Clinical Derma

Skin Cyst


A skin cyst is a small, benign lump under the skin filled with keratin. Clinical factors contributing to its formation include hormonal changes, skin injury, infections, and certain genetic disorders. Non-clinical factors include age (with risk increasing over time), gender (with men generally more prone), personal hygiene (with poor hygiene increasing risk), and environmental factors like exposure to pollutants or high humidity. While most skin cysts are harmless, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare provider to evaluate any new or changing skin growths, ensuring they’re not signs of a more serious condition, such as skin cancer.


A skin cyst, also known as a sebaceous, epidermoid, or keratin cyst, is a small lump that forms under the skin. It’s filled with a protein called keratin, which is a component of skin, nails, and hair.

Clinical Factors:

  1. Hormonal Changes: Hormonal changes during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause can stimulate the sebaceous glands, leading to overproduction of sebum, which can eventually result in skin cysts.
  2. Damage or Injury: Any damage to the skin or hair follicle could cause a cyst. This could include a cut, scratch, surgical wound, or even conditions that cause inflammation and irritation, such as acne or eczema.
  3. Infections: Bacterial or fungal skin infections can lead to cyst formation as they may cause inflammation and blockage of the hair follicles or sebaceous glands.
  4. Genetic Disorders: Certain genetic conditions such as basal cell nevus syndrome or Gardner’s syndrome can predispose individuals to develop skin cysts.

Non-Clinical Factors:

  1. Age: People are more likely to develop skin cysts as they age, as skin naturally produces more sebum and becomes more prone to damage and inflammation.
  2. Gender: Men are generally more prone to skin cysts than women, particularly in areas with hair growth, such as the face, neck, and back.
  3. Personal Hygiene: Poor hygiene can lead to oil and dirt build-up on the skin’s surface, which can block pores and contribute to the formation of skin cysts.
  4. Environmental Factors: Exposure to pollutants or irritants can contribute to skin inflammation and cyst formation. Additionally, climates with high humidity can increase sebum production, which can increase the likelihood of developing cysts.

It’s important to note that while most skin cysts are benign, it’s always a good idea to consult with a healthcare provider if you notice any new or changing skin growths



Skin cysts generally appear as small, round bumps under the skin. They can occur anywhere on the body but are commonly found on the face, neck, chest, and upper back.

Key symptoms include:

  1. A small, round lump beneath the skin, usually painless.
  2. The lump may be red, yellow, or whitish in color.
  3. The cyst may feel smooth and can be moved slightly under the skin when pressure is applied.
  4. If the cyst becomes infected or inflamed, it can become tender or sore, and may produce a foul-smelling discharge.


The diagnosis of a skin cyst is primarily based on a physical examination. The dermatologist will evaluate the appearance, location, and size of the cyst.

  1. Physical Examination: Dermatologists can often diagnose a skin cyst simply by looking at it and feeling it.
  2. Imaging: If the cyst is unusually large or located deep in the skin, imaging tests such as ultrasound or a CT scan may be used to better understand its size and location.
  3. Biopsy: In some cases, a sample of the cyst may be taken for biopsy, especially if there’s concern it may be a different type of growth. The sample is examined under a microscope to check for cancer cells.

If a skin cyst is causing discomfort or if you’re concerned about its appearance, a dermatologist can provide guidance on treatment options, which may include draining the cyst or surgically removing it.

Prognosis and Impact


  1. Benign: Skin cysts are typically benign (non-cancerous) and pose no significant health risk.
  2. Recurrence: Even after effective treatment, cysts can sometimes recur, especially if the entire cyst wall was not completely removed during the initial treatment.
  3. Infection: In some instances, skin cysts can become infected. When this occurs, the cyst may become red, inflamed, and painful. An infected cyst can be treated with antibiotics, drainage, or surgical removal.


  1. Cosmetic Concerns: A skin cyst might be a cosmetic concern if it is large or located in a highly visible location. This can affect a person’s self-esteem and body image.
  2. Physical Discomfort: Some skin cysts can cause physical discomfort, especially if they’re located in areas that are subject to frequent contact or friction like the neck, armpit, or groin. If they become infected or inflamed, they can be painful.
  3. Potential Complications: Though rare, cysts can sometimes rupture, leading to inflammation and potential scarring. Larger cysts that are not treated can also potentially cause skin ulceration.

Despite these potential impacts, most skin cysts can be effectively managed with appropriate treatment. Options include simple observation (if the cyst is not causing symptoms), drainage, or surgical removal. Your dermatologist can help you determine the best approach based on your specific circumstances.

Treatment Options

The appropriate treatment can depend on the size, location, and symptoms of the cyst, as well as personal preferences and overall health.

  1. Observation: If a cyst is not causing any discomfort and is not a cosmetic concern, it might not need any treatment at all. Many cysts remain stable or even decrease in size over time.
  2. Incision and Drainage: This is a relatively quick and simple procedure, where a small cut is made in the cyst and the fluid or semi-solid material is drained out. However, this method has a higher chance of recurrence since the cyst wall remains in the skin.
  3. Corticosteroid Injections: If the cyst is inflamed but not infected, injecting a corticosteroid medication can reduce inflammation and speed up healing. This approach may decrease the size of the cyst but often does not eliminate it.
  4. Surgical Excision: This is the most definitive treatment. Under local anesthesia, the entire cyst, including its wall, is surgically removed. This method is typically more invasive than incision and drainage, but it greatly reduces the chance of the cyst returning.
  5. Medications: If the cyst is infected, it may need to be treated with antibiotics before any other procedures are carried out. In some cases, retinoid drugs, which reduce oil (sebum) production, may be used if you have multiple cysts.

It’s important to remember not to squeeze or puncture the cyst yourself at home as it could lead to an infection or scarring. If you notice changes to the cyst, such as rapid growth, pain, or discharge, you should seek medical advice promptly.

Risks and Side Effects


  • Risks: The cyst may grow larger, become inflamed or infected, or rupture spontaneously.
  • Side effects: Generally, there are no side effects to observation.

Incision and Drainage:

  • Risks: Higher chance of cyst recurrence since the cyst wall remains. Potential for infection if not properly cared for during the healing process.
  • Side effects: Temporary discomfort, swelling, redness at the site of the procedure.

Corticosteroid Injections:

  • Risks: Possible thinning or lightening of the skin at the injection site. There’s a small chance the cyst may recur.
  • Side effects: Temporary discomfort at the injection site.

Surgical Excision:

  • Risks: Scarring, infection, or allergic reaction to the local anesthetic. Rarely, the cyst may recur if any part of the cyst wall is left behind.
  • Side effects: Temporary discomfort, swelling, redness at the site of the procedure. There may also be some minor bleeding post-procedure.


  • Risks: Antibiotics can lead to allergic reactions in some people or cause gastrointestinal issues. Retinoid drugs can cause dry skin and lips, and are also linked to birth defects, so they’re not recommended for pregnant women.
  • Side effects: Depending on the specific medication, side effects can range from mild (such as digestive upset with some antibiotics) to more severe (such as mood changes with some retinoids).

It’s important to discuss these potential risks and side effects with your dermatologist to make an informed decision about your treatment plan. Each treatment option should be considered based on the specific circumstances, including the size and location of the cyst, as well as personal preferences and overall health.

FAQ Section

Q1: What is a skin cyst? A1: A skin cyst is a small, benign bump that forms under the skin. It’s filled with a protein called keratin and can occur anywhere on the body, although they’re most commonly found on the face, neck, chest, and upper back.

Q2: What causes skin cysts? A2: The exact cause of skin cysts is not always known, but they can be linked to factors like hormonal changes, skin injury, bacterial or fungal infections, certain genetic disorders, poor personal hygiene, exposure to environmental pollutants, and aging.

Q3: Are skin cysts dangerous? A3: Generally, skin cysts are harmless. However, if you notice a new or changing growth on your skin, it’s a good idea to have it evaluated by a dermatologist to rule out other, more serious conditions like skin cancer.

Q4: What are the symptoms of a skin cyst? A4: A skin cyst typically appears as a small, round bump under the skin. It may be red, yellow, or whitish, and it can be moved slightly under the skin when pressure is applied. If it becomes infected or inflamed, it can become tender, sore, and may produce a foul-smelling discharge.

Q5: How are skin cysts diagnosed? A5: Skin cysts are usually diagnosed through a physical examination by a dermatologist. In some cases, imaging tests or a biopsy may be needed to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other conditions.

Q6: What are the treatment options for skin cysts? A6: Treatment options for skin cysts include observation, incision and drainage, corticosteroid injections, surgical removal, and in some cases, medication. The best treatment option will depend on the size, location, and symptoms of the cyst, as well as the patient’s preferences and overall health.

Q7: Are there any risks or side effects associated with these treatments? A7: While generally safe, these treatments can have potential risks and side effects. These can include a chance of recurrence, infection, temporary discomfort or swelling, skin thinning or lightening, scarring, and medication side effects such as gastrointestinal issues or dry skin. It’s important to discuss these potential risks with your dermatologist to make an informed decision.

Q8: Can I prevent skin cysts? A8: While not all skin cysts are preventable, maintaining good skin hygiene, avoiding skin trauma, and managing medical conditions that can lead to cyst formation may help reduce the risk. If you’re prone to developing cysts, your dermatologist might recommend certain skincare products or medications to help manage the condition.


  1. “Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology in General Medicine” by Lowell A. Goldsmith, Stephen I. Katz, Barbara A. Gilchrest, Amy S. Paller, and David J. Leffell.
  2. “Andrews’ Diseases of the Skin: Clinical Dermatology” by William D. James, Dirk M. Elston, and Patrick J. McMahon.
  3. “Rook’s Textbook of Dermatology” by Tony Burns, Stephen Breathnach, Neil Cox, and Christopher Griffiths.
  4. “Habif’s Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy” by Thomas P. Habif.
  5. “Dermatology: 2-Volume Set” by Jean L. Bolognia, Julie V. Schaffer, and Lorenzo Cerroni.
  6. “Mayo Clinic Proceedings” and other peer-reviewed dermatology journals.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *