Skin Information Network

What is a Cyst?

Cysts are common growths that resemble a bag, and can be considered a tumour-that is, a growth that is considered abnormal. These tumours can contain fluid, gas, and sometimes soft but solid materials. Although cysts are common, they vary widely in overall appearance, size, symptoms, and cause. There are hundreds of cyst subtypes, and can grow anywhere in the body. This site will focus on sebaceous cysts.

What are Sebaceous Cysts?

Although there are a wide variety of cysts, which can theoretically grown anywhere on the body, we will focus on sebaceous cysts which grow on the skin, and are one of the most common types of cysts. Generally, sebaceous cysts are what people think of when hearing the word, "cyst." These are cysts that originate in the epidermis, a layer of the skin. They are often seen on the back of the ears, scalp, face, and back and especially common in areas where there is extensive hair growth. Usually sebaceous cysts vary from a quarter of an inch to two inches in diameter.

Identifying Features:

  • Round to oval shaped bumps which vary in size
  • The growths are soft and mobile
  • The cyst can have a distinct smell that resembles foot odour if infected
  • Usually found on the ears, face, or back, but can occur anywhere on the body
  • White or yellowish in color, but can be darker in darker-skinned individuals
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