Like with most problems in life, the challenge of dealing with acne depends on its severity. Sure, the occasional rash, or redness, or a pimple or two might make you feel self-conscious. But whenever you get such a mild type of acne inflammation, you should really be thanking the heavens. You are part of a large, and fairly comfortable majority that doesn’t have to deal with the plight of cystic acne. But before we go on to explain how to treat cystic acne, let’s learn more about what it is.
Yes, and consider yourself lucky if you haven’t heard of it. If acne was a video game, cystic acne would be like the end boss. You have to use everything at your disposal and try hard to beat it. Acne usually begins with a clogged pore or two, which form either whiteheads (closed comedones) or blackheads (open comedones). These are easy to treat and fairly harmless - even popping them won’t lead to scarring. But if they end up infected by bacteria, or they simply become too clogged by sebum (skin oil), these blackheads and whiteheads can turn to pimples. Now, pimples are already unsightly and a problem. But they are still somewhat easy to get rid of. However, when pimples turn to pustules, and those to cystic acne, we have a serious problem.
Cystic acne resembles large, irregularly shaped, sometimes wobbly nodules in the skin. They are large and irregular because they have damaged the lower layers of the skin, and they are wobbly because they’re filled with pus and blood. Try to pop them, or squeeze them, and not only will you be in intense pain, but you will also risk causing yourself lifelong scars.
Well, there’s no easy answer for that. Depending on the underlying cause of the cystic acne, your body will respond to some treatments better than others. Sometimes, it can be caused by a bacterial infection. But other times it can be due to genetics or hormonal changes in your body. For that reason, it’s always necessary to consult with your doctor and dermatologist before going forward with any treatments. Medical professionals will be able to tell you precisely what kind of acne you are dealing with, as well as the appropriate treatments for it.
Cystic acne can sometimes appear on oddly specific areas of the body. Usually, they appear on the face, the chin or the neck, but the back and the chest aren’t spared too. For those of you who wonder about how to deal with cystic acne on a specific area of your body, consult our articles on how to treat cystic acne on the chin and cystic acne on the neck, respectively.
For the sake of clarity, the solutions in this article here have been organized into two categories: medical treatments, and other treatments (including home remedies).
Science is trying hard to find a miracle cure for acne, especially cystic ones, but so far it remains out of reach. However, there are several medical treatments that can be very beneficial for treating cystic acne, some of them showing very high effectiveness.
Also known as Roaccutane and Isotretinoin, Accutane is one of the most powerful weapons that modern medicine deploys against cystic acne. It is a retinoid, which means a variant of Vitamin A, which is one of the crucial vitamins in maintaining skin health. Besides Accutane, there is a class of weaker, and safer substances called retinoids which are often used in skincare and anti-acne creams.
But why is Accutane so powerful? Well, because the effects it has aren't merely constrained to the superficial level. Accutane works on a deep cellular level, affecting the DNA of the cells themselves. This is why Accutane is also one of the strictest medical treatments to use. It's sheer power and deeply restorative properties can cause serious side effects. From depression, persistent headaches, swollen and painful joints, all the way to birth defects, Accutane is not to be trifled with.
However, the payoffs are totally worth it, at least according to most people who have tried Accutane. The therapy is difficult to endure, since it involves months of waiting and many anxiety-inducing challenges. But with a success rate of 85%, one would say enduring some routines and dealing with some bearable side effects is a fair price. When successful, Accutane transforms people's faces from crater-ridden surfaces resembling the Moon to a buttery smooth, clear skin. For more in-depth information on all the details and aspects of this treatment, visit our article dedicated to Accutane for acne.
These may be less effective than Accutane but are still helpful in the overall treatment of cystic acne. Antibiotics such as tetracycline, clindamycin, erythromycin, metronidazole, and others are often prescribed by doctors or dermatologists. Most of these antibiotics can often be applied in two ways - either as topical solutions or taken orally.
Most often, your doctor or dermatologist will prescribe you a topical antibiotic. As the name suggests, these come in the form of creams, gels, tinctures and so on, and need to be applied on the cystic acne itself. Topical antibiotics can reduce inflammation since they kill infectious bacteria.
Oral antibiotics for cystic acne are your usual pill or tablet - you will need to swallow a dose that your doctor will prescribe to you. When taking oral antibiotics it is crucial to be consistent with the doses and the schedules. An antibiotic needs a few days until it reaches a saturation level when it can influence the harmful bacteria. The skin is difficult to reach as it is, so when dealing with a serious acne inflammation, make sure that you take your prescribed antibiotics religiously. For more on antibiotics for cystic acne and strong medications, head over to our guide covering strong acne medications.
Obviously, this only applies to you if you happen to be a woman. Sometimes, cystic acne can be caused by hormonal changes. If this is the case with you (after you visit your doctor, obviously) you will probably be prescribed estrostep, tricyclen, or YAZ birth control pills. Birth control pills are useful for rebalancing the estrogen and progesterone hormones, thus eliminating the root cause for hormonal cystic acne. However, be very careful when taking any hormonal therapy, since the consequences can drag on for a long time.
As we said in the introduction, under “other” we deem any procedure, treatment or remedy that doesn’t need a doctor’s prescription. These can range from DIY solutions to topical treatments and face masks. Let’s see.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and sometimes those measures can be a little gross. But what would you do if you woke up with an especially large, painful, and, well… gross cystic acne on your face? And there was an important meeting on the very same day? Or, God forbid, a date!
Right, I’m panicking too! But no need, you’re in safe hands. Of course, it’s always best to visit your dermatologist and let them drain your cyst professionally. But when circumstances call for it and you’re out of time, you can safely drain a cyst on your own too. To learn how to do it, check out our article on how to drain a cyst with a needle.
So, there you are, face all going through yet another cystic acne inflammation. You badly need to do something about it, but… The doctor isn’t available, and your dermatologist decided to take their summer holiday. So, what are you going to do? Sitting on your hands is not an option.
Lucky for you, we have taken the time to do some research and provide a list of some of the best DIY spot treatments for acne. From crushed aspirin to face packs, ice packs, clay masks, honey, tea tree oil and more, these spot treatments can - at least - alleviate your cystic acne if not cure it. For more information and a dozen recipes, visit our article on DIY spot treatments for acne.
Don’t let the phrase “chemical peel” put you off - it’s a pretty safe and controlled procedure involving the application of an exfoliating substance, such as salicylic acid, to the skin. The purpose of a chemical peel is to remove - and rejuvenate - the surface layer of the skin. This is why chemical peels are mostly used in the treatment of scars. Which is a much greater problem for people with cystic acne.
The body regenerates the surface layers of the skin after a period of recovery, smoothing out any wrinkles or uneven areas. There are 3 types of chemical peel procedures, organized by their reach: light chemical peel (or, ‘superficial peel’), medium chemical peel, and deep chemical peel.
Of course, before choosing to try a chemical peel for your cystic acne you have to consult with your doctor or dermatologist. After all, you don’t want to hurt yourself, right? For more details on chemical peels and whether you should get one, check out our article on chemical peels for acne.
Serious problems require serious solutions, and that might be the case for cystic acne. It is considered the most severe type of acne inflammation, the causes of which can vary anywhere from genetics, to hormones, to a nasty bacterial infection. While there are a number of DIY solutions and home remedies that you can try to make it easier for you (ice packs feel great), you should really think about speaking to your doctor and dermatologist. Science has some very powerful tools at disposal when it comes to dealing with cystic acne, so you shouldn’t hesitate. Sometimes, letting the professionals take care of us is the best thing we can do for ourselves.
This information is meant to supplement, not replace advice from your doctor or healthcare provider and is not meant to cover all possible uses, precautions, interactions or adverse effects. This information may not fit your specific health circumstances, and its goal is to offer a general view of the subject. In case you are suffering from a severe case of acne, you should consult with a dermatologist or a certified medical professional.