A cyst is a lump filled with fluid that can form beneath the skin. While nearly always harmless, they can be uncomfortable, painful, and unsightly. Cysts can occur anywhere but are most often found on the face, scalp, fingernails, and trunk. Any unusual lump should be examined by a dermatologist to determine whether there is a possibility of cancer. Various treatments are available to alleviate cysts.

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  • Acne: Acne can form into cysts when hair follicles are blocked. Treatment for acne can reduce the risk of occurrence.
  • Milia: Small (1-2mm) cysts can form under the skin when keratin or skin flakes become trapped. Milia often go away on their own but can be treated by a dermatologist if they are chronic or recurring.
  • Dermoid cyst: When skin or skin structures become trapped during fetal development, it can lead to a dermoid cyst, which is present at birth. Dermoid cysts may contain skin glands, hair, fluid, and even teeth. Most dermoid cysts can be surgically removed.
  • Epidermal cyst: Small, hard lumps ranging from 1/4 inch to 2 inches across can commonly develop under the skin, especially on the face, neck, head, back, or genital area. They can usually be ignored, as most do not cause any pain or symptoms. 
  • Trichilemmal cyst (pilar cyst): Smooth, mobile cysts can form from hair follicles, most often on the scalp. Treatment is rarely necessary but can be accomplished through draining or surgically removing the cyst.


Treatment for cysts depends on the type and location:

  • Acne cysts: Treating acne can minimize the appearance and rate of cystic acne occurrence.
  • Milia: Cryotherapy, deroofing, chemical peels, laser treatments, topical retinoid creams, or curettage are all treatment options.
  • Pilar cysts: May be drained or excised.
  • Other cysts: May be surgically excised.

Treatment for cysts is usually not necessary unless there is a risk of cancer, associated pain, or aesthetic concern. If a cyst becomes infected, antibiotics may be prescribed.