An epidermoid cyst, commonly and incorrectly referred to as a sebaceous cyst, is a noncancerous lump beneath the skin that originates within a hair follicle. Cysts can develop on almost any part of the body.
An epidermoid cyst and the area around it sometimes become inflamed. This can cause pain, swelling, and redness. Some people try to pop these cysts to reduce discomfort. However, picking or squeezing a cyst increases the risk of infection and scarring.
Other techniques, such as using compresses, can reduce the inflammation and help a cyst heal on its own. If these steps are ineffective, a doctor may prescribe medication or recommend removing the cyst.
If an epidermoid cyst is not causing any symptoms, there is no need to treat it. It may shrink on its own, but unless a doctor removes it, it may grow back in the future.
Cysts commonly form on the face, back, and neck. The following treatments are suitable for use on any area of the body.
A warm compress may help ease inflammation in a cyst.
To use a warm compress, try the following:
- Soak a clean towel or washcloth in warm water.
- Wring the water from the cloth.
- Place it gently on the cyst. Leave it in place for up to 10 minutes.
- Repeat the treatment 3–4 times each day, using a clean washcloth each time.
A compress may also help relieve any pain or discomfort.
When a cyst becomes inflamed, it can be uncomfortable, and a person may find the appearance unsightly. Ice can help reduce the swelling, making the cyst less painful.
To bring down swelling, try the following:
- Wrap an ice pack or bag of frozen vegetables in a clean towel.
- Place this on the cyst for up to 10 minutes at a time.
- Repeat the treatment 3–4 times per day, using a clean towel each time.
Alternate between warm and cold compresses throughout the day to ease the inflammation. Never apply a frozen product directly to the skin, as this can cause skin damage.
Keeping the skin around the cyst clean may prevent infection.
To keep the skin clean, try the following:
- Wash the skin daily with lukewarm water and a gentle soap or cleanser.
- Use gentle, circular motions when washing the skin.
- Avoid products with fragrances or other harsh chemicals, as these can cause skin irritation.
- Never scrub the cyst or use harsh exfoliating products on it, as these can make inflammation worse.
If the cyst starts to ooze or drain, avoid touching or squeezing it. Touching an open cyst increases the risk of bacteria entering it and possibly causing infection.
Keep the skin around the cyst clean. It may help to cover the area with a bandage.
Most cysts do not require medical attention.
They typically improve on their own, and a person can take some steps to reduce inflammation and discomfort.
However, see a doctor if the cyst:
- gets bigger quickly
- is very painful or tender
- becomes infected or inflamed
- causes cosmetic concern
- is large and in an area that rubs against clothing
In any of these situations, seek medical advice.
If home treatments are ineffective, and if a cyst does not improve on its own, a doctor may use one or more of the following treatments:
Cortisone or steroid shot
A doctor will inject a corticosteroid, which is an anti-inflammatory medication, into the cyst or surrounding area using a very small needle.
The procedure is very quick and typically causes minimal pain. The lump should reduce in size following the injection.
Incision and drainage
To drain a cyst, the doctor may first apply a local anesthetic to the skin. They then make a tiny cut in the cyst and remove the fluid. However, the medical community discourages this for a few reasons.
First, the incision leaves a permanent scar. Second, this technique can allow the contents of the cyst to spill into the surrounding area. Ultimately, it may make removal of the cyst more difficult in the future.
Also, incision and drainage does not address the root of the problem, which requires the removal of the cyst. If a doctor employs this technique, the cyst will more than likely reoccur and may again become inflamed.
A minor surgical procedure called excision is the best treatment for cysts such as epidermoid cysts. Excision involves removing the entire cyst, and it is the most effective treatment.
A doctor typically avoids excision when the cyst has signs of inflammation and infection. They usually wait a minimum of 4–6 weeks for the inflammation to resolve before removing the cyst.
When inflammation is acute, a person may benefit from prescription medication, such as antibiotics.
If a cyst has signs of inflammation, a physician may order an antibiotic. Usually, a person completes the course of the antibiotic in 1–2 weeks.
With treatment, epidermoid cysts should begin to get better within a few days or weeks.
However, even if a cyst shrinks, it may reoccur and become inflamed in the future. To get rid of a cyst entirely, a doctor will have to remove it, in a procedure called excision.
If an isolated cyst forms on the back, neck, or face, it is most likely an epidermoid cyst, a type of harmless cyst that develops beneath the skin.
Skin cysts are not typically a sign of a serious health issue, but they can be uncomfortable. Depending on their location, they may also make a person feel self-conscious.
While it may be possible to improve the symptoms of an inflamed cyst at home, a visit to the doctor may be necessary in the short term to reduce the inflammation.
To prevent the cyst from reforming, a doctor will have to remove it.
Anyone with concerns about their skin should see a doctor, such as a dermatologist, for evaluation and treatment.