Cysts, Bumps, and Lumps on Your Skin

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on April 19, 2024
9 min read

There are a number of conditions that cause lumps and bumps to appear on the surface or just below the skin. Some of the most common ones are:

  • Skin cysts (also called epidermoid cysts)
  • Cherry angiomas
  • Dermatofibromas
  • Folliculitis
  • Keratoacanthomas
  • Keratosis pilaris
  • Lipomas
  • Neurofibromas

Cysts are noncancerous, closed pockets of tissue that can be filled with fluid, pus, or other material.

Cysts are common on the skin and can appear anywhere. They feel like large peas under the surface of the skin. Cysts can develop as a result of infection, clogging of sebaceous glands (oil glands), or around foreign bodies, such as earrings.

What cysts are like

Skin or epidermoid cysts usually are:

  • Slow-growing
  • Painless
  • Smooth to the touch when they are rolled under the skin

Skin cyst treatment

Cysts usually do not cause pain unless they rupture or become infected or inflamed. Most cysts do not disappear on their own without treatment. Some cysts may need to be drained to relieve symptoms. That involves piercing the cyst with a scalpel and draining it, though that doesn't cure the cyst. 

Some inflamed cysts can be treated with a shot of cortisone medication to cause it to shrink. Cysts that do not respond to other treatments or come back can be removed surgically if they cause troublesome symptoms.

Cherry angiomas are smooth, cherry-red bumps on the skin. They can be different colors, including red, blue, or purple, and can be less noticeable on skin of color than on white skin. The size of the growths can vary from the size of a pinhead to about a quarter-inch in diameter.

Although cherry angiomas usually appear on the trunk of the body, they can pop up nearly anywhere.

The cause of cherry angiomas is not known, and they have no symptoms.

The growths, which are made of blood vessels or lymph vessels, usually appear on people over age 40. 

Cherry angioma treatment

In most cases, cherry angiomas do not require treatment. If they are cosmetically unappealing or are subject to bleeding, angiomas may be removed by lasers, shave biopsy, or electrocautery – the process of burning or destroying tissue by use of a small probe with an electric current running through it. Removal may cause scarring. Cherry angiomas are more common in adults, and cherry hemangiomas (which are made of blood vessels only) are usually found in infants and children.

(Read about red birthmarks and your skin.)


Dermatofibromas are harmless round skin growths that are most commonly found on the arms and legs of adults. Their color can range from pink to light brown on white skin and dark brown to black on darker skin tones. Dermatofibromas contain scar tissue and feel like hard lumps in the skin.

Sometimes, dermatofibromas appear after injury, like a bug bite or after bumping your arm or leg.

Dermatofibroma symptoms

The symptoms of dermatofibromas include:

  • A red, brown, or purple growth that can change colors over time
  • A growth that is as small as a BB pellet
  • Tenderness, pain, and itching; but growths are usually painless
  • A dimple that appears when the growth is pinched

Dermatofibroma treatment

In most cases, there is no need to treat dermatofibromas. But the growths can be removed surgically or can be flattened by being frozen with liquid nitrogen. 

Epidermoid cysts, also called sebaceous cysts or skin cysts, are benign (noncancerous) skin cysts formed by an outpouching from a hair follicle. Most commonly, epidermoid cysts are found on the genitals, chest, and back, but they also can pop up in other areas of the skin.

Epidermoid cyst symptoms

In general, epidermoid or skin cysts have a round appearance. A dark portion of the cyst is visible on the skin. If the cysts become infected, they will become red and tender. When the cysts are squeezed, they can produce a cheesy white discharge.

Epidermoid cyst treatment

The effective treatment of epidermoid cysts requires that the sac of the cyst be completely removed. If the cyst is squeezed and the discharge is forced out without removing the sac, the cyst will return. Usually, a doctor will be able to remove the cyst by making only a small cut in the skin. Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat infected cysts, and steroid shots can help with swelling and inflammation.

Folliculitis is an inflammation of the hair follicles. It can be caused by an infection in the hair follicles, by chemical irritation, or by physical irritation (for example, shaving or friction from clothing). Typical body sites that are involved in folliculitis include the face, thighs, and scalp.

Folliculitis is more common in people who have diabetes. It's also more common in people who have obesity or have compromised immune systems.

Folliculitis symptoms

The main lesion in folliculitis is a papule or pustule with a central hair. The hair shaft in the middle of the lesion may not be seen.

Other signs and symptoms include:

  • Multiple red to purple pimples and/or pustules on hair-bearing areas of the body
  • Itchy skin

Folliculitis treatment

Topical antibiotics, oral antibiotics, or antifungal drugs may be used to treat infections that come with folliculitis, depending on the cause. Treatment also involves preventing further damage to the hair follicles. Steps that can help achieve this goal include:

  • Easing friction from clothing
  • Not shaving in the affected area, if possible. If shaving is necessary, use a clean new razor blade or an electric razor each time. Also, moisturize the hair before shaving, and shave in the direction of the growth of the hair.
  • Keeping the area clean


A keratoacanthoma happens when cells in a hair follicle do not grow normally. The growth may be triggered by a minor skin injury in an area that previously had sun damage. Ultraviolet radiation from sun exposure is the biggest risk factor in keratoacanthomas.

A keratoacanthoma usually will appear on sun-damaged skin as a thick growth that has a central crusted plug.

Keratoacanthomas appear most often in people who are over the age of 60, and they are considered a low-grade skin cancer.

Keratoacanthoma symptoms

Keratoacanthomas are rapidly growing, red, dome-shaped bumps with central craters. Some keratoacanthomas can grow to extremely large sizes, occasionally 1 to 3 inches in diameter. Although less common in people of color, these cysts appear the same on all skin tones.

Keratoacanthoma treatment

Keratoacanthomas can be removed by:

  • Cryotherapy (freezing the growth with liquid nitrogen)
  • Curettage (scraping and burning off the growth)
  • Surgical removal
  • Injection of a cancer drug directly into the lesion


Keratosis pilaris (commonly called KP) appears as "chicken skin bumps" on the skin. These bumps usually appear on the upper arms and thighs. They also can be on the cheeks, back, and buttocks. Keratosis pilaris, while unattractive, is harmless.

Keratosis pilaris symptoms

This disorder appears as small, rough bumps. The bumps are usually white or red on lighter skin, and brown or black on darker skin, but do not itch or hurt. Keratosis pilaris is usually worse during the winter months or other times of low humidity when skin becomes dry. It also may worsen during pregnancy or after childbirth.

Keratosis pilaris treatment

Although the condition may remain for years, it gradually improves before age 30 in most cases. Treatment of keratosis pilaris is not medically necessary, but people who have this condition may want to seek treatment for cosmetic reasons.

The first treatment for keratosis pilaris should be intensive moisturizing. A cream such as AmLactin or Lac-Hydrin can be applied after bathing, and then reapplied several times a day. Other treatments may include:

  • Medicated creams containing urea (Carmol-20) or alpha-hydroxy acids (Aqua Glycolic, Lacticare) applied twice daily
  • Efforts to unplug pores by taking long, hot soaking tub baths and then rubbing and exfoliating the areas with a coarse washcloth or stiff brush

Lipomas are soft tissue tumors under your skin that usually are slow-growing and are harmless. They have a soft, rubbery consistency. Lipomas tend to form on the trunk, shoulders, and neck but can appear elsewhere on your body.

Lipoma symptoms

Lipomas can appear as solitary nodules or in groups. Most lipomas are less than 5 centimeters in diameter and have no symptoms, but they can cause pain when they compress nerves.

Lipoma treatment

Lipomas are not removed unless there's a cosmetic concern, a compression of surrounding structures, or an uncertain diagnosis. Lipomas generally do not get into surrounding tissue, so they can be removed easily by excision (the use of a cutting instrument, like a scalpel).

There are other ways to treat lipomas outside of a standard excision. One is to manually squeeze the lipoma through a small cut. This technique is useful in areas with thin dermis, such as the face and extremities (like your hand or your foot). Liposuction-assisted lipectomy also can be used to remove large lipomas with minimal scarring. Lipotherapy is another option. In this, a fat-dissolving drug called deoxycholic acid (Kybella) is injected directly into the lipoma, leaving no scarring. 

Neurofibromas are soft, fleshy growths found on or under the skin, sometimes even deep within the body. These are harmless tumors, but they can turn malignant, or cancerous, in rare cases.

Neurofibroma symptoms

The symptoms of neurofibromas may vary, depending on where they are and the sizes of the tumors. Symptoms can include:

  • A painless, slow-growing mass
  • Occasional pain
  • An electric-like "shock" when the affected area is touched
  • Neurological problems if the tumor involves a major motor or sensory nerve or a nerve that is compressed between the tumor and a hard structure

Neurofibroma treatment

If the tumor is not causing any symptoms, no treatment is necessary. But doctors may choose to surgically remove the neurofibroma if it is affecting a major nerve. In most cases, neurofibromas are treated successfully and do not come back. 

Cysts are noncancerous pockets of tissue that can be filled with fluid, pus, or other material. They're common on the skin and may feel like large peas under the surface of your skin. Cysts can develop as a result of an infection, clogging of sebaceous glands (oil glands), or around foreign bodies, such as earrings. Some cysts don't require treatment, but others can progress. Talk to your doctor if your bump grows or causes pain. They can prescribe medication or do procedures to treat the cyst.

  • When should I worry about skin lumps? If you have a lump that's growing in size, red or swollen, hard, and/or doesn't move, talk to your doctor as soon as possible. These symptoms can be signs of a condition that's more serious than a cyst.
  • What does a cancerous skin lump look like? If a lump is cancerous, it won't have normal edges that are even around all sides, and it will feel hard. It may be raised from the skin and pink or red in color.
  • What do stress bumps look like? Bumps from stress will look like raised areas of your skin, ranging from small spots to larger patches. They will also appear in groups or clusters.