Have you ever had a pimple that didn’t behave like a traditional pimple? Was it not your typical white-headed, pus-filled sac, but rather more of a hard, painful lump just under the skin that just wouldn’t go away? Then congratulations! You’ve experienced cystic acne!
Cystic acne is caused by the same thing as regular acne: the bacteria p. acnes. Where regular acne is on the surface of the skin, the manifestation of a clogged pore, cystic acne occurs deeper in the pore, causing that swollen, painful bump many of us are so familiar with. Cystic acne is often very painful to the touch, or sometimes even when not touched. One of the biggest issues is that often the cyst will burst under the skin, especially if you pick at it. This causes the infection to spread to other areas and can lead to more acne.
The biggest reason why cystic acne occurs is because of hormonal changes. It’ll often spring up when you hit puberty, when you’re pregnant, during menopause, or when other events cause your androgen hormones to go out of what. If you have ovaries, cystic acne can also manifest as a result of polycystic ovary syndrome. In women, these cysts will often appear on the lower half of the face, but they can spring up anywhere. Men will get cystic acne on their back, chest, or face. These are just common patterns, but anyone can get cystic acne anywhere.
So how do you treat it? Well, there are a few options. I’ll start with this disclaimer: if your cystic acne is having a severe impact on your life in some way, be it the discomfort you experience physically or low self-esteem issues, please see a doctor about it. Talk to a general practitioner, who may know enough to prescribe some treatments to you, or who may guide you to a dermatologist they trust. Only a doctor can prescribe what you really need to beat cystic acne prescription-wise, and they may be your best bet. Here’s what your doctor can do for you.
Antibiotics: I’m the first to preach about the overuse of antibiotics, but if you have super severe acne, it may be a bacterial infection that won’t go away until you actually kill off the bacteria using antibiotics. Definitely worth a shot if your doctor decides that’s the best path for you.
Hormone Therapy: Sometimes it’s overactive androgens that cause cystic acne, so there are hormone therapies available that may balance things out and reduce the occurrence of acne.
Isoretinoin: You may know this as Accutane, and that might scare you. I won’t pretend that Accutane doesn’t come with a lot of side effects; it does. But it can work for some people. It’s definitely harsh on the skin, so if that makes you nervous ask about other options before going for the nuclear option, as it were.
If, for whatever reason, you can’t get to a doctor or dermatologist, read on!
Get a routine: Honestly, one of the best things you can do for your skin is to develop a routine, and more importantly, to stick to that routine. Keep everything the same every day, from what face wash you use to your moisturizer to your toner. The only way to get results from products is to use them consistently. Check out my post for starting a routine HERE.
Topical: I find that tea tree oil helps to soothe my cystic acne. I’ll dab a little on using a Q-Tip at night and sleep with it on and I’ll usually wake up to a greatly reduced bump. I also like using sulfur ointment the same way to treat all kinds of acne. If your skin can handle it, try benzoyl peroxide. It helps kill the bacteria that causes acne and may help prevent the cysts from forming in the first place. There’s also the ever-important process of exfoliation. BHAs can get into your pores and clean them out to prevent clogs while AHAs will cause increased skin turnover and heal bumps faster. Check out my exfoliation tips HERE.
If you suffer from cystic acne, I am truly sorry. As I’m writing this, I have a lot of big, nasty cysts on my forehead and jawline that don’t want to go away, so believe me when I say that I feel your pain. But just remember, there are options out there! Try different things and see what works for you! And remember, there’s no shame in going to see a dermatologist! That’s what they’re here for!
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