Cysts are among the most common of skin conditions. They can occur in various locations both on the skin and inside the body. Those which occur inside the body can be more serious and may be malignant. Skin cysts, on the other hand, are generally non-life threatening and easily treated.

A cyst is a harmless sac-like growth in the deeper layers of the skin, which is filled with a soft, whitish brown material that sometimes oozes onto the skin surface. These growths can range in size from tiny to as large as 2 inches in diameter and are most commonly found on the face, trunk and neck.

What causes cysts to form on the skin?

The thin, outer layer of the skin is called the epidermis. This layer is regularly broken down and old skin cells are shed to make way for new growth. When these old cells are absorbed into the body instead of being shed, a cyst will form. There are various reasons for this to happen.

People who smoke are more prone to the development of large cysts. Cysts are also more likely to become infected in smokers.

We do not know why cysts appear, nor do we know why some people get many of them. Often we are born with cysts under the skin. Sometimes, people who have multiple cysts have a family history of this problem.

As a person gets older, sometimes a cyst which was present since birth suddenly gets larger. When this happens, bacteria often get into the cyst and an infection occurs which can resemble a boil.

Damage to hair follicles and chronically plugged pores from acne can also lead to the formation of cysts. Accidents to the skin can also hamper the regular skin growth cycle and lead to the formation of cysts.

How do you get rid of cysts?

Small cysts generally do not need treatment; however larger cysts are usually removed because of their size.

If a cyst becomes infected, an antibiotic taken by mouth and minor surgery performed in the dermatologist’s office may be needed to relieve the pressure and discomfort. This is done by making a small opening into the skin and draining the cyst. Cysts often recur after this type of surgery because the sac or wall is left behind.

To remove a cyst completely, it has to be excised (cut out) in order to remove the sac or cyst wall. A local anesthetic is used to numb the skin. Stitches are used to close the skin opening and are removed 7-14 days after the surgery.

Excision will usually cure a cyst, however, sometimes a cyst will come back and require a second surgery. In most cases, treatment is not necessary but it is recommended if you experience any signs of infection, including a thick yellow, odorous material draining from the cyst and redness, swelling or tenderness in the area around it.

If your cyst grows or changes suddenly, ruptures, becomes painful or is in an area that causes it to be regularly irritated, you should definitely seek treatment as well.