Cystic Acne - What Is It And How To Deal With It?

Welcome to the second part of our series on what we know about acne-prone skin. If you missed the first part, you can find it right hereFor those of us who have dealt with acne throughout our lives, perhaps one of the most painful, annoying, and most stubborn kinds is cystic acne. Anyone who has experienced cystic acne knows how much of a pain in the butt it can be. It not only hurts, but it might affect your self-confidence as well.

Never fear! As part of our quest to help you love the skin you're in and help you be your best self, we've found some information about cystic acne so you're well informed and can find a treatment that's right for you.

So, What Is Cystic Acne?

Cystic acne is more than just a simple pimple. Cystic acne is the most severe type of inflammatory acne. It usually appears on the face, arms, and back. Severe cystic acne usually affects men more than women, and can develop in your teens or early 20s. Around 80% of people have experienced acne at one point in their lives, so you're definitely not alone!

A normal pimple is formed when oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria become trapped in a pore, which then becomes red and swollen. Cystic acne differs from normal acne in that this infection is deep in your skin (instead of on the surface) and creates a red, tender, and possibly painful bump that is full of pus. This bump can be particularly tender or itchy.

What Causes It?

Unfortunately, this isn't an easy answer, as scientists aren't 100% sure what causes cystic acne.

However, most agree that hormonal changes can cause cystic acne outbreaks, and not chocolate, greasy foods, nuts, or poor hygiene. These hormonal changes can be puberty, pregnancy, menopause, or any other fluctuation in your hormone levels. Cystic acne can also be genetic, so if one of your parents had it, you are more likely to have it as well.

Certain medications, dairy, excess sweat, and stress have all been found to worsen cystic acne, so if you find yourself with an outbreak right before that big deadline, that may be why.

What Should I Do If I Have An Outbreak?

cystic acne

If you have an outbreak of cystic acne, don't freak out! Here are some of our tips to handle an outbreak:

Tip #1: The absolute number one rule if you have an outbreak of cystic acne is, don't pop your cysts! I know how satisfying it can be to pop your pimples, but it is one of the worst things you can do for your skin, especially if you suffer from cystic acne.

By squeezing your cysts, you're more likely to spread the infection than to cure it, as it can push the infection deeper into your skin or even cause new cysts to form. Attempting to pop the cysts can also cause scarring after the infection heals, and that's the last thing we want on your beautiful skin!

Tip #2: Don't panic. Cystic acne happens once in a while, and the best thing to do is continue taking care of your skin with whatever treatment you have found that works best for you. Keep your skin exfoliated, clean, and moisturized, and most importantly, don't touch!

Tip #3: If your cystic acne makes an appearance, take some time out of your day for a little self-care. Since stress seems to be a factor in worsening cystic acne, finding time to relax could help to reduce it. Anything that helps you to relax can help. From your favorite movie to yoga to a warm bath, take some time out of your day to focus on you. And don’t forget to get enough sleep, too!

Tip #4: If you have a severe outbreak of cystic acne, or have been dealing with cystic acne for a long time, it may be worth checking in with a dermatologist to see if they can help you find a treatment that works for you. Sometimes acne is completely beyond our control. You might have tried every treatment in the book and still have problems. Just know that it's ok to go to a doctor for treatment, especially as dermatologists are trained to deal with this.

To Recap...

Limitations:  As with most things, each of us is different, so there is never a "one size fits all" treatment. Everyone's solutions for treating their acne is going to be different, as everyone's skin is different. So don't let it get you down if your best friend's treatment doesn't work for you. Instead, use it as an opportunity to explore what may work best for your skin. And if you have been struggling with cystic acne for a long time, maybe look into a consultation with a dermatologist.

The bottom line:  While cystic acne can be frustrating and painful, don't let it get you down! Like most things, cystic acne is a part of life. Hormonal changes happen, and cystic acne is not caused by diet, exercise, or cleanliness. The best thing you can do for yourself when you have an outbreak is to keep treating your skin well and loving the skin you're in. When suffering from an outbreak of cystic acne, try to take time out of your day to treat yourself -- whether to a nice, cleansing facemask, or an activity you love. The better you feel inside, the better you'll feel outside!

Key Takeaways:

  1. Cystic acne is one of the most severe types of acne.
  2. It is caused by hormonal changes in the body and is also a genetic condition.
  3. Dairy, stress, and other factors can exacerbate symptoms, so try to relax if you have an outbreak.
  4. Most importantly, don’t attempt to pop the pustules, as this can cause scarring.
  5. Continue with your normal skincare routine during an outbreak, and if it is particularly bad, seek help from a dermatologist.