What is a sebaceous cyst?

The term refers to either an “epidermoid cyst,” which originates from the skin, or a “pilar cyst,” which comes from hair follicles.

These cysts are closed sacs that can be found under the skin of the entire body, except for the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. A cyst usually is a slow-growing lump that can move easily under the skin. A foul odor may be noticed from the overlying skin.

What are the symptoms of sebaceous cysts?

The primary symptom of a sebaceous cyst is a small lump under the skin. The lump usually is not painful. In some cases, however, cysts can get inflamed and become tender to the touch. There may be redness and/or increased temperature of the skin on the area of the cyst. Drainage from the cyst will appear grayish-white and cheese-like and will have a foul smell.

What causes sebaceous cysts?

Blocked glands or swollen hair follicles in the skin may be the cause. Trauma to skin has been reported, as well. Cysts sometimes are hereditary.

How are sebaceous cysts diagnosed?

Usually, a doctor can diagnose these cysts with a simple examination of the skin. In some cases, the doctor will perform a biopsy to rule out other skin growths.

How are sebaceous cysts treated?

In most cases, sebaceous cysts can be ignored as they usually are not dangerous. If a small cyst becomes inflamed, a doctor can inject it with a steroid drug to reduce swelling. A doctor may drain a cyst that is large, tender or inflamed. Larger cysts may need to be removed if they cause hair loss on the scalp or interfere with clothing.


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 7/1/2013…#14165