How to get rid of cystic acne
Acne comes in all shapes, sizes and forms, but cystic acne is the most severe. It appears as large, deep, pus-filled bumps on the skin that are painful and cause scarring. The bump, or cyst, starts when a pore gets clogged with oil along with bacteria that builds up deep within your skin.
While cystic acne usually appears on the face, it can also breakout on your neck, chest, shoulders and back. And, although you’re most likely to get cystic acne in your teens or early 20s, it can happen as young as 8 or as old as 50.
“Cystic acne can last for years,” says Dr. Katherine Garrity, dermatologist at Aurora Medical Center in Summit, WI. “Because it can affect large areas of your skin and leave permanent scars, don’t wait for it to disappear on its own. And over-the-counter products and home remedies often have little effect on this type of acne. It’s best to reach out to a dermatologist, who will have the most advanced, most effective treatments for you.”
Living with severe acne can also lead to poor self-esteem, depression or anxiety. Getting treatment for acne not only can clear up the cysts but can also boost your confidence and improve mental health.
What causes cystic acne?
Doctors aren’t entirely sure. Hormonal changes can trigger cystic acne, such as those during puberty and young adulthood, or changes caused by certain medications, menstruation, pregnancy or menopause. Certain skin and hair care products can be a factor, and genetics can play a role, too. If one of your parents had cystic acne, you’re more likely to have it. This is especially true with adult acne, which occurs after age 25.
What doesn’t cause cystic acne?
Despite what you may have heard, eating chocolate or greasy foods like chips and fries does not cause acne. However, certain foods such as dairy or high glycemic foods may cause acne to become worse, so Dr. Garrity recommends keeping a food diary and discussing any observations with your dermatologist.
Treating cystic acne
While cystic acne is challenging to treat and it may take a few months to see improvement, dermatologists have an arsenal of highly effective oral and topical prescription medications to recommend as part of your treatment plan. These include:
- Antibiotics to control bacterial infection and inflammation
- Isotretinoin (such as brand name Accutane), which resets how your pores shed skin cells and how much oil your skin produces, and highly regarded as the most effective medication for acne. Your dermatologist will closely monitor you for any side effects, which nearly all are easily controlled.
- Birth control pills for women to regulate hormones
- Spironolactone for adult women, which targets hormones
“Cystic acne can be painful and persistent,” Dr. Garrity says. “But with a dermatologist’s help, a little patience and the right treatment, it can be significantly reduced or eliminated so you can get back to looking and feeling your best.”
About the Author
Mary Arens, health enews contributor, is a senior content specialist at Advocate Aurora Health in Milwaukee. She has 20+ years of experience in communications plus a degree in microbiology. Outside of work, Mary makes healthy happen with hiking, yoga, gardening and walks with her dog, Chester.