Sebaceous cysts, (also known as epidermal inclusion cysts) are small round lumps that occur beneath the surface of the skin. They are typically caused by blockages that form in the sebaceous glands. The cysts occur as closed sacs that are filled with a white, pasty-looking protein called keratin mixed with sebum. If infected, the contents can be a mix of blood, keratin and other fluids. A cyst can sometimes have a central opening on the surface of the skin. It usually looks like a pore or hair follicle that has sunken deep into the skin. Although sebaceous cysts are generally harmless, they can become infected, causing swelling, redness and abscesses. It can be uncomfortable at sites of pressure.

The following are visible signs of sebaceous cysts:

  • Round lumps beneath the surface of the skin
  • Typically appear on the face, scalp and upper trunk, but can appear on any part of the body
  • May become infected and painful

The skin’s surface is made up of a protective layer of cells that are continuously shed. Most sebaceous cysts form when these surface cells don’t shed, move deep into the skin and then multiply, forming the walls of the cyst. Keratin is secreted from the cells into the interior, which causes the cyst to gain volume.

Good skin care is essential to having healthy and blemish-free skin. A daily and thorough cleansing regimen can help maintain a clear complexion. Use gentle cleansers to remove accumulated oil, make-up, sweat and dirt on the surface of your skin. Use oil-free and non-comedogenic moisturizers to keep the pores clear and free of debris.

Although there is no sure-fire way of preventing cysts from forming, you can prevent infection and scarring by not squeezing or picking at the cysts yourself. Proper medical treatment can greatly reduce the chances of permanent scarring or skin disfigurement.

For cysts that become inflamed, a doctor may inject a corticosteroid to reduce swelling.

Your doctor may choose to remove the contents of the cyst by making an incision, then draining the contents. Although this treatment is very quick, cysts have a high chance of reforming. The most effective and permanent way to treat a cyst is through total surgical excision. In this surgical technique, the entire cyst is removed from the body. Unfortunately, scarring may result from this procedure. To treat sensitive areas such as the face, and to minimize the chances of scarring, carbon dioxide lasers may be used to eradicate a cyst.