Ingrown hairs and cysts have many similarities, often leading to confusion between the two conditions. Both can cause uncomfortable pockets of fluid underneath the skin that can create lumps visible on the surface. Both an ingrown hair and a cyst can also occur on various parts of the body. Each condition has different appearances, different symptomology, and different causes, however. Their treatments and outcomes may also vary.
As a hair grows, it can become tangled before it reaches the surface of the skin. When this condition occurs, the hair grows back towards the inner skin, fluid often builds up around the area, and an ingrown hair results. The skin growth — resembling a blister or pimple — may be painful and itchy, particularly if it becomes infected with pus and forms an abscess. Ingrown hairs can also recur and occur in clusters in some cases. The abnormal hair growth is generally increased by trauma to the skin area, scar tissue over the area, or improper shaving that causes the hairs to become jagged.
Cysts, on the other hand, are masses that usually arise from more uncontrollable factors, such as tumors, infections, inflammatory ailments, and even genetic conditions. Further, an ingrown hair and a cyst are different sizes, as a cyst may grow much larger than an ingrown pimple. Cysts can also occur further inside the body on or around vital organs. These types of cysts may be felt on the skin as colorless lumps or may only be uncovered via medical tests. Although one of the chief symptoms of an ingrown hair is pain and discomfort, symptoms of cysts may be nonexistent unless the mass pushes against an organ and causes pain.
Treatments for an ingrown hair and a cyst usually differ as well. In the case of an ingrown hair, releasing the hair from its trapped state beneath the skin is most beneficial. This step may be accomplished by using tweezers to access the hair or through laser therapy in more severe cases. Fluid drainage or surgery may be necessary to treat a cyst, however. Antibiotics may be needed for infections arising from treating an ingrown hair or a cyst, and warm wet compresses are also useful in alleviating pain related to both conditions.
Any prolonged irritation should be examined by a medical professional. Dermatologists are certified to treat skin conditions and can best diagnose them. Advanced cases of either ailment can cause complications, and surgical intervention may be needed.