What is a sebaceous cyst?

Originally Published: November 8, 1996 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: September 8, 2011
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Dear Alice,

What exactly is a sebaceous cyst? What causes it and how do you get rid of them?

Dear Reader,

A sebaceous cyst is a catch-all term for a benign, harmless growth that occurs under the skin and tends to be smooth to the touch. Ranging in size, sebaceous cysts are usually found on the scalp, face, ears, and genitals, but can occur anywhere on the body. They are formed when the release of sebum, a medium-thick fluid produced by sebaceous glands in the skin, is blocked. Most of the time, sebaceous cysts don't require medical attention: they can either disappear on their own or stay the same size without causing any problems. If cysts become infected or grow to a bothersome size, health care providers can remove them or prescribe treatment with steroids or antibiotics. Cysts can recur if they are not removed completely.