Raise your hand if you’re well-acquainted with cystic acne—you know, those deep red bumps that tend to linger on your face no matter what acne treatment or cleanser you use. Not all acne is the same, and cystic acne is the hardest and most painful type to live with. It's the most severe type of acne and requires specific professional treatments and skincare ingredients to cure. To get a better idea of how to handle this issue, we spoke with dermatologists Jeannette Graf, M.D., and Robert Anolik of the Laser & Skin Surgery Center of New York. Scroll down to see what they have to say below.
What is cystic acne?
As opposed to other types of acne, like whiteheads and blackheads, cystic acne forms underneath the skin rather than on the surface. Dr. Graf explains that it grows into deep and painful lumps that can occur for anyone, but are especially prevalent in those with oily skin.
Dr. Anolik agrees, saying cystic acne is more than just a clogged pore; it involves swelling beneath the skin surface and is comprised of oil, bacteria, skin fragments, and sometimes pus. He says several triggers can cause cystic acne, like hormonal changes, bacteria accumulation, and clogged pores.
What does cystic acne look like?
Cystic acne is typically large, inflamed, and pus-filled—they typically look like small boils.
What skincare ingredients treat cystic acne?
Dr. Graf says that most over-the-counter treatments won’t be strong enough to treat it. However, if you are looking for something you can do at home, she says to look for products with adapalene, which reduces inflammation and redness and unclogs pores. Benzoyl peroxide and lipo-hydroxy acid work too, as they remove dead cells and penetrate the skin to treat the bacteria underneath the surface. Other ingredients Dr. Graf recommends include salicylic acid and tea tree oil, which further reduce inflammation.
And a well-curated skincare regimen is beneficial for all types of acne. Dr. Graf says to use a gentle exfoliation product with AHAs and BHAs, like the ISDIN Night Peel Ampoules or her Two-Piece Glycolic Retexturing Pads and Cleanser Set, to remove pore-clogging dead skin cells and help keep skin clear and smooth.
Shop it! $38, amazon.com
What other treatments can fix cystic acne?
Dr. Graf recommends consulting with your dermatologist for a prescription, such as oral antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. For a quick fix, she says that you can opt for cortisone injections to reduce inflammation and shrink the swelling, or light therapy to target the bacteria beneath the skin’s surface. However, if hormones are playing a role in your cystic acne formation, Dr. Anolik says that some dermatologists will consider birth control or spironolactone to regulate those hormones.