An epidermal cyst is a firm, slow-growing lump underneath the skin. This cyst contains soft, cheesy-like skin secretions. These usually appear on the scalp, face, neck, chest, upper back, genitals, or behind the ears.


Causes include:

  • Blockage of a hair follicle by skin cells—When an injury to the skin occurs, cells from the surface may block hair follicles located deeper within the skin.
  • Damage to a hair follicle due to acne
  • Blockage or defect of the sebaceous gland—This gland is near the hair follicle. It secretes oily material used to lubricate the skin and hair.

Hair Follicle

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Risk Factors

Acne and skin injuries increase your risk of developing an epidermal cyst.


If you have any of these symptoms do not assume it is due to a cyst. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if you have any of these:

  • Small, dome-shaped lump beneath the skin
  • Foul-smelling, cheesy-like material draining from the cyst
  • Redness or tenderness on or around the cyst if it becomes inflamed


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. In most cases, the diagnosis can be made by looking at it. You may be referred to a dermatologist, a doctor who specializes in skin disorders.


Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:

  • Surgical excision—The doctor removes the entire cyst, including its contents and cyst wall.
  • Surgical drainage—This involves cutting open the cyst, draining the contents, and removing the cyst wall. The cyst might come back, though.
  • Steroid injection—This involves injecting steroids into the cyst to reduce inflammation. The cyst is not removed, though.
  • Antibiotics—These may be prescribed to reduce the risk of an infection after surgery or drainage.

If you are diagnosed with an epidermal cyst, follow your doctor's instructions .


There is no way to prevent an epidermal cyst. If any of the cyst wall is left behind after drainage, the cyst may come back. If this happens, your doctor may decide to remove the cyst using surgery.