Everything you need to know about Cysts!

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Cysts have become famous over the past few years with the help of a popular TV show known as “Dr. Pimple Popper”.  They are commonly featured on the show and the audience seems to love to see how big they are and where they can grow on a person!  What actually is a cyst though?

Cysts are basically closed sacs found within the body and they have a membrane lining.  The type of lining and the location of the cyst is what differentiates one type from another.  

There are 3 common types of cysts found in the skin – epidermal (sebaceous) cyst, trichilemmal (pilar) cyst and milia. There are other less common cysts as well.

An epidermal cyst is a freely moveable nodule that sometimes seems to have an opening to it.  The skin overlying it is normal and the opening can look like a blocked pore.  This type of cyst is formed when the epidermis folds in on itself and creates a pocket. This can happen if a hair follicle becomes clogged like with severe acne or if there is penetrating trauma to the skin. The epidermis is the lining of the cyst and sheds dead skin cells into the pocket where it collects and essentially “backs up” into the space. The cyst contains a whitish cheese-like substance that usually has quite a bad odor.  These are extremely common and can be found on the face, ears, neck, scalp, chest and back.  They are not harmful and can be left alone if one wishes.  These should NOT be squeezed – no matter how tempting as that may cause the sac to break and cause pain, inflammation and even infection.  The ultimate treatment for these is surgical removal as the entire lining needs to be removed.

A trichilemmal cyst is similar to the epidermal cyst but mainly occur on the scalp and can be multiple.  The wall is thicker in this type of cyst and again can either be left alone or treated by surgical removal of the entire cyst.

Lastly, milia are small whitish cysts frequently mistaken as whiteheads and are often seen on the face and around the eyes.  These seem to have no cause and can be found in all ages – even in newborns and infants.  These are very superficial and sometimes resolve on their own. Again these can be left alone and some request that they be treated for cosmetic purposes.

Here at Dermatology and Skin Cancer Institute we are happy to help you with cysts as well as any other skin concern you may have.  Call Amy Hahn, PA-C for an appointment in our Lansdale, PA office, or to see another provider in our Fort Washington, PA office, just call 215-361-3376 press option 1. 

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