules caused by the accumulation of natural substances in the body itself. However, it is possible to avoid injuries and decrease the chances of these cysts appearing. Some tips are:

  • Use sunscreen whenever you go out in the sun;
  • If the sun exposure is prolonged, always remember to reapply the sunscreen every 2 hours or according to the manufacturer’s recommendations;
  • Use protective equipment – helmets, knee pads, etc. – whenever you ride a bicycle, skate, rollerblade or practice any other sport that needs protection.

Although sebaceous cysts are mostly harmless, many people don’t like the idea of ​​having a lump in some part of their body. Therefore, consulting a dermatologist is essential!

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