An updated review of the sebaceous gland and its role in health and diseases Part 1: Embryology, evolution, structure, and function of sebaceous glands

Dermatol Ther. 2021 Jan;34(1):e14695. doi: 10.1111/dth.14695. Epub 2021 Jan 1.


Sebaceous glands are sebum-secreting components of pilosebaceous units. The embryological development of the sebaceous gland follows that of the hair follicle and epidermal tissue, beginning between weeks 13 and 16 of fetal development. New sebaceous glands do not normally develop following birth, but their size increases with age. Sebocytes express a multitude of hormone receptors and are heavily regulated to secrete sebum by androgens. There is a large increase of sebum excretion at birth and again at puberty, until approximately age 17. In adulthood, sebum production remains stable and declines to zero in postmenopausal women and in men aged 60-70. Besides the production and release of sebum, sebaceous glands function to lubricate the skin and hair, provide thermoregulation, and exhibit antimicrobial activity. Research has shown sebaceous glands to possess the cellular capability to transcribe genes necessary for androgen metabolism. Dysfunction of the sebaceous gland can be seen primarily in steatocystoma simplex and multiplex, sebaceous gland hyperplasia, sebaceoma, sebaceous adenoma, sebaceous carcinoma, nevus sebaceus, and folliculosebaceous cystic hamartoma. Sebaceous glands are secondarily involved in acne vulgaris, seborrheic dermatitis, and androgenic alopecia.

Keywords: androgens; pilosebaceous unit; sebaceous gland; sebocyte; sebum.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acne Vulgaris* / diagnosis
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Hair Follicle
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sebaceous Glands*
  • Sebum
  • Skin