Doctors can usually make a diagnosis by looking at the cyst. Your doctor may also scrape off skin cells and examine them under a microscope or take a skin sample (biopsy) for detailed analysis in the laboratory.
Epidermoid cysts look like sebaceous cysts, but they're different. True epidermoid cysts result from damage to hair follicles or the outer layer of skin (epidermis).
You can usually leave a cyst alone if it doesn't cause discomfort or cosmetic problems. If you seek treatment, talk with your doctor about these options:
- Injection. This treatment involves injecting the cyst with a medicine that reduces swelling and inflammation.
- Incision and drainage. With this method, your doctor makes a small cut in the cyst and gently squeezes out the contents. This is a fairly quick and easy method, but cysts often recur after this treatment.
- Minor surgery. Your doctor can remove the entire cyst. You may need to return to the doctor's office to have stitches removed. Minor surgery is safe and effective and usually prevents cysts from recurring. If your cyst is inflamed, your doctor may delay the surgery.
Lifestyle and home remedies
You can't stop epidermoid cysts from forming. But you can help prevent scarring and infection by:
- Not squeezing a cyst yourself
- Placing a warm, moist cloth over the area to help the cyst drain and heal
Preparing for your appointment
You'll probably first visit your primary care doctor. He or she will diagnose your condition and outline treatment for your cyst. Options may include observation, incision and drainage if it is inflamed or infected, and removal. Occasionally, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in skin disorders (dermatologist).
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.
What you can do
- List your key medical information, such as conditions you've been treated for and medications, vitamins and supplements you take.
- Note any recent injuries to your skin, including surgical incisions and accidental wounds.
- List questions you have about your condition. Having a list of questions can help you make the most of your time with your doctor.
Below are some basic questions to ask your doctor about epidermoid cysts. If any additional questions occur to you during your visit, don't hesitate to ask.
- Do I have an epidermoid cyst?
- What causes this type of cyst?
- Is the cyst infected?
- What treatment do you recommend, if any?
- Will I have a scar after treatment?
- Am I at risk of this condition recurring?
- Can I do anything to help prevent a recurrence?
- Do epidermoid cysts increase my risk of other health problems?
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as:
- When did you notice this skin growth?
- Have you noticed any other skin growths?
- Have you had similar growths in the past? If so, on what parts of your body?
- Have you had severe acne?
- Is the growth causing any discomfort?
- Are you embarrassed by the growth?
- Have you had any recent skin injuries, including minor scrapes?
- Have you recently had a surgical procedure in the affected area?
- Does anyone in your family have a history of acne or multiple cysts?
What you can do in the meantime
Resist the urge to try to squeeze or "pop" your cyst. Your doctor will be able to take care of the cyst with the least risk of scarring and infection.
March 06, 2018
- Goldstein BG, et al. Overview of benign lesions of the skin. https://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed April 3, 2017.
- Goldsmith LA, et al., eds. Benign epithelial tumors, hamartomas and hyperplasias. In: Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine. 8th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com. Accessed April 3, 2017.
- Bolognia JL, et al., eds. Cysts. In: Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2012. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed April 3, 2017.
- Higgins JC, et al. Diagnosing common benign skin tumors. American Family Physician. 2015;92:601.
- Gibson LE (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. May 7, 2017.