What Is Sebaceous Hyperplasia?

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Sebaceous hyperplasia is a common skin condition where the glands that make oil for the skin are bigger than usual. It can cause bumps on the skin that are usually flesh-colored and smooth or slightly uneven and coarse to the touch. The bumps are often caused by blocked hair follicles.

Sebaceous hyperplasia usually does not go away without treatment, but the bumps are also harmless and don't necessarily need to be treated. Sebaceous hyperplasia is not contagious.

This article reviews the symptoms and causes of sebaceous hyperplasia. It also looks at the ways it can be distinguished from certain types of skin cancer. You'll also learn about various treatment options.

Shot of a young woman inspecting her face in the bathroom mirror - stock photo

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Sebaceous Hyperplasia Symptoms

Sebaceous hyperplasia can appear as a single bump or multiple bumps in a cluster or line. The bumps range from 1 or 2 mm to several millimeters in size. They are often the same color as your skin but may also look white to slightly yellow.

The bumps don't hurt or itch. They may bleed if you knock them or shave over them, though.

Sebaceous hyperplasia most often develops on the face. The most common places to find them are the forehead, cheeks, and nose. Babies often have bumps on the upper lip. Uncommonly, the bumps can appear in other places, such as:

  • Back and chest
  • Shoulders
  • Areola, the darker skin surrounding the nipple
  • Penis
  • Scrotum
  • Vulva

Sebaceous hyperplasia bumps don't usually go away on their own. One exception is newborns. Their bumps usually disappear within a few months.

Acne or Sebaceous Hyperplasia?

Because the bumps look similar to non-inflamed acne breakouts, the condition is sometimes confused with comedonal acne.

If you look closely, though, you may see a depressed or pitted area in the center of the bump. You may also be able to see tiny blood vessels inside. These are clues you're not dealing with acne.

What Causes Sebaceous Hyperplasia?

Sebaceous hyperplasia bumps are not rashes or growths. Rather, they are enlarged sebaceous glands. These are tiny glands under the surface of the skin. They are present all over the body, except for the palms and soles of the feet. They produce an oil called  sebum. This oil keeps skin lubricated and healthy.

Sebaceous hyperplasia is caused by an overabundance of sebocytes. These are special cells that make up the sebaceous glands. The excess cells enlarge the sebaceous gland, making it grow several times larger than normal.

Several factors can contribute to sebaceous hyperplasia. The biggest one is hormone changes. There also seems to be a genetic link. If someone in your family has sebaceous hyperplasia, you're more prone to developing it too.

In some cases, sebaceous hyperplasia may be linked to sun exposure.

Hormones

Androgens are male sex hormones. These hormones, especially testosterone, stimulate sebaceous glands to create more oil. Their role is very evident during puberty, when a large increase in androgens leads many teens to have very oily skin.

With age, androgens decrease. This slows sebaceous gland activity and oil production. Cell turnover slows down as well. This is the rate at which dead cells in the sebaceous glands are replaced with fresh ones. The dead cells back up within the gland, causing it to enlarge.

Risk Factors

Sebaceous hyperplasia is more common as you get older. It doesn't usually appear until middle age or later. The condition affects both men and women about equally. It's seen most often in people with light or fair skin. Some people with a family history of sebaceous hyperplasia may get it at a much earlier age, though this is rarer.

Long-term use of the immunosuppressive drug cyclosporine has also been linked to sebaceous hyperplasia. People who have had transplants and are taking this drug are more likely to develop the condition.

Newborns often develop the condition, too. This is because of hormones passed from mother to child. In babies, sebaceous hyperplasia often appears alongside baby acne.

Recap

Sebaceous hyperplasia develops when your sebaceous glands enlarge. This usually happens as a result of age and changing hormone levels. Increased sun exposure and certain genes or medications may also contribute.

Diagnosing Sebaceous Hyperplasia

Your doctor can usually diagnose sebaceous hyperplasia with a simple visual inspection. If there's any question about the diagnosis, though, your doctor may order a skin biopsy. This will help rule out other conditions like skin cancer.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between sebaceous hyperplasia and a skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma. Basal cell carcinoma often appears on the head or neck. It looks like a shiny, raised, and round pimple, scar, or sore.

Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma.

Science Photo Library / Getty Images

A biopsy can also help rule out sebaceous gland carcinoma. This rare, slow-growing cancer appears as a firm, yellowish lump. It often appears on the eyelid, and it may bleed and look like a pimple or sore that doesn't heal. It may also heal and then reappear.

Muir-Torre syndrome is a rare inherited disease. It is a variant of Lynch syndrome. Patients with this condition at higher risk for developing sebaceous gland carcinoma.

Recap

A doctor can often diagnose sebaceous hyperplasia by the appearance of the bumps. Sometimes a biopsy is needed to rule out similar-looking but more serious conditions like skin cancer.

How Sebaceous Hyperplasia is Treated

There is no medical need to treat sebaceous hyperplasia. Adults may choose to treat the bumps for cosmetic reasons. It's also fine to just let them be.

You can't squeeze sebaceous hyperplasia bumps. This is because there isn't anything inside that can be extracted. In fact, squeezing them can actually cause them to become inflamed or bleed.

There are a few treatment options available. Your results will depend on factors such as:

  • The number of bumps you have
  • Your age
  • Your skin type
  • How your skin reacts to sun exposure

Prescription Medications

Prescription medications may help keep new bumps from forming. Options include:

These medicines speed up the skin's natural cell turnover rate. They may also make existing bumps appear smaller. These topical treatments probably won't get rid of all your bumps, though.

If you have a severe case, your doctor may prescribe Accutane (isotretinoin). This is an oral medication that shrinks sebaceous glands. This treatment is effective, but bumps may return after the medicine is stopped. Accutane also cannot be used during pregnancy.

Finally, antiandrogen medications can be used in women with the condition. These include:

These medications block the effect of testosterone on the skin.

Procedures

There are also several in-office procedures that treat sebaceous hyperplasia. These treatments often provide faster and more obvious improvement. Still, there is a risk of skin discoloration or scarring. The condition may also recur after the procedure.

Options include:

  • Laser resurfacing: A laser delivers a wavelength of light into your skin. The light targets, heats, and destroys enlarged sebaceous glands.
  • Photodynamic therapy: A chemical substance that absorbs light is applied to your skin. Then, light treatment is used to reduce the number and size of sebaceous glands.
  • Cryotherapy: Liquid nitrogen is sprayed onto the affected area of the skin. This freezes the bumps so they dry up and fall off.
  • Cauterization or electrodesiccation: A sharp needle is heated with an electrical charge. When inserted into a bump, the bump rapidly dries up.
  • Excision: Bumps are shaved or cut out.

OTC Medications

Some over-the-counter (OTC) remedies include:

  • OTC face washes or peels containing salicylic acid
  • Facial creams that contain retinol

There is no scientific evidence that these products work for sebaceous hyperplasia. When used as directed, though, there is no harm in trying.

Home Remedies

A warm compress may help reduce the size of the bumps and any inflammation you may have. It won't help them go away, though.

Sun exposure may play a role in the development of sebaceous hyperplasia. Daily application of sunscreen with an SPF of a least 30 may help prevent the onset or worsening of the condition.

Recap

Sebaceous hyperplasia is purely a cosmetic problem. Since it's harmless, many people choose not to treat it. For those who want to, skin products, medications, and procedures like laser resurfacing may help.

Summary

Sebaceous hyperplasia is characterized by the formation of small, painless bumps. The bumps appear on parts of the body where many oil glands are found, like your face.

This harmless skin condition can usually be diagnosed with a simple visual inspection. Sometimes a biopsy is performed to rule out skin cancer.

Treatment for sebaceous hyperplasia is for cosmetic purposes only.

A Word From Verywell

Any bump, lesion, or other unknown issue on the skin should always be seen by a doctor. This is especially true if you suspect sebaceous hyperplasia. The bumps can look very similar to skin cancer.

If you are diagnosed with sebaceous hyperplasia, remember that the bumps are likely much more obvious to you than to anyone else.

With that said, feeling your best is part of your overall well-being. If treating your condition will help you feel less self-conscious, speak to your doctor about your options.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How common is sebaceous hyperplasia?

    Also called sebaceous gland hyperplasia, this benign skin condition affects around 1% of healthy people in the U.S. Most are middle-aged or older. Between 10% and 16% of people who've had transplants and take immunosuppressive medication develop sebaceous hyperplasia.

  • What's inside sebaceous hyperplasia lesions?

    They're filled with excess sebum, or oil. This oil is produced by the sebaceous glands.

  • What is the best laser for getting rid of sebaceous hyperplasia?

    Several types of lasers are used to treat sebaceous hyperplasia. Based on research, the most effective ones include:

    • The er:Yag laser
    • The pulse dye laser
    • The 1450-nm diode laser
    • The CO2 laser.
12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.