What is Cystic Acne? What to Look For and How to Treat It

What is Cystic Acne? What to Look For and How to Treat It

Everyone remembers their teenage years: the bad decisions, worries about your grades, hanging out with your friends, and, of course, the acne that destroyed your self-esteem. 


If you're like most people, you had your fair share of acne when your hormones were spiking. But many people still struggle with acne as an adult. If cystic acne is running rampant across your face or body (or both), it’s time to reach for some tried-and-true acne treatments.


When you get older and normal blemishes start to fade, you might notice that you have another type of acne taking its place. It’s two or three times the size of your average whitehead and really painful! You’ve got cystic acne, but luckily, we have some tips for you.


What Is Cystic Acne?


Cystic acne is the most severe form of acne possible. It often looks like a large red bump (there may be one or several), about the size of your pinkie fingertip, and can form all over the body. The face is particularly prone to this kind of severe acne.


As the name implies, it looks and behaves like a cyst. A cyst is an area of tender and inflamed skin because it is filled with clear or milky pus. Cysts are often confused with nodules, the main difference being that a cyst will have a head, while nodular acne will not. 


What Causes Cystic Acne?


Generally, acne is caused by a clog of facial oils like sebum, dead skin cells, bacteria, and dust underneath your skin’s top layers in the hair follicles. This buildup causes normal things like whiteheads, blackheads, and straightforward pimples. However, cystic acne forms deep within the skin, and is usually pretty painful. Believe it or not, it doesn't only affect those with oily skin. 


Plus, if one of these cysts bursts, the infection can clog more of your pores and turn a single cyst into a bunch that takes over your face. Whatever you do, don’t scratch the cysts. They will itch and hurt, but it will only make things that much worse if you pick at them, potentially leaving acne scars. So, resist the urge.

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How to Get Rid of Cystic Acne


Unfortunately, unlike regular acne, cystic acne is pretty serious. That means over-the-counter and homemade methods simply aren’t going to cut it. You need to see a dermatology professional to get a prescription for strong medicine that will clean everything out, and restore your face to its natural beauty.


There are a few different types of medicine your doctor may prescribe, along with some medical advice. They might even recommend a corticosteroid shot if your acne is extremely persistent. But we’re here to help with a brief rundown on the usual suspects for cystic acne medications.




Accutane, also known as isotretinoin, is an oral medication that you take every day. It’s derived from vitamin A, a key nutrient for maintaining healthy skin. Accutane is a powerful medication that gets to the heart of cystic acne.


Your doctor will likely advise you to be even more vigilant about your sunscreen when you take this. When working to unclog pores and getting rid of bad bacteria, it tends to make your skin more sensitive, especially to UV rays.


Topical Retinoids


Although also made from vitamin A, topical retinoids aren’t as strong as accutane. That means they might be better for sensitive skin or if your cystic acne isn’t too serious.


Instead of taking a pill each day, you smear on some gel, cream, or lotion on the infected area gently and wait for it to take effect.




Although usually used as a diuretic, Aldactone is an effective treatment for cystic acne. The downside is that you’ll need to hydrate more since the medication will cause you to pee quite often. Don’t worry though, this is a normal side-effect of a diuretic and nothing to panic about!


Aldactone reduces the amount of a hormone, called androgen, in your body, which is often responsible for those annoying zits.


Birth Control Pills


Like Aldactone, birth control pills regulate your hormones. Some people notice that they are prone to getting acne, the cystic kind, and other types, based on the time of the month. Contraceptive pills keep the hormones in your body at a constant level, and can reduce your acne significantly.




Depending on how large the cystic acne is or how much of your body is covered, your dermatologist may prescribe oral antibiotics in addition to another medication. Antibiotics don’t do anything to unclog your pores, but they do reduce swelling and redness, as well as pain.


Your doctor won’t prescribe you antibiotics for a long period of time because of how they interact with your body’s natural chemistry. However, they might be useful when you start treating the acne to bring down the size of your cysts to something more manageable.


How to Prevent Cystic Acne


Now that you know how to tell what cystic acne is, you’re probably wondering how to prevent it. We don’t blame you. Preventing cystic acne looks a lot like preventing other types of acne, but these are the four best tips to try when you want your face and body to be clean and clear.


Tip 1: Find Your Calm 


This one is probably easier said than done. Stress is an unfortunate excuse because it's one more thing to worry about, but sadly, tension takes a toll on certain areas of the body.


Stress leads to low sleep efficiency, changes in your eating habits, and less exercise. Plus, if you're burned out and strapped for time, you may not spend as much time taking care of your skin as you should. It's a vicious cycle, and one that’s hard to break.


Take time to meditate, do yoga, stretch out your aching muscles, read some books, or partake in other activities that make it easier for you to relax and remain calm. Trust us—your skin is going to thank you for enjoying a little chill time.


Tip 2: Cut Out Tobacco


We're going to give it to you straight—smoking just isn't good for you. We also recognize the adverse effects of smoke and nicotine on the body. Thankfully,  there are a lot of tools out there to help you stop.


One of the main side-effects of smoking is acne growth. Quitting will trigger a positive impact on your acne, and it changes nearly every part of your wellbeing. It takes a lot of determination and commitment to stop, but it's worth it for all the rewards you'll reap afterward.


Tip 3: Wash Your Face Regularly


This one might seem obvious, but it’s about more than using a cleanser and rinsing your face on a regular basis. A cleaner with benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid might be helpful, but consult a doctor first as these can be extremely strong. 


It’s important to thoroughly clean your face after wearing makeup all day, even if you’re exhausted and about ready to collapse. Spending all night grinding makeup into your face is just inviting acne.


When it comes to washing your face, be gentle with your sensitive skin, and don't wash too frequently. Overwashing can actually lead to increased oil production, which is the opposite of what you're going for. 


Exfoliating scrubs out the grime and dirt from your pores and stops it from building up under your skin and causing acne in the first place. It’s also a gentle way to treat pre-existing acne. And remember, don’t pick at your acne!


Tip 4: Make Time for The Mask


When it comes to stopping pesky breakouts with a solid skincare routine, Gleamin’s face mask has got you covered. Clay helps promote blood flow in your face, which protects your skin. The Kakadu Plum provides Vitamin C that enhances endurance and works together with the turmeric to level out your complexion and strike back against breakouts.


With a clay mask, you know that the toxins from the day won’t be sitting on your face, clogging up your pores.


The Aloe Vera relieves any extra discoloration from the pores as they are purified, and then all the toxins and debris are drawn out and sealed in the clay mask. Keep it on for another 10 minutes, and wipe it away with all the grime it has soaked up. Rest assured, you have clean, safe, acne-free skin now.


Get Your Glow On


There are a number of ways to combat acne, but the main one is to stay on top of it. If cystic acne is a perpetual cycle in your life, it’s time to break it. 


If you struggle with cystic acne, enlist the help of your dermatologist to find the right medicine that makes your complexion crystal clear. After all, who doesn’t want to trade in their cystic acne for a glowing complexion?




What Is Cystic Acne and How Is It Treated? | Healthline


Oral Spironolactone in Post-teenage Female Patients with Acne Vulgaris | NCBI


Cystic Acne | WebMD

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