100537 Health Library | Health and Wellness | Wellmont Health System
  • Epidermal Cyst

    (Epidermoid Cyst; Epidermal Inclusion Cyst; Epithelial Cyst; Keratin Cyst)


    An epidermal cyst is a type of slow-growing lump underneath the skin. This cyst contains soft, cheese-like skin contents. These usually appear on the face, neck, chest, upper back, genitals, or behind the ears. Similar cysts called pilar cysts often occur on the scalp.


    Causes include:
    • Blockage of a hair follicle by skin cells—When an injury to the skin occurs, cells from the surface may block hair follicles located deeper within the skin.
    • Damage to a hair follicle due to acne
    • Blockage or defect of the sebaceous gland—This gland is near the hair follicle. It secretes oily material used to lubricate the skin and hair.
    Hair Follicle
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    Risk Factors

    Acne and skin injuries increase your risk of developing an epidermal cyst.


    If you have any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to a cyst. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if you have any of these:
    • Small, dome-shaped lump beneath the skin
    • Foul-smelling, cheese-like material draining from the cyst
    • Redness or tenderness on or around the cyst if it becomes inflamed


    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. In most cases, the diagnosis can be made by looking at it. You may be referred to a dermatologist. This is a doctor who specializes in skin disorders.


    Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:
    • Surgical excision—The doctor removes the entire cyst, including its contents and cyst wall.
    • Surgical drainage—This involves cutting open the cyst, and draining the contents. The cyst might come back, though.
    • Antibiotics—These may be prescribed if the cyst has become in infected.
    If you are diagnosed with an epidermal cyst, follow your doctor's instructions.


    There is no way to prevent an epidermal cyst. If any of the cyst wall is left behind after drainage, the cyst may come back. If this happens, your doctor may decide to remove the cyst using surgery.


    American Academy of Dermatology http://www.aad.org

    American Academy of Family Physicians http://www.aafp.org/online/en/home.html


    Canadian Dermatology Association http://www.dermatology.ca

    Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca


    Cysts–epidermoid and pilar. The British Association of Dermatology website. Available at: http://www.bad.org.uk/site/805/default.aspx. Accessed January 2, 2013.

    Cysts. DermNet NZ website. Available at: http://dermnetnz.org/lesions/cysts.html. Updated January 13, 2012. Accessed January 2, 2013.

    Freedberg IM, Eisen AZ. Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology in General Medicine. Vol 1. 5th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Health Professions Division; 1999: 884-885.

    Zuber TJ. Minimal excision technique for epidermal (sebaceous) cysts. American Family Physician. 2002;65:1409-1412.

    Revision Information

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