Skin cysts have many names: epidermal inclusion cyst, epidermoid cyst, sebaceous cyst. On the scalp, a cyst might be referred to as a pilar cyst or a wen.
All of these are names of a benign under-the-skin overgrowth of the skin’s outer layer, the epidermis. Normally the skin continuously sheds these cells, however, when a cyst develops these cells are held, encased within the skin. Over time these cysts may enlarge and sometimes they are connected to the outer surface of the skin through a pore, or puncta. Patients will often remark that the contents of the cyst will have a foul odor. Typically this does not indicate infection; this is just the normal keratin debris contained within the cyst.
The cause of these cysts is not known, however, there is usually a genetic tendency and patients will often note that other members of their family develop similar growths.
Should I pop or drain the cyst myself?
No! Popping or attempting to drain these cysts often results in inflammation and even infection making the cyst a more complicated medical problem than it otherwise would be.
Do I need to treat my cyst?
Not always. For many people a cyst will appear and remain small and painless throughout their life.
If a cyst is unsightly, enlarging or painful there are treatment options available. Treatment for the cyst can vary based on whether it is infected or needs to be drained. Injection of a steroid into the cyst can help reduce inflammation and discomfort. Infected cysts often need to be incised (cut open) and drained to avoid more serious problems and ensure proper healing. Cysts may also be surgically excised and entirely removed from the skin.
Whether you need relief from a painful cyst, or surgical removal of an enlarging one, your dermatologist can help.