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Epidermoid cysts are the most common type of cyst. They are normally benign and do not typically cause any serious health concerns. However, if epidermoid cysts are in an unfortunate spot or they’re painful, infected, or inflamed, your dermatologist, at U.S. Dermatology Partners, may recommend treatment. You can learn more about epidermoid cysts on this page or by getting in touch to schedule a visit. You can get started by completing our simple online scheduling form whenever you’re ready.
Epidermoid cysts are small bumps that form beneath the skin. Epidermoid cysts are common. In fact, they are the most common type of skin cyst. Epidermoid cysts typically develop in areas with more hair, including the scalp, face, neck, and trunk. They are slow-growing and typically painless. Epidermoid cysts rarely cause any skin health issues, and they may not require treatment unless they are ruptured, infected, or begin to change over time.
There is only one type of epidermoid cyst. However, dermatologists and physicians may refer to epidermoid cysts as epidermal inclusion cysts, epidermal cysts, infundibular cysts, and keratin cysts. Additionally, epidermoid cysts are often misidentified as sebaceous cysts. A sebaceous cyst is lined with sebaceous glands, which secrete sebum oil to keep hair and skin moisturized, whereas epidermoid cysts occur on any part of the skin and normally develop from hair follicles.
Epidermoid cysts develop when skin cells are trapped beneath the outer layers of skin and release keratin, a naturally occurring protein, into the cyst sac. This typically occurs when the skin or hair follicle is damaged and keratin and dead skin cells are unable to be shed naturally.
Anyone can develop an epidermoid cyst, but risk factors for the condition include:
This type of cyst often seems to appear spontaneously, but actually, epidermoid cysts most often occur due to skin or hair follicle trauma (cuts, burns, etc.). The traumatic skin injury causes skin cells that would typically be shed to move into the deeper layers of skin and multiply. Over time, these epidermal cells form cyst walls (a sac) that contains the cyst. Keratin protein is secreted into this cyst sac, causing the epidermoid cyst to grow larger. Epidermoid cysts can also develop around hair follicles. When the follicle becomes irritated or damaged, the skin may heal over the follicle, trapping skin cells that should be shed inside, allowing them to multiply and form a cyst sac.
Epidermoid cysts look and feel like other types of cysts and are easily diagnosed by a dermatologist. Some of the common symptoms of epidermoid cysts include:
Epidermoid cysts that are growing or changing rapidly, located in a place that is frequently irritated, or that burst should be examined and treated by a dermatologist. Infection is the most common adverse effect of untreated epidermoid cysts, but in rare cases (about 1%), skin cancer may develop from the injured skin. It’s important to consult with your dermatologist if you notice any changes to your cyst.
During a consultation visit, your dermatologist will typically be able to diagnose an epidermoid cyst quickly through visual examination. In some cases, they may perform a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis and ensure the cyst is not an indicator of a more serious skin health concern.
Depending on the location, size, and the patient’s level of discomfort, the dermatologist may not recommend any treatment. These cysts do not pose a threat to the patient’s health, and they typically grow very slowly if at all. While the epidermoid cyst won’t usually heal completely on its own, it may become significantly smaller over time.
If the cyst is infected, inflamed, swollen, painful, or in a noticeable place like the face, your dermatologist may recommend one of the following treatment options:
It’s important to avoid “popping” and draining the cyst on your own as this can lead to more severe inflammation. Additionally, your cyst is likely to grow back after draining, so it’s important to receive professional treatment.
It is not typically possible to prevent the formation of epidermoid cysts. However, you can take care to avoid injuries or infections that increase the risk for epidermoid cysts. If you do have an injury, infection, acne breakout, ingrown hairs, or other condition that may trigger the formation of an epidermoid cyst, treating the underlying condition may decrease cyst formation.
*Results may vary by individual