There are literally hundreds of different kinds of lumps, bumps and cysts associated with the skin. Fortunately, the vast majority of these are harmless and painless. The chart below provides a guide for some of the most common forms of skin lumps, bumps and cysts.

Dermatofibromas

Characteristics

  • Red, brown or purple growth; generally benign
  • Usually found on arms and legs
  • Feels like a hard lump
  • Can be itchy, tender to the touch and sometimes painful

Treatment

  • Usually does not require treatment
  • Most common removal by surgical excision or cryotherapy (flalttening it with liquid nitrogen)

Epidermoid Cysts (Sebaceous Cysts)

Characteristics

  • Round small bumps, usually white or yellow
  • Forms from follicles that no longer can discharge their contents to the surface in a normal manner
  • Most commonly appear on the face, back, neck, trunk and genitals
  • Usually benign; rarely leads to basal or squamous cell skin cancers
  • If inflamed, will become red and tender
  • Can produce a thick yellow, cheese-like discharge when squeezed

Treatment

  • If the cyst becomes inflamed, it usually requires urgent drainage by a doctor to relieve pain. Antibiotics are rarely needed.
  • Ideal treatment involves surgical removal of the entire cyst including its thin membranous wall to prevent recurrence of the cyst.
  • Laser surgery may be used for sensitive areas of the skin, like the face

Folliculitis

Characteristics

  • Red pimples around areas having hair
  • Inflammation of the hair follicles
  • Caused by infection or chemical or physical irritation (e.g., shaving, fabrics)
  • Higher incidence among people with diabetes, the obese or those with compromised immune systems

Treatment

  • Topical antibiotics
  • Oral antibiotics
  • Antifungal medications
  • Eliminating the cause

Keratoacanthoma

Characteristics

  • Red, dome-shaped, thick bumps with craters in the center
  • Abnormal growth of epidermal cells, possibly related to hair follicles. Difficult to distinguish from squamous cell cancer of the skin.
  • May be triggered by minor skin injury such as a cut or bug bite, and may grow rapidly
  • Ultraviolet radiation from sun exposure is the most common risk factor

Treatment

  • Cryotherapy (freezing off the bump with liquid nitrogen) if it is quite small
  • Curettage (surgically cutting out or scraping off)

Keratosis Pilaris

Characteristics

  • Small, rough white or red bumps that neither itch nor hurt, most often on the back of the upper arms;  "sandpaper skin"
  • Usually worse during winter months or when there is low humidity and the skin gets dry

Treatment

  • Usually does not require treatment
  • In most cases disappears on its own by age 30
  • Intensive moisturizing is the first line of treatment
  • For more difficult cases, use of medicated creams with urea or alpha-hydroxy acids

Lipomas

Characteristics

  • Soft fatty tissue tumors or nodules below the skin’s surface
  • Usually slow growing and benign
  • Appear most commonly on the trunk, shoulders and neck
  • May be single or multiple
  • Usually painless unless putting pressure on a nerve

Treatment

  • Usually does not require treatment unless it is compressing on the surrounding tissue
  • Easy to remove via excision

Neurofibromas

Characteristics

  • Soft fleshy growths under the skin, generally solitary except in uncommon genetic disorders
  • Slow growing and generally benign and painless
  • Pain may indicate a need for medical attention
  • May experience an electrical shock at the touch

Treatment

  • Usually does not require treatment, particularly if it does not cause any symptoms
  • If it affects a nerve, it may be removed surgically