Sebaceous hyperplasia causes small bumps to appear on the skin when sebaceous glands become enlarged.

These bumps are harmless and often appear on the forehead and cheeks. There are sebaceous glands all over the body, and the bumps can form almost anywhere. They are more common in middle-aged and older people, but they can show up at any age.

Sebaceous glands secrete an oily substance called sebum. This helps to protect the skin from the outside environment. Too much sebum can contribute to several problems, including acne, oily skin, or an oily scalp.

Sebum can also become trapped inside the gland, causing it to swell and form a bump under the skin.

There is currently no cure for sebaceous hyperplasia. Some medications and home remedies may reduce the appearance of bumps, while cosmetic procedures can remove them.

Causes

Sebaceous hyperplasia on forehead of person.
Sebaceous hyperplasia is characterized by small bumps on the skin.

Several factors increase the likelihood of developing sebaceous hyperplasia. Fair-skinned people older than 40 tend to develop the condition, especially when their skin has frequently been exposed to the sun. Continual sun damage can worsen symptoms or cause them to appear earlier.

People may be more likely to develop sebaceous hyperplasia if they have a family history. People with suppressed immune systems and those taking the immunosuppressant medication cyclosporine may have a higher risk of developing sebaceous hyperplasia.

A rare genetic disorder called Muir-Torre syndrome can also cause sebaceous hyperplasia. People with the syndrome should take special care to have sebaceous hyperplasia properly diagnosed, as it may indicate a tumor.

Symptoms

The main symptom of sebaceous hyperplasia is the appearance of small, shiny bumps under the skin. A bump can have a slight indentation in the center and a white or yellow outer edge.

It may be difficult to distinguish the condition from acne. However, a whitehead or blackhead will usually have a lifted center, while bumps caused by sebaceous hyperplasia are indented. These bumps are typically small and cause no pain.

Many people with oily or combination skin may notice these bumps as they age. Bumps may appear on their own or in small clusters.

Diagnosis

A dermatologist will often visually diagnose sebaceous hyperplasia. However, it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between this and a serious condition, such basal cell carcinoma.

Bumps caused by basal cell carcinoma are typically larger and may have a darker or more pronounced color than the surrounding skin. If a doctor is uncertain about a diagnosis, they will usually take a sample and send it to a lab for testing.

Treatment

Dermatologist inspecting patients face.
Sebaceous hyperplasia does not often require treatment, but a person can have them removed for cosmetic reasons.

Sebaceous hyperplasia is harmless in most cases. If the bumps are unsightly or embarrassing, a person may have them removed. Various methods are available, but a few sessions or applications are often required for full removal.

Retinol

Retinol is a form of vitamin A that may help with a range of skin-related issues. Prescription retinoid is often recommended for people with sebaceous hyperplasia, but it requires regular application to work properly. The bumps may also return if a person stops using the treatment.

Facial peels

A facial peel may contain chemicals such as salicylic acid. Chemical facial peels may also cause irritation, redness, and sensitivity. This can aggravate sebaceous hyperplasia if a person does not receive proper aftercare.

Laser therapy

A dermatologist may recommend removing the trapped sebum from the gland using a laser. This can smooth the appearance of bumpy skin. Laser therapy can be tested on a small area of skin to ensure that a person will not have an adverse reaction.

Cryotherapy

A doctor can remove sebaceous hyperplasia bumps in a process called cryotherapy. The doctor will freeze the bumps, causing them to dry up and drop away, but this can also cause discoloration in the area.

Electrocautery

This involves using a charge of electricity to burn the bump. The skin will then scab over and fall away, leaving behind a smooth area. Extra care should be used during treatment, as the scabs may leave discolored marks as they heal.

Photodynamic therapy

This involves applying a drug to the affected cells that makes them sensitive to light. The area is then exposed to a strong light which kills the cells. The skin may become extremely sensitive after treatment, leading to redness, irritation, and peeling.

Surgery

If sebaceous hyperplasia is severe or persistent, a doctor may consider surgically removing the bumps. This will prevent them from returning, but it can cause scarring and is usually considered a last resort.

Antiandrogen medications

There may be a link between sebaceous hyperplasia and increased testosterone. Some doctors may recommend antiandrogen medications for women with severe symptoms who do not respond well to other treatment methods.

Home remedies

Man washing his face in bathroom sink.
Using a cleanser with salicylic acid when washing the face may help.

Some home remedies can also diminish bumps caused by sebaceous hyperplasia. Over-the-counter medications, creams, and face washes that contain retinol may help to clear clogged sebaceous glands.

Some people find that regularly washing with a cleanser containing salicylic acid can help to dry oily skin and prevent clogged glands.

Warm compresses may also draw out any trapped sebum. After washing with a medicated soap, try soaking a clean washcloth in warm water and placing it on the face. While a warm compress may not get rid of bumps altogether, it may help to dissolve sebum buildup and reduce swelling and inflammation.

There is no definitive way to prevent sebaceous hyperplasia, as it can run in families. However, the tips listed above may help to reduce symptoms.

Also, as sebaceous hyperplasia may be exacerbated by sunlight, keeping the skin protected from the sun may help.

Outlook

Sebaceous hyperplasia is harmless. Because bumps may be unsightly or embarrassing, some people may wish to reduce their appearance or get rid of them completely.

Home remedies can sometimes help to diminish bumps or prevent them from developing, but usually only medical treatments can remove them.

Each treatment method has benefits and side effects. Discuss all options thoroughly with a doctor or dermatologist.