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How to Clear Cystic Acne

How to Clear Cystic Acne

Cystic acne isn’t only painful. It can be a real pain to treat! Besides turning up at the worst possible moment (like right before a hot date), cystic acne breakouts tend to stick around a lot longer than your average blackhead or whitehead.

Fortunately, there are ways to get rid of those painful stubborn bumps. Ahead, everything you need to know about cystic acne, from what causes it to how you can treat it.


What is Cystic Acne?

According to the derms, cystic acne is the most severe type of acne. Characterized by tender nodules underneath the skin, cystic acne has a reputation for being exceptionally stubborn to traditional acne treatments, and it can hang around a lot longer than anticipated.

"Cystic acne is different from regular acne because it is deeper, often tender nodules," says board-certified dermatologist Brian Hibler, M.D., of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City. "The individual lesions are often bigger than regular acne bumps and persist for a longer duration before resolving."

These stubborn cysts can show up on the face, chest, and back. They usually show up repeatedly in the same location. That’s why it’s best to get them treated, or else they won’t be your last.


What Causes Cystic Acne?

Everyone can get cystic acne. However, it is mostly caused by factors such as age, stress, and genetics. Hormonal changes also play a role. Androgen hormones like testosterone cause a spike in oil production causing pores to become clogged and blemishes to form. This is most likely to happen during one’s menstrual cycle when hormone levels go up and down.

Oily skin types are also more prone to cystic breakouts. Excess oil clogs the pores, causing cystic acne flare ups.

Even certain foods can trigger cystic pimples, as per the derms. While diet probably won’t be the sole cause of cystic acne, certain foods have been associated with making acne worse, such as milk, sugar, and whey protein.


How to Get Rid of Cystic Acne

Now for the fun part: your cystic acne treatment options. While it may be a severe acne type that’s challenging to treat, it certainly isn’t impossible to see the end of cystic acne. Here are all your options for treating cystic acne and manifesting clearer skin.

Attack with Acids

Your cleanser is like your therapy. Pick a face wash formulated with exfoliating acids such as salicylic acid and glycolic acid, which work to lift dirt, sebum, and dead skin cells from the skin’s surface. They also help to purify within the pore to help prevent future zits.

You’ll find these acids in a range of skincare products including cleansers, toners, spot treatments, face masks, and even some moisturizers. In addition to declogging pores and bringing pimples to the surface, these hydroxy acids resurface skin, thereby minimizing the appearance of acne scars and hyperpigmentation.

And the icing on the cake: regular exfoliation preps skin for enhanced production penetration, meaning your topical treatments will work their absolute hardest when applied to freshly buffed skin.


Apply a Spot Treatment

There are plenty over-the-counter treatments you can use to gradually alleviate acne cysts. That said, the magic is all in the active ingredients. When choosing a spot treatment, look for either benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid — or both!

Benzoyl peroxide lowers levels of acne-causing bacteria on the skin, thus reducing inflammation and preventing future breakouts. Don’t worry if you have sensitive skin. In spite of its reputation, it can be gentle enough for delicate skin without causing unpleasant side effects like dryness and irritation.

"Studies have shown that even low concentrations of benzoyl peroxide are as effective as higher concentrations, but are associated with less dryness of the skin," says board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, M.D.


Try Tea Tree Oil

A fantastic home remedy for cystic acne is tea tree oil. With its powerful anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, tea tree oil helps to reduce the amount of acne-causing bacteria sitting on the skin and simultaneously quell inflammation.

Those with acne-prone skin should keep a bottle of this essential oil at home for whenever the next pimple pops up. It’s a quick fix for pesky zits!


Visit Your Derm

In some cases, over-the-counter treatments may not be strong enough to treat cystic acne. If you’ve included the steps above in your daily skincare routine and you’re seeing no improvement after 4-5 weeks, seek guidance from a dermatologist.

There are various topical and oral medications they can prescribe to tackle cystic breakouts. One of the most common is retinoids, which help increase cell turnover and ultimately unclog pores. Dermatologists will typically prescribe a topical retinoid such as tretinoin or adapalene, or oral isotretinoin (accutane). Unlike retinol (vitamin A) found in OTC formulas, retinoids are much more potent and able to work faster and even more effectively.

If your dermatologist a hormonal issue is behind your cystic acne, they may prescribe birth control pills to help balance your hormones and limit oil production.


How to Prevent Cystic Acne

To stop cystic acne from occurring in the first place, it’s important to follow an acne-fighting, oil-balancing routine that consists of a salicylic acid-based cleanser, spot treatment, oil-free moisturizer, and non-comedogenic sunscreen.

Don’t overdo it with thick, rich creams or facial oils, which can easily clog the pores and trigger cystic blemishes. It’s also important to exfoliate regularly to shed dead skin cells and keep pores clear.


Shop Cystic Acne Skincare

Anti-Blemish Body Scrub

An invigorating scrub made with salicylic acid and vitamin C to dry out excess oils, dislodge buildup, and keep skin clear.



Glow Mask

An exfoliating mask powered by glycolic acid to decongest pores, bring breakouts to the surface, and fade acne scars.



Hydrate Serum

A lightweight, flash-absorbing moisturizer of hyaluronic acid and vitamin B5 to deeply hydrate skin, plump out lines, and promote a healthy clear complexion.



You can find more of our acne-fighting skincare products at Walmart and CVS Beauty.


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