Blame Dr. Pimple Popper's addictively gross videos or just our endless fascination with lumps and bumps — the fact is, we’re more into diagnosing and dissecting our blemishes than ever. The under-the-skin pimple (or a sebaceous cyst) is one type of bump getting a lot of buzz in all those cringe-worthy social media videos. But what exactly are those suckers?
“A sebaceous cyst is a dome-shaped bump on the skin that sometimes has a dark colored opening on the top,” Erin Gilbert, M.D., Ph.D., celebrity skin expert, tells Allure. “Sebaceous cysts form when components of the skin, like keratin and oil, that should be normally shedding get trapped under the skin.” True sebaceous cysts spring from sebaceous glands and contain sebum (a waxy substance produced in your pores) but a lot of times the term is used to refer to cysts that come from your skin’s surface or your hair follicles, Sejal Shah, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, tells Allure. “Usually they are painless, relatively firm, mobile bumps.”
What makes a sebaceous cyst different from a regular old pimple is that they’re trapped underneath the skin — in other words, you can’t pop ‘em. “They do not have a connection to the skin surface, so picking at it will cause more problems than good,” Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, tells Allure. Just like in all those pimple popping videos, the only way to truly get them out is to head to your derm’s office for a professional extraction — trying to poke at it yourself could lead to an infection, adds Shah.
That said, there some things you can do to treat a sebaceous cyst at home. Zeichner recommends a regimen of familiar acne fighters. “I generally recommend combining salicylic acid with benzoyl peroxide and over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream,” he says. “Benzoyl peroxide kills acne-causing bacteria, while salicylic acid hits dead cells from the surface of the skin and absorbs excess oil. Finally, hydrocortisone cream helps reduce inflammation.” Whatever you do, just don’t try to perform your own pimple popper extraction—watching those can’t-look-away cyst removals on repeat doesn’t exactly measure up to your derm’s skills.