Cysts are pockets of tissue (sacs) that may become filled with pus, fluids, skin cells, and even air.
They are fairly common on the skin and can appear anywhere on the body. Cysts may feel like a pea under the surface of the skin, but without removal, they can grow significantly larger over time. In most cases, cysts are not painful, and they grow slowly. There are different types of cysts as we’ll discuss in the next section, and the vast majority of these skin growths are benign (not cancerous). Not all cysts will require treatment, but it is vitally important to have any lump under the skin evaluated and diagnosed by a board-certified dermatologist because some soft tissue malignancies (growths that are cancerous) can present like a cyst. Before recommending removal or other cyst treatments, your dermatologist will examine the growth to determine whether it is likely to cause you pain, become infected, or otherwise lead to skin health issues.
There are many different types of cysts, and each will impact your body differently. The vast majority of cysts are completely harmless and don’t need to be removed, but others do require treatment. In some cases, cysts are related to other skin or whole-body health conditions, so it never hurts to have them examined by a dermatologist.
Some of the most common types of skin cysts include:
Epidermoid cysts form within hair follicles when the epidermis (outer layer of skin) grows inward toward the follicle rather than being shed away. These cysts are often filled with the skin cells that are unable to be shed.
Sebaceous cysts form within the glands that are responsible for producing the skin’s sebum (oil). When the sebum-producing sebaceous glands are damaged or blocked, a cyst can form. This type of cyst is usually filled with oil. Sebaceous cysts are most commonly found on the face, neck, and trunk.
Ganglion cysts form in the joints of the wrists, hands, feet, and ankles. The cause of ganglion cyst formation is unclear. They are usually painless, but if they grow too large, they can impede movement in the joints.
Breast cysts are a type of cyst that can occur when glands around the breast or ducts used for milk production are blocked or injured. Fluid can buildup in the glands or ducts and form into a cyst.
Chalazia cysts (also called Chalazion cysts) form when the oil glands around the eyes are blocked. This blockage can lead to the formation of cysts on the upper or lower eyelids. Unlike other cysts that are typically painless, this benign growth can actually cause a lot of issues, including pain, swelling, and impeded vision.
A pilonidal cyst is a type of cyst that typically forms in the upper cleft of the buttocks. They are most common in men, and they often form when hairs become ingrown. Without proper treatment and medical attention, these cysts are prone to infection and may increase your risk for developing squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer.
Bakers cysts develop around the knee usually due to injury, surgery, or arthritis. Unlike other cysts that don’t cause pain or other issues, bakers cysts can significantly impede range of motion without treatment.
Cystic acne is a type of moderate to severe acne that forms deep into the skin rather than leading to the usual pimples on the surface of the skin. This type of acne is often painful and difficult to treat, but it usually clears up with age.
Pilar cysts (also known as Trichilemmal Cysts) are a form of cyst that develops within the hair follicle. In many cases, these cysts form on the scalp. Pilar cysts typically fill with keratin, which is what hair and fingernails are made from.
Mucous cysts (also called mucocele) are cysts that form around the mouth. Typically, mucous cysts develop when the salivary glands are damaged or clogged due to biting the cheek or lip, receiving a piercing, being injured in a sports accident, practicing ineffective oral hygiene, or any other situation where the salivary gland may be damaged.
Anyone can get a cyst at any age. Typically, cysts are caused by infection, clogged oil glands, or inflammation around a foreign body such as a piercing or ingrown hair. Each type of cyst listed above and all of the many types of cysts that weren’t specifically listed here have their own unique causes. If you develop a cyst, a dermatologist will talk to you about the cause and any potential steps you can take to prevent cyst formation in the future.
Skin cysts can appear anywhere on the body. They are usually painless and grow slowly. Cysts typically feel smooth to the touch and may roll under the skin. Generally, cysts are painless unless they are irritated or ruptured. If an infected cyst ruptures, it could leave an open wound that needs to be treated medically.
A soft tissue growth could also be a lipoma. Unlike cysts, lipomas are made up of fat cells in the dermis. Lipomas are not harmful, but if the growth becomes too large, it can become painful. Lipomas, like cysts, can also be removed for cosmetic reasons.
Cysts typically will not go away on their own, but because they do not usually cause pain, some cysts are left untreated.
There are many reasons you may choose to have a cyst removed, including:
If a cyst ruptures, becomes infected or causes pain, it can be drained or removed surgically. Some types of cysts can also be treated with an injection of cortisone, which will cause the cyst to shrink. Other cysts require topical or oral antibiotic therapy. It’s important to seek professional treatment for cysts rather than attempting to remove them at home. Because these growths are encased in sacs, “popping” will not effectively remove them. Instead, the sac will refill. By creating an open wound, you increase your risk of infection. For this reason, you should always partner with a dermatologist to remove the entire cyst, including the sac.
For the most part, cyst development can’t be prevented. However, certain skincare habits can reduce the risk of developing some types of cysts. Practicing good hygiene and using the right products for your skin type will reduce your risk. A dermatologist can help you create a skincare routine that will work for you. Taking extra care during hair removal can also reduce your risk of developing cysts in the hair follicles. Partnering with a dermatologist to create an appropriate treatment plan for cystic acne can also reduce the formation of these painful cysts.
In most cases, a dermatologist can remove your cyst under local anesthesia with minimal discomfort. They will do their utmost to create minimal scarring in the process of removing the cyst. After the lump is removed, you may notice some swelling, and you’ll need to keep the surgical site clean as it heals. In most cases, the cyst removal site heals completely within just a few weeks.
If a dermatologist surgically removes a cyst and its sac, it will not usually reform. Even if a cyst doesn’t refill, some people are more prone to cyst formation than others. For this reason, if you develop one cyst, you may be more likely to develop more.
*Results may vary by individual