If you’ve ever felt a tender, pimple-like bump on your scalp, you probably already know what a cyst feels like. A cyst on the scalp is an infection of the hair follicle. Mostly, cysts on the scalp are small, and heal within a week. However, if one becomes infected, it can lead to hair loss and other complications.
A cyst in the scalp typically forms in the hair follicle. This type of cyst is known as a sebaceous cyst. A sebaceous cyst forms when the surface opening through which the hair shaft grows becomes blocked. This may occur due to damage to the skin from an abrasion, genetic factors such as Gardner’s syndrome or a ruptured sebaceous gland. A cyst may also form due to improper hair care. When this happens, the hair follicle may become clogged with dirt, oil or dead skin cells.
A sebaceous cyst swells because it is filled with a pus-like white substance that often has a strong, unpleasant odor. This substance is keratin, a protein that is also present in the shaft of your hair. Due to the presence of the keratin, the skin around the hair follicle swells, causing the bumpy appearance.
The cyst may appear as a bumpy soft lump, or fatty and hard sac. Typically it is first discovered when touched with the finger or a hair brush when styling the hair. Most scalp cysts are white in color, although in some cases, pigmentation may cause a scalp cyst to appear red.
When to Seek a Doctor
If a cyst is left untreated by a dermatologist, it may result in hair loss around the area of the cyst. Though all cysts are initially small, in some rare cases they can swell to the size of golf balls. Under no circumstances should you attempt to drain a cyst on your own. Instead, see a doctor or dermatologist to have the cyst professionally drained. If you attempt to drain or treat the cyst on your own, you may cause an infection that can lead to scarring and permanent hair loss.
You should also keep the area clean to avoid infection. As an alternative to draining the cyst, a physician may choose to treat the affected area with a warm compress and antibiotics. In severe cases, a physician may opt to have the cyst surgically removed.