Your Guide to Epidermoid Cysts
Read on to learn more about epidermoid cysts. This guide includes information about symptoms, causes, and treatments.
Key facts about epidermoid cysts
- Epidermoid cysts are bumps on the skin that are filled with keratin.
- You are more likely to have an epidermoid cyst on your face or trunk than elsewhere.
- Males get epidermoid cysts two times more frequently than females.
- They occur more frequently in young and middle-aged adults.
- Blocked hair follicles are typically responsible for epidermoid cysts.
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An epidermoid cyst is filled with keratin and debris that is rich in lipids. Keratin is a protein that makes up hair, nails, and the outer layer of the skin.
The keratin inside the cyst can appear soft and yellow. In some cases, if an epidermoid cyst ruptures, the interior may be cheese-like and foul-smelling. Releasing keratin onto the skin and surrounding tissues can also result in inflammation.
Epidermoid cysts are characterized by a bump on the skin, often with a blackhead in the center.
Photography courtesy of Stevenfruitsmaak/Wikimedia
Epidermoid cysts are benign skin lesions that have a central blackhead, can grow slowly over time, and can sometimes drain.
Epidermoid cysts can become inflamed or infected and may be painful.
Epidermoid cysts typically appear on the face or trunk. However, they can appear anywhere on the body.
Epidermoid cysts commonly occur in the following places:
Some people use the terms “epidermoid cyst” and “sebaceous cyst” interchangeably. However, it is important to note that they are not the same thing.
An epidermoid cyst is filled with yellowish-colored keratin. In contrast, a sebaceous cyst is filled with a clear oily liquid that is made by the sebaceous glands. True sebaceous cysts are less common than epidermoid cysts.
Epidermoid cysts are typically asymptomatic. However, you may experience related symptoms if the cyst ruptures.
- tender to the touch
- erythema (redness) on or around the ruptured cyst
Most small and benign epidermoid cysts do not require removal. However, if a cyst is large and causing discomfort, you may wish to have it removed.
To remove the epidermoid cyst, the surgeon will perform a surgical excision to fully remove the entire cyst sac. If they remove the entire cyst lining, this decreases the risk of the cyst reoccurring.
If the cyst has ruptured and is inflamed, treatment typically involves a local injection of steroids to decrease the inflammation. Your surgeon will then carry out an excision once there is no inflammation.
You should avoid popping or bursting an epidermoid cyst. This can cause the cyst to become infected. If the cyst is infected, popping it can cause the infection to spread.
Many cysts are small and benign, and they can resolve on their own without treatment. However, you may be able to speed up healing with home remedies and reduce the risk of any infections with over-the-counter medication. Your doctor may also prescribe medication if they are concerned that cellulitis will develop around a ruptured cyst.
It is important to avoid interfering with a cyst while it heals naturally. However, you may be able to speed up the healing process by holding a warm washcloth against the affected area of skin to bring the cyst to a head. You can also alternate a warm compress with a cool compress. The cool compress will reduce inflammation.
If a ruptured cyst has become inflamed, steroid injections into the lesion can decrease the inflammation.
If your doctor suspects that the cyst needs to be surgically removed, they may refer you to a dermatologist, which is a skin specialist.
An epidermoid cyst typically occurs due to a blocked hair follicle.
It may be possible for an epidermoid cyst to appear where there are no hair follicles, such as on the palm of the hand. This can occur if you experience an injury on the site without hair follicles, as epidermoid cells can enter the affected area.
Your doctor will typically not need to carry out any tests to diagnose an epidermoid cyst. However, if you are presenting other symptoms, they may decide to perform an ultrasound to further evaluate the soft tissue mass and to rule out other types of cysts or growths.
An ultrasound can also help to narrow down the diagnosis. Depending on the location of the cyst and other symptoms, other possible diagnoses include:
Anybody can get an epidermoid cyst, but they occur more often in young and middle-aged adults. They are also twice as likely to occur in males than in females.
Certain conditions may make you more likely to develop an epidermoid cyst. Conditions in which epidermoid cysts may occur include:
- Gardner syndrome
- pachyonychia congenita (type 2)
- basal cell nevus syndrome
Complications may occur with an epidermoid cyst. If the cyst ruptures, complications can include:
You may also experience complications following excision. These can include:
An epidermoid cyst is a skin cyst that is filled with yellowish-colored keratin. It is typically benign and usually occurs on the face, neck, shoulders, and chest.
Most epidermoid cysts do not require medical treatment or removal. However, for large or uncomfortable cysts, a dermatologist can perform a surgical excision to fully remove the cyst.
Epidermoid cysts are usually asymptomatic. However, you may experience swelling, inflammation, or tenderness if the cyst ruptures.
Contact your doctor if you are concerned about an epidermoid cyst. If necessary, they will be able to carry out an ultrasound for a closer look at the cyst.