Sebum Plugs: All You Need To Know About These Bumps On Your Skin

Have you noticed bumps on your skin? Do you ever wonder what these actually are?

These are sebum plugs. Why do they occur? How to prevent and treat them? There are many questions rushing into your mind. Don’t worry we have covered you up in this post. Dig in for all information on the sebum plugs, its causes, treatments and more.

What is Sebum?

The tiny sebaceous glands under the surface of the skin produce an oily substance known as sebum.

Most of the parts of your body contain sebaceous glands (except the palms of your hands and soles of your feet). The production of sebum is natural and it helps protect and lubricate your skin. However, if there is an overproduction of sebum around the hair follicles can cause a hardened plug to form, which can turn into various forms of acne.

What Is The Role Of Sebum?

Sebum helps our body in the following ways:

  1. It forms a protective layer around the skin
  2. It reduces water loss from the surface of the skin and keeps it moisturized
  3. It keeps the skin’s pH in balance

What Is A Sebum Plug?

Too much production of sebum under the surface of the skin or accumulation of skin debris in the cells that block the reaching of sebum to the outer layer can result in the formation of sebum plugs. It looks like a tiny bump beneath the skin and it may stick out like a little white grain of sand.

The bacteria can thrive in these plugs and cause breakouts. These plugs are commonly found on the face and the scalp. These are known as the common precursors of whiteheads and blackheads.

pop Sebum Plugs

Common Types Of Skin Plugs

Explained below are some of the most common types of skin plugs you may have on your skin. Take a look.

Hard Sebum Plugs

Hard sebum plugs are the initial forms of skin bumps. Most of us have large skin pores, thus there are greater chances of the air drying out the sebum in the follicles. This forms a hard plug. More sebum oozes out in the glands and pushes this hard plug on to the skin’s surface. This hardens to form a hard globule of sebum.

Rubbing jojoba oil can prove effective to dissolve the sebum and set loose the hard plug lurking on the skin. The oil also helps to keep skin moisturized and healthy.


When the opening of a hair follicle (skin pores) clogs due to dirt, dead cells and oil, what comes out are known as a blackhead. These comedones turn black due to bacteria and reaction with oxygen in the air.


When the skin pores are completely blocked, the sebum plug is known as a whitehead. The plug remains inside the skin but appears as a white bump on the skin. This is indeed a form of acne breakout. These can lead to permanent scarring so don’t pick or pop.

Keratin Plugs

Keratin plugs or keratosis pilaris are rises as scaly skin plugs on the skin. These are similar to sebum plugs initially and then tend to develop differently into patches of bumpy skin. The scaly plug blocks the openings of the pores causing rough bumpy patches.

Keratin is a protein that lines the hair follicles; genetic components may be involved in its buildup.

Other Types Of Sebum Plugs

  • Papule: A small pink-colored, inflamed sebum plug on the skin. It can be tender to touch.
  • Pimple: A pus-filled papule, having a red base. It’s also called a pustule.
  • Cyst: A larger and painful pustule is termed as a cyst.
  • Sebaceous hyperplasia: A sebum buildup inside the sebaceous gland that expands like a tiny, shiny bump on the skin. It’s more common in adults.


How To Treat Skin Plugs

All types of skin plugs cause due to plugged pores. To prevent and reduce the buildup of sebum and dead skin in the follicles you need to cleanse your face every day. The extreme cases may require chemical or surgical procedures to treat the condition.

Let’s look at some ways in which you can treat skin plugs below.


Gentle exfoliation of dead skin may help acne from worsening. To do this:

  • Wet your face with lukewarm water
  • Scrub the exfoliating cream gently on your face for a minute
  • Rinse with water and pat dry


Topical Medications

  • glycolic and salicylic acid ointments
  • benzoyl peroxide ointments
  • retinoids, derivatives of Vitamin A (retinol, tretinoin)
  • antibiotics (tetracycline or erythromycin)

Shop for products labeled as “noncomedogenic” or “nonacnegenic,” as they won’t worsen the breakouts.

Oral Medication

Severe acne conditions that don’t respond to topical medications you may require oral drugs. Isotretinoin is an effective drug that controls excess sebum production. Pregnant and lactating women should not take this drug.

Facial Peels

Chemical facial peels containing salicylic acid may be used to treat sebum plugs. However, these peels can also cause redness, irritation, and sensitivity of the skin. Make sure you take proper aftercare if you use them.

Surgical Treatments

If the topical and oral medications fail to clear acne conditions you need to go in for dermatological surgery. Some of the surgical treatments are listed here:

  • Microdermabrasion: A diamond-tipped wand is rubbed on your skin to remove the top layer of the skin. This opens and removes the comedones and related scars if any.
  • Laser therapy: Removing trapped sebum using laser technology.
  • Cryotherapy: This procedure involves the application of liquid nitrogen to the acne. This will freeze the bumps, dries them and removes them from the surface of skin.
  • Electrocautery: It involves the use of electricity to burn the sebum plugs. The scabbed skin will fall over with time leaving behind a smooth surface.
  • Photodynamic therapy: In this therapy, a drug is applied to the skin cells making them extremely sensitive to light. The affected area is then exposed to strong source of light which kills the cells. The skin may become sensitive, leading to irritation, redness and peeling after the treatment.

Natural Remedies

Now let’s go through a few natural ways to treat sebum plugs. Talk to your dermatologist or healthcare provider for the best natural remedies you may incorporate as a complementary treatment.

  • Tea tree oil: It is used for many skin ailments and is touted for reducing inflammation and infections. It is effective to remove excess oil from the sebaceous glands and calming the skin.
  • Apple cider vinegar: It is an astringent capable of drying out the pores. It has good antimicrobial properties. Mix 2 tablespoons vinegar with 8 ounces of warm water and apply directly on the skin. Leave for 20 minutes and wash.
  • Lemon juice: The acidic juice soaks up the oil from the skin and rejuvenates it. The antibacterial compounds in lemon help reduce inflammation. Apply it directly to the affected skin with a cotton pad and leave for 20 minutes and wash.
  • Charcoal or clay masks: These dry out the sebum, get rid of trapped dirt, and skin debris.

Do’s And Don’ts

Tips for preventing and treating sebum plugs include:


  • Consult a dermatologist about your acne
  • Seek out professional advice to use an extraction device to remove a sebum plug
  • Exfoliate regularly to make pores look less noticeable
  • Avoid sunburn
  • Cleanse your face with a face wash 30 seconds at a time in gentle circular motions
  • Let your moisturizer dry before applying sunscreen and makeup
  • Use only non-comedogenic, oil-free skin products
  • Keeping long hair pulled back from the skin


  • Pop or pick at a sebum plug
  • Try to remove a plug on your own
  • Never sleep with makeup on, as this can trap more oil in your pores
  • Avoid processed foods and sweets in your diet


Can Sebum Buildup Cause Hair Loss?

Excessive sebum production in the scalp results in dandruff which can lead to hair fall.

Seborrhoeic dermatitis is a type of skin inflammation in the areas abundant in sebaceous glands, e.g. scalp. You will find excessive sebum and colonization of a fungus called Malasezzia in the affected persons. This condition causes flaking and itching of scalp thereby results in physical hair damage and hair fall.

A balance in sebum production is required for a healthy scalp and strong hair. So, in short, we say sebum buildup can cause hair loss.

sebum plugs hair loss

Sebum Buildup And Hair Loss: Understanding The Process

Before we start talking about the causes and treatment of sebum plugs in hair, it’s important to understand how hair grows.

Hair growth takes place in the following 3 stages:

Stage 1: Anagen – Active growth (hair bulbs form and hair pushes through the scalp)

Stage 2: Catagen – Transition, (hair follicle begins to be pushed from the papilla)

Stage 3: Telogen – Rest (hair begins to fall making room for new hair growth)

Sebum buildup forms a plug inside the hair follicles causing inflammation and interruption of hair growth.

What Causes Sebum Buildup on the Scalp?

The most common triggers or regulating factors that contribute to sebum buildup include:

  • Hormones: Testosterone stimulates the enlargement of the sebaceous glands and triggers excess oil production.
  • Scalp hygiene: People with oily scalp should frequently wash your hair with mild shampoos to cleanse the scalp thoroughly.
  • Poor diet: Greasy and foods with a high glycemic index (bread and rice) increases sebum production, triggers inflammation and irritation of scalp.
  • Other causes: The other factors affecting sebum buildup are genetic, overuse of hair styling products, scalp flaking, etc.

How To Cleanse Sebum Plugs From The Scalp?

Sebum protects and moisturizes the scalp to maintain healthy and shiny locks. Excessive greasiness results in unattractive hair with itchy discomfort. Regular cleansing dissolves excess oils and unplugs the sebaceous glands to restore a healthy scalp.

  • Run your tresses and scalp under lukewarm water, thoroughly soaking the shafts. Gently massage the scalp using your fingers. This helps loosen the sebum buildup and increases blood flow to the skin.
  • Using a clarifying shampoo cleanse your hair to remove the deposits and product residues.
  • Rinse out all the shampoo using freshwater. Apply a standard hair conditioner to restore the moisture. You may also rinse the scalp with apple cider vinegar after your standard shampooing and conditioning. Do this procedure once a week. The apple cider vinegar dissolves sebum plugs and reinvigorates your hair’s luster. Do not rinse the vinegar away with water.

How To Reduce And Prevent Sebum Buildup?

Sebum plugs might occur due to genetic predisposition or the use of hair styling products. Hair follicles get clogged by sebum and thus need to be cleaned thoroughly. Here is how you can prevent and reduce sebum production on the scalp and regain your confidence.

  • Wash your hair twice a week with a sebum-controlling or purifying shampoo.
  • Avoid using hot water for washing the scalp. Always opt for lukewarm water and gently massage the scalp with the fingertips.
  • Air-dry your hair as the hairdryer can lead to excessive dryness of scalp and stimulate more sebum production.
  • Consult the dermatologist to find the root cause of sebum plugs in hair and take effective treatments accordingly.
  • Note that you have a different hair structure than your neighbor. So what works for her may not be apt for you. Check with your doctor before you use any products.

What Problems Can Sebum Cause?

We have mentioned earlier that sebum is the natural protection of the skin and scalp. However, when too much sebum builds up you can have the following problems:

  • Greasy looking dull hair
  • Increased risk of scalp and hair damage.
  • Itchy scalp, dandruff and hair loss.

When To See A Doctor

If proper skin hygiene, cleansing agents, OTC medications, and lifestyle changes fail to improve your skin, consult a dermatologist. Acne can get out of control anytime, thus it’s better to seek expert advice soon.

Your skin type, genetic factors, lifestyle, and symptoms will help the doctor decide on the treatment plan to get rid of sebum plugs. A topical, oral or surgical skin care regimen may be prescribed right away.


Any kind of skin problem makes you feel self-conscious. Sebum plugs or comedones can be embarrassing as it leaves your skin and hair dull and greasy. Excessive sebum can lead to acne outbursts and poor hair condition.

Remember to take proper skin care to maintain the right amount of oil production in the follicles. Neglecting the condition, using chemicals and styling products can trigger the sebaceous glands to produce excessive sebum.

Talk with your dermatologist before it’s too late

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a sebum plugs on hair?

These are the glands which are connected to the hair follicles, and they release sebum from pores that produce hair. When excess oil is produced, the sebum has nowhere to go. This leads to a growth within the pore, known as a sebum plug.

What causes excessive sebum on hair?

Hypersecretion of sebum is simply a scalp problem due to an excessive production of sebum caused by hyperactivity of the sebaceous glands. … Skin inflammation associated with excessive production of sebum leads to the production of oily flakes on the scalp, on the skin of the ears and inside the ear canal.

How do you get rid of sebum build up on your scalp?

Treating an excessive production of sebum on the scalp starts by cleaning it. First clean your scalp, so you can start with healthy, clean skin and reduce the chances of sebum plugs. First, wash your scalp under warm water. Massage it gently with the pads of your fingers.

How do you unclog your scalp pores?

First add 2 drops of peppermint oil then mix the ingredients in half glass with warm water, mix baking soda and apple cidar vinegar and then allow them to react . then pour the mixture onto the the wet hair inside the shower and massage the scalp for aprox 3 minutes

How do you treat sebum plugs?

Wash If you have a sebum plug of some kind, gently remove dead skin cells may help keep the acne from worsening.
Take topical treatments, such as glycolic and salicylic acid ointments, may do the job.
Try oral medication.