Almost 80% of people will experience acne at some point in their lives, but everyone experiences acne a little differently. Some are more prone to non-inflammatory acne, otherwise known as blackheads and whiteheads. Others experience moderate inflammatory acne, which shows up as inflamed, red bumps on the skin, then others have more severe forms of inflammatory acne like cystic acne.
What is cystic acne?
Cystic acne is one of the most severe forms of acne. Not only are cystic acne lesions larger than others, but they also tend to be very painful, which makes them extra hard to ignore and treat. Cystic acne is a type of inflammatory acne that occurs when the follicle becomes clogged with sebum and dead skin, forming a clogged pore. When the clogged pore becomes infected with bacteria, it turns into inflammatory acne. When the infection moves deeper under the skin, the lesion turns into a cyst.
Why does it happen?
It’s not known precisely why cystic acne occurs or what makes someone more susceptible to it. Changes in hormone levels, taking certain medications, new skincare products, sweating, or high humidity while wearing tight clothes are all thought to cause acne. Cystic acne is most likely to occur in teens, those with oilier skin, and those who have a family history of it.
How to treat it
Start treatment early
It’s common to feel the pain of cystic acne under the skin before it even pops up on the surface. As soon as you notice a pimple brewing under your skin, start an acne treatment regimen containing salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide to open pores and kill bacteria. You can also apply ice where you feel the pain to help calm inflammation.
NEVER try to pop them
Never pop or pick any pimple. This is especially true with cystic acne. Popping these lesions will only lead to scarring, increased inflammation, the spread of bacteria, and a prolonged healing process. If you have trouble keeping your hands away, put a pimple patch on your pimples.
Cleanse twice daily
Wash your face twice a day with a gentle cleanser. Using a face wash is necessary to remove oil and dirt from your skin that settles on the surface throughout the day. Make sure, though, to use a gentle, pH-balanced face wash. If you use a harsh cleanser or cleanse too often during the day, it will irritate and dry out your skin, signaling it to produce even more oil.
Minimize products used
When dealing with a severe breakout, it’s essential to minimize the amounts of products you use. Areas on your skin with breakouts have a compromised skin barrier, which makes the skin more sensitive than when it's breakout-free. To prevent irritation, use the minimal amount of products necessary. Stick to a gentle cleanser, an acne treatment, and a non-comedogenic moisturizer.
See a dermatologist
The best way to treat cystic acne that doesn't respond to over-the-counter treatments is to see a dermatologist. Dermatologists can evaluate your breakouts and develop a treatment plan with you. They can also prescribe medications like antibiotics, isotretinoin, and steroids that you can’t get over the counter. For some people, these stronger medications might be necessary to see results.