Cystic Acne: Everything You Need to Know About Cysts

Most young people get acne in their teens and twenties. For some people, acne is a lifelong problem. But if your breakouts are large, red and painful, then what you have is possibly cystic acne.

You can get cystic acne on chin,on back, on forehead, on nose and neck, and in other places. It’s generally painful and can last for a long time if you don’t treat it. Unlike acne, which many people ignore and it cures on its own, cystic acne has a remedy.

You should not ignore it . Instead, you should learn more about its causes, removal methods and how best to avoid cystic acne scars.

What is Cystic Acne?

If you look at cystic acne images on Google, you’ll find large, red and swollen pimples. It is different from your usual zits. They are actually a more severe form of acne. Acne occurs when dead skin cells block the oil glands in the pores of your skin.

 When bacteria get trapped inside the pore as well, it can lead to swelling and redness. Pimples, blackheads, whiteheads and other common forms of acne can usually be treated with over-the-counter medicines.

In cystic acne, the infection goes deeper under the skin. Since the infection forms deep below the skin tissue, it is not easy for OTC medicines to heal them. The cysts are pus-filled and painful. They may also be itchy.

Cysts are often a big cause of embarrassment. Many teens with cysts tend to become less social. It is best to treat this acne as quickly as you can, to prevent it from lingering.

It can also take a long time to heal. Leaving it alone is not an option. Not all cystic acne remedies may work for you. At the same time, it’s important to use the right treatment for cystic acne, to prevent scarring. If not treated with care, cysts can lead to scars.

Can you pop Cystic Acne?

Many people aren’t aware that cysts doesn’t come to a head, like pimples and other forms of acne. Since the acne is embedded deep in the skin, it doesn’t come to a head that you can pop like acne.

In fact, it is not recommended to try to pop cysts, since it can lead to infection. If you pick at a cyst, you only end up interfering with the skin’s natural healing process.

Picking at the cyst can lead to bleeding and a painful bump and scab that is hard to hide with makeup.

Who Can Get Cystic Acne?

Cystic acne is more common in teenagers and young people in their twenties. Some skin specialists believe the condition is more common among boys, though girls also suffer from it.

Many women may experience cystic acne around the time of their menstrual cycles. Almost eighty percent people between the ages of eleven and thirty experience acne at some point in their lives.

Some people in their forties and fifties may also get cystic acne.

Where Can You Get Cystic Acne?

Cystic acne can occur anywhere on your body where there are sweat glands. You can get cystic acne around the mouth.

It is particularly common on the chin, neck, forehead, nose and back. A cyst anywhere on your face or on the visible areas of your body can be embarrassing.

But with timely cystic acne treatment, you can clear the embarrassing cystic acne breakout like it never happened.

You can also get it in other areas, such as the underarm. Note that not all underarm lumps are cysts. A cyst under the armpits can be particularly annoying.

Besides cystic acne in the armpits, you can also get cystic acne around the breasts. Of course, make sure to get any lumps on your chest checked out by a doctor for other diagnoses.

How Long Do Cystic Acne Scars Last?

The bad news is that cystic acne scars can last for weeks and months. Cystic acne scars are caused by inflammation under the dermis or the true skin which lies just under the surface layer of your skin.

This is the layer where you’ll find sweat glands, nerve endings, hair follicles, blood capillaries etc. In the case of cystic acne, inflammation in this layer triggers the production of pigment cells in the skin.

This causes scarring, especially among people with darker complexions since they have a lot of melanin.

UV rays of the sun help in the production of melanin and may actually cause scarsto darken. Wearing sunscreen can help to protect your skin against these effects. You can also apply a product with vitamin C in it, to lighten cystic acne scars.

What Causes Cystic Acne?

It is not entirely clear what causes cystic acne. However, it may be caused by hormonal imbalances.

This is particularly the case with women who suffer from cystic acne flares around their menstrual cycle.

Hormonal changes can also cause cystic acne in pregnant women and menopausal women. Women with polycystic ovary syndrome can also suffer from cystic acne.

Of course, hormones are at their most intense during teenage years, and that is when oil glands tend to plug up more often.

Greasy makeup can also lead to the blockage of pores and cause cystic acne. Some types of medicine may cause cystic acne as well.

Drugs like anticonvulsants, corticosteroids, barbiturates, lithium, DHEA, androgenic steroids or medications with iodides or bromides may cause cystic acne and other forms of acne.

Some skin specialists believe that cystic acne may be hereditary. This means that if one of your parents frequently suffers from cystic acne, you’re likely to get it as well.

There may also be a link between cystic acne, stress and diet. However, diet and stress may have a less significant role to play in causing cystic acne as compared to genetics and hormones.

Is Cystic Acne Hereditary?

Scientists have studied the relationship between acne and genes in several studies. One particular study looked at 1099 pairs of fraternal twins and 458 pairs of identical twins, to find out the correlation between acne, genetics and the environment.

In other words, the aim of the study was to find out the relative importance of genetics versus environment in causing acne.

The results of the study were significant. It found that genes could explain 81 percent of the difference between those who get acne and those who don’t.

Only 19 percent acne could be explained by factors like stress and diet, which were not shared between twins.

Other studies have found that the production of sebum may be genetic, rather than the severity of the acne. Some researchers think that the genes you inherit from your parents may influence how severe your acne is.

Yet another study found that having a relative in your immediate family with acne increases your chances of having it by 4 times. How do genes affect your chances of getting acne? Genes actually affect the sensitivity of your skin to hormones.

In other words, two people with the same levels of androgen hormones but having healthy skin and acne-prone skin respectively will be affected in different ways by the hormone.

Genes will also influence how your skin responds to bacteria. Acne-prone skin will have a greater inflammatory response to bacteria trapped in the pores.

Because of this genetic factor, diet and lifestyle changes may or may not improve cystic acne conditions in acne-prone people.

Whatever the causes of cystic acne, it is possible to treat cystic acne. If you suffer from cystic acne, make sure to see a dermatologist or doctor and get the acne treated.

How to Cure Cystic Acne: Cystic Acne Treatments

Many people resort to home remedies like clay masks, hydrocolloid bandages and warm compresses to try to bring cystic acne to a head. These are not likely to help.

In fact, trying to bring cystic acne to a head may actually exacerbate the problem.

Lancing or squeezing the cyst can further irritate it, cause it to swell more and even cause infection.

The time the cyst takes to heal will also be longer. There’s also the chance that you may rupture the wall of the cyst. This could lead to the infection spreading into the surrounding areas under your skin.

Instead, there are tried and tested topical medications that your doctor will prescribe to treat cystic acne.

Note that over-the-counter treatments that work for acne may not work against cystic acne. That is why you should see a doctor or dermatologist, and not try dubious cystic acne cures on your own.


Since cystic acne is caused by bacteria, your doctor may prescribe oral antibiotics.

Antibiotics help to control the bacteria and reduce swelling. Some common antibiotics for cystic acne include tetracycline, erythromycin and derivatives of these like minocycline and doxycycline.

These antibiotics are also prescribed for other forms of severe acne. Always consult a doctor before taking an antibiotic dose. The problem with antibiotics is that if you suffer from chronic cystic acne, the drugs may stop being effective after a few years.

2-Prescription topical retinoid treatment:

Along with antibiotics, your doctor may also prescribe some prescription lotions, creams or gels containing retinoid. Retinoid is a form of vitamin A that is used to unclog pores.

It comes in mild and prescription-strength formulations. It helps antibiotics to do their job. Can you mix benzoyl peroxide with retinoid creams to kill bacteria? Some people mix benzoyl peroxide with retinoid creams to kill bacteria, instead of taking antibiotics.

Skin specialists will tell you that these two products should not be used together. Benzoyl peroxide actually negates the effect of retinoid, though on its own it is good for removing dead skin.

Using them together can lead to extreme dryness, flaking, peeling, redness, blistering and scarring. If you do use such a combination, you can get some relief by taking an anti-inflammatory like aspirin and applying some hydrocortisone cream (which lowers redness and irritation).

3-Birth control pills for treatment:

Birth control pills can help women to control their hormones, particularly androgens like testosterone. This may have some effect on treating cystic acne since these hormones are responsible for stimulating the skin to produce more sebum or oil.

Too much sebum can clog pores. Dermatologists have been using these to treat acne for decades.

It is prescribed to healthy women who need contraception, after antibiotics and topical applicants have been found to not work.

 A particular study carried out in the eighties found that most people with cystic acne that doesn’t respond to conventional treatment are likely to have high levels of androgen.

Birth control pills (for women) or dexamethasone (given to men) over six months were found to improve cystic acne conditions in nearly 97 percent of the 59 women and 81 percent of the 32 men studied.

When you use a birth control pill for treating acne, you should use one that contains both oestrogen and progesterone. A pill with only progesterone can actually make your skin worse. The FDA approves Ortho Tri-Cyclen, Estrostep and YAZ for treating acne in menstruating women over the age of 14 or 15.

Ask your doctor which brand (or even an FDA-unapproved pill) may be most effective for your acne.

Can you use the Plan B Pill for cystic acne? Note that if you take the Plan B Pill, acne breakouts can actually occur rather than be cured.

The morning after pill, containing levonorgestrel gives you a massive dose of androgenic hormones which can produce cysts on the skin.

The morning after pill, containing levonorgestrel gives you a massive dose of androgenic hormones which can produce cysts on the skin.

4-Isotretinoin treatments:

This is an oral drug that is largely used to treat nodular acne. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using this drug for treating severe acne with cysts. The drug is available under the brand names Accutane, Absorica, Amnestreem, Myorisan, Claravis, Zenatane and Sotret.

A single course of isotretinoin for cystic acne can not only clear up cystic acne in 85 percent patients, it can also clear scars. Doctors recommend this drug in particular because of its effectiveness against the scars left behind by nodular and cystic acne.

Make sure to take isotretinoin only under prescription, and avoid it if you pregnant. Speak to your doctor before taking it.

5-Spironolactone treatments:

But since it has been found to be effective against cystic acne, many dermatologists prescribe spironolactone for cystic acne. The pill effectively lowers the production of sebum in the sebaceous glands.

There are some side effects, which include menstrual irregularities, tenderness of the breasts and frequent urination. Only take the pill after consulting with your doctor.

Are There Any Home Remedies to Prevent Cystic Acne?

Cystic acne clearly doesn’t have an easy cure. This means that acne home remedies may not work once the breakout has already occurred. But if you want to cure or prevent it, there are some lifestyle tips that may help you.

Tips to Prevent Cysts While you can’t do anything about sensitive skin and hormonal imbalances, there are steps you can take to prevent this kind of acne.

See an expert:

Of course, the first thing you should do if you find a cystic acne growth is to see a dermatologist ASAP. The faster that you attack the acne without allowing it to develop further, the better the chances of healing quickly without a scar.

Don’t pick the cyst:

It can’t be repeated enough that you shouldn’t pick at the cyst. If the pain and swelling are too much, you could take an Advil or apply an ice pack. This will provide some immediate relief, while it won’t cure the acne. You may also apply a soothing compress on the skin to reduce the itching and irritation. Then, see a dermatologist as soon as you can.

Wear sunscreen:

As mentioned earlier, use sunscreen to help prevent cysts scars from darkening.

Consider changing your diet:

While diet is usually not a direct trigger of cystic acne, it can increase the chances of cysts in acne prone people.

The skin has a role to play in flushing toxins from the body. When you eat too much ice cream or too much dairy in cheese, your body cannot get rid of the hard-to-digest dairy fast enough.

This results in the indigestible toxins coming out in the form of cysts around the mouth and the lower half of your face.

Other foods like milk, cream and yogurt can also trigger this kind of acne cluster. One way of finding out whether or not these foods are affecting your acne is to stay off dairy for a week or two.

If you find you have fewer cysts than you should have had by now, you may want to reduce your dairy intake permanently.

You don’t have to stop taking dairy completely. Slowly bring it back into your diet until you find a new breakout. That’s the amount of dairy your body can take.

Practice a good skincare routine:

Too much makeup is bad for acne. So are heavy moisturizers. If your skin is already full of flaky and dead skin cells, and excess oils, and you apply heavy moisturizer on top of it, you risk trapping all the dirt and oils in your pores.

Always make sure to remove your makeup before bed. And make sure to exfoliate your skin and clean it thoroughly before you moisturize. In summer, you should apply sunscreen to avoid burns and other damage. In the winter, it’s important to keep your skin thoroughly hydrated.

You can also encourage the growth of new skin cells with the help of gentle exfoliant products with salicylic acid, glycolic acid, scrubs and enzymes.

Try to avoid skin care creams with hydroquinone, which can discolor skin permanently. Instead, look for ski-brightening creams with vitamin C.

Get plenty of exercises and rest:

Lack of sleep and lack of exercise can actually increase the production of sebum on your skin. This will explain why acne-prone people are likely to see more breakouts when they don’t sleep enough or sleep late.

Lack of sleep also promotes stress, which leads to an imbalance of cortisol in the body. This further triggers excess production of sebum. On their own, stress and lack of sleep may not cause cysts on your skin.

But when combined with genetics, pregnancy or menstruation, a poor diet, a humid climate, poor skincare or hygiene and other conditions, they can surely trigger them.

Can exercise trigger cystic acne?

Some people may find that exercise can trigger breakouts. Even showering after a workout doesn’t help to prevent this. This is because exercise not only produces sweat, it also triggers more sebum secretion. This sebum is produced to help your body retain moisture, which you have lost through sweat.

The solution is to shower after exercise with a gentle cleanser that removes sweat, dirt, bacteria, oil and dead skin cells. If showering doesn’t help, you should talk to a doctor for a treatment. Some dermatologists apply a cystic acne cortisone injectionin the growing cyst. This helps to reduce inflammation and prevent scarring.

Also, wash your skin before you exercise so that dirt and cosmetics are not likely to mix with sweat and clog your pores while you workout. Make sure to wash your gym clothing and bedding regularly as well.

Take Care of Yourself

Be patient with your skin care routine and after any severe acne incident, give yourself a few months to completely cure cysts and any resulting scars. Avoid the urge to pick on the cyst. Visit a dermatologist ASAP. Make sure to get plenty of sleep and exercise, and eat a healthy diet.

All of these measures taken together can help many people say goodbye to cystic acne forever. If you want a complete cure for it, follow a healthy lifestyle and you may be able to counter the effect of genetics to a great extent.

All of these measures taken together can help many people say goodbye to cystic acne forever. If you want a complete cure for it, follow a healthy lifestyle and you may be able to counter the effect of genetics to a great extent.

Another point to keep in mind is that obsessing over acne doesn’t help. If you want to cure cystic acne, don’t let it control your life and cause undue stress. Realize that you may not be able to completely cure cystic acne even with all your efforts.

This doesn’t mean you can’t live a normal life or must suffer from low self-esteem all your life. Learn to treat it as a small inconvenience, and carry on with a healthy and happy life as far as possible.