Enlarged Oil Glands (Sebaceous Hyperplasia): Why do they occur?

Oil glands are a natural part of our hair follicle-oil gland unit in the skin called a “pilosebaceous unit.” Largely due to genetics, some individuals may experience a growth of some of their oil glands on the face during adulthood. These enlarged oil glands are referred to as “sebaceous hyperplasia.”

Sebaceous hyperplasia is harmless but appear on the skin as skin-colored to yellow bump with a central depression or dell. Sebaceous hyperplasia occurs due to an enlargement of the oil gland lobules over time. When squeezed, a small amount of clear liquid or oil (sebum) may be expressed. They do not go away on their own, and sebaceous hyperplasia most often appear on the forehead, temples, cheeks, jawline, and chin, although they may occur on the neck and chest. They occur in these areas due to the high density of oil glands on the face, neck, and upper trunk. In rare cases, sebaceous hyperplasia may occur abruptly in high numbers due to certain medications such as long-term use of cyclosporin A.

Treatment Options for Enlarged Oil Glands (Sebaceous Hyperplasia)

Effective treatment and removal of sebaceous hyperplasia typically requires destruction of the oil glands. Occasionally, medical therapy is employed to try and slow the growth of these glands.

The following are possible treatment options for enlarged oil glands referred to as sebaceous hyperplasia:

  • Medical therapy: medications topical or oral rarely “cure” sebaceous hyperplasia but may slow the progression of further development of enlarged oil glands. Treatments include the following:
    • topical retinoids (adapalene, tretinoin, and tazarotene)
    • oral retinoids (isotretinoin)
    • spironolactone: oil glands are susceptible to hormonal influences. This anti-androgen is used in acne therapy. Spironolactone helps the skin see more of an estrogen balance (anti-acne and anti-oil gland stimulation) rather than testosterone and progesterone.
  • Hyfercation: A simple radiofrequency device used during surgery for blood vessel bleeding control can be used after topical numbing to treat enlarged oil glands extremely effectively. It very precisely targets, heats, and destroys oil glands, creating a very small scab that falls off after several days.
  • Lasers & Lights:
    • Photodynamic Therapy: PDT is used off-label to treat active acne and enlarged oil glands but treatment is not covered by insurance. Published clinical studies have demonstrated a decrease in size and number of oil glands and improvement in sebaceous hyperplasia after treatment.
    • CO2 laser resurfacing: CO2 laser treatment is an ablative treatment meaning it selectively removes and resurfaces a portion of the skin. This laser can be used in a pinpoint mode to selectively destroy enlarged oil glands. It requires typically a week of downtime and is an effective treatment for moderate to severe cases of sebaceous hyperplasia, and it is typically used only in lighter skin types.

A combination approach is sometimes ideal to improve enlarged pores and oil glands. Non-invasive and minimally invasive techniques are often combined with topical skin care regimens at Art of Skin MD to achieve the aesthetic goals of our patients in regards to sebaceous hyperplasia and large pores.

If you are interested in the treatment of enlarged oil glands or sebaceous hyperplasia in the San Diego area, call Dr. Melanie Palm at 858.792.SKIN (7546) to schedule your appointment.