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What is a Nevus Sebaceous?

By D. Jeffress
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

A nevus sebaceous is an unusual lesion or patch of hairless skin that most commonly appears on the scalp or face. In most cases, lesions are benign and do not cause health problems, though there is a very small chance that a nevus can become cancerous late in life. Patches are typically noticed at birth or in early childhood and tend to be soft, smooth, and more orange or yellow than surrounding skin. By puberty, they may become bumpy or rough to the touch. Treatment in the form of excision surgery is only needed if a nevus sebaceous turns malignant or becomes a major aesthetic concern for a patient.

It is thought that a nevus sebaceous arises during prenatal development as the outer layers of skin are first formed. Research suggests that a minor genetic defect is responsible for abnormalities in the formation of sebaceous glands within the skin of the scalp and face. At birth, a lesion typically appears as a round, slightly raised bald patch that is velvety to the touch. There may be only a single lesion or a close cluster of raised patches surrounded by normal hair.

Hormonal changes at the time of puberty can cause a nevus sebaceous to grow larger and develop a wart-like appearance. A lesion typically has an orange, brown, or yellow tint. If the condition is left untreated, there is very small risk of the lesion becoming malignant. A hard, rough tumor can develop and potentially grow very large on the head. It is unlikely for the cancer to spread quickly to other areas of skin or elsewhere in the body, however.

Doctors often notice nevus sebaceous symptoms shortly after an infant is born. Very small lesions may go unnoticed until later in childhood or occasionally after puberty when the patches start to change in appearance. Skin biopsies are usually collected and analyzed to confirm the diagnosis and to make sure the lesion is not cancerous. After diagnosing the condition, the doctor can explain different treatment options.

Most patients with small, noncancerous lesions do not need aggressive treatment. Patches on the scalp can usually be concealed with a hat or by parting the hair a certain way. If a nevus sebaceous is malignant or causes appearance concerns, it can be cut out during a fairly simple outpatient surgical procedure. Photodynamic therapy, which involves eroding a lesion with a combination of acid and laser light, is a new and promising nonsurgical option for some patients.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon990885 — On May 14, 2015

So, I don't know how old this thread is. I'll just write something and hope for some response.

I've had this thing on my head since my birth and have had it removed several times without any luck. It disappeared almost completely, but unfortunately I've got OCD tendencies and can't stop scratching it until it bleeds and gets super painful. My lymph glands behind my ears react by getting big and painful. It always comes back in this big wart shaped kind of thing after removing it. I've mentioned it multiple times to the doctor, but he seems to not take it seriously. He just says I've to stop scratching, which I really can't stop doing. It annoys and scares me, it's just painful and I'm afraid of cancer also, even when the doctor doesn't seem to react when I show him this inflamed spot.

Yes, I'm kind of paranoid when it comes to my health and unknown and painful things on my body. My head in particular.

Anyone have any tips? I'm getting tired of visiting the doctor over and over again without them even taking a look anymore. It's a problem for me, so isn't it the doctor's job to listen to my concern?

By anon979931 — On Nov 30, 2014

My daughter was also born with NS on the back of her head. But unfortunately, the doctors here and around where I live, don't know squat about NS. So, I've been searching everywhere for answers. I don't want my baby to have any complications in the future. I'm having a hard time keeping an eye on it, when there are no doctors to help.

The doctor I saw a while ago, did say that it has nothing to do with in your words "Mental Retardation." Nothing like that.

By anon972916 — On Oct 07, 2014

Our 11 year old daughter is having her NS removed because there is a history of skin cancer with her Dad and Granddad. This is something you should not take lightly. Get it checked out and make sure what it is.

By anon928528 — On Jan 28, 2014

I was born with one on my head, the size of a half dollar. I had it removed when I was probably 7 or 8. Now I have a bald spot that replaced it. It never regrew hair, and I have always wondered if I could get some sort of transplant or something. But I'm 31 now and all is good. The surgery took about a half hour or so. It was really the same as getting a large mole removed. No big deal.

By anon924447 — On Jan 04, 2014

I have just discovered through the internet what this thing on my head is! My mom was told it was just a birthmark at first, but it's beginning to bother me because no hair grows on it and I've been wanting short hair for the longest. I'm 16 going to visit a doctor soon. Does anybody know if, after surgical removal of NS, will hair grow back on the spot? Mine is about the size of a nickel on my scalp.

By anon357852 — On Dec 07, 2013

@ddljohn: Which form of removal did you use and how did it go?

I have one too, still untreated, and I'm worried because it's been very itchy lately. Looking at it now, it does not look good at all, telling me that something is becoming more serious about it.

By anon281718 — On Jul 25, 2012

My boyfriend is 26 years old and has been diagnosed with nevus sebaceous. Earlier, doctors ignored this, saying it's only a birthmark but recently, a doctor said that he'd better get it removed or it might cause cancer in four or five years. I am very worried. Has it become malignant? Will he be all right after the surgery? Will it regrow after the surgery? How can we ensure he will be all right after the surgery? Kindly advise me. We are going to get married next year and I don't want to lose him at any cost.

By ddljohn — On Apr 03, 2012

@feruze-- I've never heard about that before! I don't know if it's possible or not but I had a nevus sebaceous from birth too and I never had any problems.

I actually had a nevus sebaceous surgery last year and had it removed because it was becoming more apparent probably because of hormonal changes. It never bothered me in any way before this though. I'm 20 now and I've been healthy my whole life.

Doctors don't even want to remove it unless it's growing or becoming bothersome to the individual appearance wise. I think your nephew will be just fine. Just keep an eye on it for any changes. You might want to have it checked out by a dermatologist once every year. That's what I used to do growing up because these lesions do have the chance of becoming malignant.

By bear78 — On Apr 03, 2012

My nephew has been diagnosed with a nevus sebaceous lesion (nevus sebaceous of Jadassohn) on his face. He's four years old and my sister has been freaking out since seeing the doctor.The doctor actually didn't tell her anything about the lesion. He didn't even want to treat it just yet, he wants to wait until my nephew is a little bit older.

My sister read on various forums however, that these lesions can be linked to other complications. From what she told me, even mental retardation has been linked to it. Is this true? Is the presence of this lesion a sign that something else is wrong?

My nephew is growing normally and is a really smart kid. He doesn't have any unusual behaviors or growth issues or anything like that. He's a really healthy and active boy. I personally don't think that there is a link there but I want to put my sister's mind at ease.

Has anyone heard about this or know about this?

By turquoise — On Apr 02, 2012

My brother was born with a nevus sebaceous on his scalp. My mom had it removed while he was only a few days old. She was afraid that the lesion would get bigger as he got older. There is a really small bald spot on his scalp to this day. It's not really noticeable unless you look for it.

I think my mom did the right thing by having the nevus sebaceous removal done. It would have really bothered my brother growing up and I can't imagine how he would have felt about himself had the lesion gotten really big. I'm sure my parents wouldn't have waited for the lesion to get that big. But they took care of it from the very beginning.

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