Finding a lump under your skin can raise immediate questions in your mind: What is it? What caused it? How dangerous is it? There are many causes of skin-related bumps, including what is known as a sebaceous cyst. These cysts can form when your sebaceous glands are not working smoothly, and they can be a source of discomfort.
Here is an overview on the sebaceous glands, how sebaceous cysts form, and what to do if you suspect you may have one.
Sebaceous glands are a part of the body’s hair follicles. These glands are found all over your body, including anywhere hair is present, including your head, face, neck, arms, legs, chin, forehead, back, genitals, and even your ear canals.
These skin and hair glands produce and give off sebum, an oily substance that coats your skin to keep it from getting too dry. Normally, sebaceous glands form around your hair follicles, last for a week at a time, and then produce sebum as they disintegrate and are replaced by new glands.
The sebum, or oil, these glands secrete give the body a number of benefits, including keeping your skin from losing important moisture and protecting your skin from bacterial and fungal infections.
To function properly, sebaceous glands must be able to give off the sebum they are producing. But sometimes, these tiny glands can get clogged up. This is one reason why a proper skin and hair care routine is so important — it helps keep your sebaceous glands from getting blocked.
If the glands get blocked, a small, closed sac of fluid and dead skin cells may form under your skin. This is what is known as a sebaceous cyst, which is filled with sebum and skin cells that were unable to move through the gland duct and out of your skin.
When the duct through which sebum passes gets blocked up, the related sebaceous gland will become clogged, and this is what causes a sebaceous cyst to form. Usually, a blocked duct is the result of some damage to the skin nearby, such as if you are injured with a skin wound (such as a scratch or cut), or you have a skin condition such as acne. There are also genetic conditions that can lead to sebaceous glands getting misshapen and clogged easily.
With a sebaceous cyst, the number one symptom you are likely to experience is a small lump beneath the surface of your skin. If it is a sebaceous cyst, it will likely appear like a small, slow-growing, yellow or white lump that is easily moved when you touch it. Normally, these cysts are not painful, though if the cyst area becomes inflamed or infected, it may be tender, red, or warm.
However, it is not always easy to distinguish a true sebaceous cyst from other cysts, lumps, or skin issues at first glance. This is because sebaceous cysts can appear similarly to numerous other, more common skin conditions, such as:
Some of these skin cysts and conditions (such as a cancerous lump or Gardner syndrome) may need immediate treatment. So, it is vital to have any skin cysts and other skin issues properly evaluated by a medical professional.
The good news is that sebaceous cysts are not often dangerous. However, they may cause annoying symptoms such as discomfort, may get infected, and in rare cases may even become cancerous. So, it is a good idea to have them checked by a trained medical professional (like our team) to assess your cyst, diagnose it properly, and provide treatment such as cyst removal if needed.
To determine if your skin lump is a sebaceous cyst, a different type of cyst, or even a cancerous growth, your healthcare provider will perform an examination and may order some tests, such as:
In the case of small sebaceous cysts that are not growing and are not symptomatic, you may be able to simply let them be. Some cysts eventually go away on their own.
If the cyst is inflamed, treatment may involve injecting it with a steroid to reduce swelling and ease discomfort. For painful cysts, your physician may choose to drain the cyst of fluid, thus relieving the pain. Infected cysts may also need to be treated with antibiotics.
If the cyst is large or growing in size, causing problems that make it hard for you to enjoy your normal lifestyle, the cyst may need to be completely removed. This type of procedure is done in an outpatient setting or doctor’s office with a local anesthetic to numb the skin while the cyst is excised (removed with a small, cookie-cutter like scalpel).
Remember that sebaceous cysts can look similar to other skin issues that need treatment, such as a cancerous lump. So, you must have your healthcare provider do a proper diagnosis of your condition. If you attempt to drain or squeeze the cyst on your own, you could develop an infection, and the cyst could also grow back. So, if the cyst needs treatment, it is important to have it done within a doctor’s office.
If you have a skin lump, bump, or other skin-related issues that you have questions about, we are here to provide answers and treatment options that fit your individual situation. From diagnosis and screening to medical treatments, including outpatient solutions, our team will help you receive the care you require in a setting that is compassionate, comfortable, and affordable.