Cysts

How to Get Rid of a Sebaceous Cyst

A lump in your genital area doesn’t necessarily mean you’re infected with a sexually transmitted disease (STD), or you have a cancerous tumor. The lump may just be a sebaceous cyst or epidermoid cyst, which is oftentimes harmless. Doctors generally don’t recommend treating sebaceous cysts, but you may still get rid of them if they get infected or grow too big.

What is a Sebaceous Cyst?

The epidermis, the top layer of your skin, is made up of a thin protective layer of cells that you continuously shed. Most sebaceous cysts form when these surface cells, instead of shedding normally, move deeper into your skin and multiply. This often happens in areas where there are small hair follicles and large sebaceous glands, such as your genitals, upper back, neck, and face.

The multiplying cells form the walls of the sebaceous cyst, and secrete keratin into the interior. Keratin makes up the thick “cheesy” substance that sometimes drains from the cyst. Several factors contribute to the abnormal proliferation of cells, including:

  • Impaired sebaceous glands: Sebaceous glands are located just above hair follicles. They produce sebum, the oily substance that coats your skin and hair. Your sebaceous glands can easily be impaired by inflammatory skin conditions like acne (Learn how to prevent acne). Ruptured sebaceous glands are likely sites for sebaceous cysts.
  • Hair follicle damage: A follicle is a small pocket of modified skin that grows hair in the dermis, the layer of skin below the epidermis. Follicles damaged by injuries such as surgical wounds and abrasions can become clogged by cells, forming a sebaceous cyst.
  • Genetic factors: People afflicted with Gardner’s syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that causes growths in the colon, are likely to develop sebaceous cysts. Also, people with basal cell nevus syndrome have a higher risk of developing sebaceous cysts. Basal cell nevus syndrome is an inherited disease that causes several serious defects.
  • Birth defect: Sebaceous cysts can begin early in a developing fetus when stem cells, instead of forming hair and skin, become trapped in cells that form other tissues.

Symptoms of Sebaceous Cysts

Sebaceous cysts may look like acne or trichilemmal cysts, which have different characteristics. The following is a list of common symptoms of sebaceous cysts to help you determine your condition:

  • Round, freely moving sacs ranging in size from a few millimeters to five centimeters in diameter.
  • Yellow or white lumps on your face, neck, or torso.
  • Thick, cheesy, and foul-smelling material that drains from the cyst.
  • Miniature cysts on the surface of your skin called “milia.”
  • Redness, swelling, and tenderness around the lump, which are indications of infection.

Consult your doctor to confirm your skin condition. In most cases, doctors can diagnose sebaceous cysts based on their appearance alone. If your doctor suspects another skin condition though, he may refer you to a dermatologist for examination and treatment.

Medical Treatment for Sebaceous Cysts

After diagnosis, your doctor will most likely recommend leaving the cyst alone if it’s not painful. You may choose to remove the cyst however, if it’s infected or if it’s unpleasant to look at. The following is a list of medical treatments for sebaceous cysts:

  • Corticosteroids: If you have an inflamed sebaceous cyst that’s not infected, your doctor may inject it with corticosteroids to reduce the inflammation.
  • Clinical lancing: In this procedure, your doctor makes a small incision in the cyst and drains its contents. Clinical lancing is quick and easy, but cysts often recur after treatment.
  • Carbon dioxide laser: Surgical procedures to remove sebaceous cysts typically leave scars. Vaporizing the cyst with a carbon dioxide laser may minimize scarring.
  • Minimal excision: Like lasers, minimal excision reduces the risk of scar formation. In this procedure, the doctor makes a small incision in the cyst, drains its contents, and removes the whole cyst through the incision. The tiny wound is then left to heal naturally.
  • Total excision: Total excision guarantees a 100% cure rate if the cyst can be removed in one piece. Cysts will not grow in the exact same place, but may recur in nearby areas. The biggest drawback of total excision is that it usually causes scarring. Here is the typical course of the procedure:
    • Step 1: In a typical outpatient surgical procedure, the doctor first applies a local anesthetic to the affected areas.
    • Step 2: He uses a scalpel to open the cyst, making either a single cut down the center of the lump, or an oval cut on both sides. A lancet
      may be used if the cyst is relatively small.
    • Step 3: Once the cut is made, the doctor squeezes out the cheesy contents made of keratin, sebum, and dead skin cells. He may use blunt-headed scissors or other instruments to hold the cut wide open, while his fingers or forceps remove the entire cyst.
    • Step 4: If the cyst can’t be recovered in one piece, he may scrape the remaining exposed fragments to get rid of the cyst.
    • Step 5:. The incision is then disinfected; and in some cases, the wound is stitched back together.
    • Step 6: The doctor may also fill the hole with an antiseptic ribbon after washing it with an iodine solution. If you go for this procedure, make sure to change the ribbon once or twice daily for seven to 10 days, and then have the incision stitched.

Home Treatments for Sebaceous Cysts

Treating your sebaceous cyst at home is not as effective as surgery, but it’s less expensive and easier. Here are some tips to reduce the size or completely remove your cyst at home:

  • Use a heating pad: Apply a heating pad directly on the cyst for 20 to 30 minutes three to four times a day. Do this for up to 10 days and see if the cyst gets smaller. Some cysts contain sebum, which melts under high temperatures, and gets reabsorbed and processed by the body. Take note that this method will not work if your cyst doesn’t contain hardened sebum. Have your doctor examine your cyst to determine its contents.
  • Clean the cyst daily: Wash the cyst and the surrounding skin with an antibacterial soap every day to prevent infection.
  • Never squeeze the cyst: Never squeeze, puncture, drain, or scratch a lump because this can cause infection or severe bleeding. This may also push the infection deeper into the skin if the lump is already infected.
  • Bandage an infected cyst: Draining pus from an infected cyst can cause infection in surrounding areas. To avoid further complications, apply a bandage on the infected cyst, and change the bandage daily. Consult your doctor immediately if the cyst becomes more swollen and painful.
  • Avoid using oily skin care products: Oily skin care products may cause complications to your sebaceous cyst, since they may further clog your pores with sebum and dead skin cells. As much as possible, avoid these products, and choose ones that are oil-free.
  • Avoid too much sun exposure: “Milia” are miniature sebaceous cysts composed of deep-seated whiteheads that don’t come to the surface of your skin. They are common in older women and in men with too much sun damage on their temples and cheeks. Avoid excessive sun exposure to prevent the formation of milia on your skin.

It’s best to leave your sebaceous cyst alone if it doesn’t hurt and it’s not too visible. Sebaceous cysts that become cancerous tumors are rare, but they do occur in some cases. If you want to get rid of your sebaceous cyst for cosmetic reasons, follow the instructions of your doctor to prevent infection after the procedure. Experts have not yet determined how to prevent sebaceous cysts from forming, but maintaining personal hygiene might help reduce your risk of developing sebaceous cysts and other skin diseases. If you learned a lot from this article, you’ll surely learn on how to get rid of cysts too.

About the author

Nicole Harding

15 Comments

  • Iodine can be used to help remove cysts. Nowadays, iodine defeciency is common in many parts of the world, including the U.S.

    This method is extremely is helpful for cystic breasts and uterin cysts.

  • Iodine can be used to help remove cysts. Nowadays, iodine defeciency is common in many parts of the world, including the U.S.

    This method is extremely is helpful for cystic breasts and uterin cysts.

  • I had a sebaceous cyst about 1cm in diameter on my upper back, almost right in the middle. It had slowly grown over the past couple of years, so I only recently noticed it and questioned what the heck it was!

    My Dr told me to leave it alone but to return to her office if it started growing larger or became infected.

    I did some web browsing and put hot compresses (hand towel, hot tap water, as hot as I could get it) on it 1-2x daily. Within 4-5 days, the cyst started feeling squishy and itchy, and oozed a bit of liquid. While I was dabbing at it with a tissue on the 5-6 evening, it burst open with only a small amount of pressure and cheesy white stuff came out. I squeezed only very gently and stopped when the cyst stopped discharging its contents. That night I applied liberal amounts of Polysporin and a Band Aid. I repeated this 3-4 times over the course of a week along with the hot compresses. Now my cyst is pretty much gone!

    This may work if the cyst is on a flat, fairly accessible surface. However, I was very careful to not overly aggravate it and was careful to take measures to prevent infection. If the cyst started bleeding while I was attempting to drain it, I would back off and leave it be.

    That being said, there is just s small darkish spot of scarring left and it’s completely flat. What a relief!

  • I Have Many small ones on my shaft and its in a very embarrasing placee because i am a teenager aswell , none of them are really noticable but a few are and was wondering how to get rid of them Many thanks

  • I have one inside my belly button, the doctor says i should just live with it even though it hurts, and the article says not to pop it but mine always pops on its own?

  • I did have one that became infected after coming back. Like other posters, I used heat compresses and let it drain the first time using antiseptic rinses and Neosporin. NOT a pleasant procedure, quite painful actually. I would highly recommend saving yourselves the pain and just going to the doctor to ask about having it removed.

  • I had a sebaceous cyst on my head that had grown to be about 2cm in diameter and was raised so high that there was an obvious bald spot. As a girl, it was extremely embarassing, even to go to the salon. After talking to my family doctor, I lanced it myself. It took a couple attempts, but after draining the fluids I was able to take a pair of pointed edge tweezers and insert them just far enough to grab hold of the ‘sack’ that held the fluids and pull that through the small hole (.25cm). I’d lanced it a couple times over a few weeks to continuously drain the cyst, but it wasn’t until I was able to remove the sack itself that the cyst has yet to return. Not a very pleasant experience, nor for the weak stomache individual, but it was a heck of a lot cheaper & I’m glad I did it myself! (I had lost my insurance temporarily.)

  • I have a sebaceous cyst right in the fold where my leg meets my pubic area. The constant rubbing of my underwear made it quite uncomfortable so I took a needle and stuck in in and squeezed out some blood and puss. Now there’s a deep open hole there and it doesn’t really hurt as much but it’s quite disturbing to look at and seems like an easy target for infection. I don’t know what to do. I’ve been cleaning the hole out with hydrogen peroxide and putting neosporin inside but it’s still as red and raw as it was the first day I noticed it.

  • Im very frustrated because I have been getting these cysts behind my ears, in the fold of my legs near my vagina and on my face. I wish there was something that prevented them, because not only are they unsightly but they are also embarassing. I have been to the doctor- and the hot compresses do work but they always come back. There is scar tissue and bumps where the old ones have been.

  • I had, doctor credited, a sebaceous cyst on my neck for over a year. It developed sometime before summer 09. It was just a small lump on my neck, didn’t think anything of it, although I would receive comments from people. Up until about a two weeks ago, it was relatively the same size, and still flesh-toned. But I noticed it start growing rapidly, and becoming red and painful, turning to itchy. I went to the doctor, who quickly identified it. First, he numbed it, hurt for 30 seconds or so, and then began cutting away layers and extracting all the oily build-up. He closed it up to the small incision he used when he cut it open and put a string stuffed inside, saying it would act as a kerosene lamp, absorbing the oils. I was to leave the string for a day or so, and then remove it before I showered. I did so, and was, shockingly painless. Covered it back up and now waiting for it to heal.

    I definitely recommend getting them checked out before they grow, no matter how small it is now. The longer you wait, the larger and deeper it grows. Eventually, if you leave it as I did, and still get exposed to alot of sun, all it takes is a little bacteria or infection and it will start to grow.

  • I used teraseptic works awsome and prevents them! I would have them bad and always infected. I thought no one else had them tho this stuff is awsome Im in canada so might be only sold in canada but works awsome

  • I hv problems with cysts also. I am going to the Dr to hv mine removed. There is nothing that you really can do to prevent them from appearing…..I have had one problem one that jus wudn’t go away, and has it own lil drain pipe..lol…when it fills up, it would drain…..I have had it for months and now I am finally going to hv the sm surgical procedure to remove it.

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