Cystic Acne: Do You Have It? How Can You Get Rid Of It Safely?

Cystic Acne: Do You Have It? How Can You Get Rid Of It Safely?

Most people know the feeling of waking up with a pimple on their face or dealing with a mild breakout from time to time. This type of acne can usually be treated with over-the-counter topical treatments. However, there is another type of acne that isn't treated as easily: cystic acne.

What Is Cystic Acne?

While milder forms of acne live on the surface of the skin, cystic acne is a fluid-filled cyst, deeply embedded within the tissue of the skin, which never forms a head. As sebum becomes trapped within follicles in the layers of your skin, bacteria and infection occur. The pressure within the cyst can cause follicle walls to break down and infection to spread along your skin. If you're still wondering, "What is cystic acne?", consider the look and feel of your breakout. If your acne is painful or tender and looks more like a boil than a usual whitehead, you could be dealing with cystic acne.

Who Gets Cystic Acne?

Anyone can find themselves dealing with cystic acne, and it is more common than you may think. Family history can be a good indication that you may have this problem yourself, although this isn't always the case. Those in their teens and twenties, people with naturally oily skin, and those with hormonal imbalances are more likely to deal with severe acne. 

Where Does It Occur?

While most people associate severe acne with the face, it is just as common on the neck, upper arms, back, and chest. Women are more likely to notice cystic acne on the bottom half of their face and along the jawline.

What Causes Cystic Acne?

Cystic acne, like all types of acne, can be caused by a number of factors. For some people, hormone surges associated with puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and some medical conditions can be what causes cystic acne.  For others, diet is a major contributing factor to cystic acne. But rather than the old myths that chocolate and fatty food cause acne, it turns out that milk – and especially skim milk – could be the cause of your severe acne. It is now thought that the myth that a gym workout can increase acne could actually come down to increased milk consumption (usually from protein shakes) that accompany strenuous workouts.

Treatment of Cystic Acne

Cystic acne requires a different type of treatment than other types.  Over-the-counter topical medications are not usually as effective. If you have cystic acne, your first step should be to see a dermatologist, who may start you on a treatment of one or more of the following prescription medications.

Salicylic Acid

While usually associated with treating other forms of acne, many dermatologists also recommend that people with cystic acne choose facial cleansers with a high concentration of salicylic acid – a type of acid that dries out acne while removing dead skin cells and excess oil.


Isotretinoin medications are usually prescribed as a last resort for those people who don't respond to other types of acne treatments. Treatment usually lasts for about five months and provides complete and permanent results. A powerful prescription medication, isotretinoin is strongly regulated and monitored, and includes universal side effects like a dry nose, dry eyes, and dry lips, with some more serious yet less common side effects to be aware of. People taking isotretinoin need to be very careful to avoid sun exposure and must take precautions to avoid becoming pregnant while taking the medication.

Oral Antibiotics To Reduce Inflammation

When cystic acne affects a large area of the body, oral antibiotics can be effective in reducing inflammation and bacteria. Oral antibiotics are often prescribed in the short term before a course of isotretinoin is commenced.

Kill Bacteria With Benzoyl Peroxide

Sometimes large acne can be mistaken for cystic acne. If you are actually dealing with a breakout of large pimples, benzoyl peroxide can help your pimples heal quickly. A good regime to quickly deal with the random occurrence of large pimples is to apply ice to the pimple as soon as you notice it forming, and then dab some benzoyl peroxide on overnight.

Soothe Redness With Hydrocortisone Cream

Hydrocortisone cream can reduce swelling and redness associated with severe acne. While this treatment won't address the underlying acne, it can provide short-term cosmetic relief and help to improve the appearance of the skin.


Spironolactone was initially developed as a treatment for high blood pressure and oedema but has been shown to effectively treat cystic acne in certain circumstances. If you are a woman with severe acne localised in your lower face or along the jawline, your dermatologist may prescribe spironolactone to treat the condition.

Oral Contraceptives

Some types of acne are caused or worsened by hormonal imbalances, and some people find that the timing of their breakouts is in sync with their menstrual cycle. In this case – provided you're not trying to get pregnant – oral contraceptives can be an effective treatment.

Home Remedies For Cystic Acne

There are plenty of home remedies that can treat many types of acne, however, unfortunately, you're probably wasting your time trying home remedies for cystic acne. Instead, it is a better idea to go and see your dermatologist as soon as you start to feel concerned about your acne.

Will Scarring Develop?

Unfortunately, scarring is an extremely common by-product of cystic acne. For this reason, it's important to resist the urge to pop or pick your acne, as doing so is likely to spread the infection and make your scarring worse.  The good news, however, is that acne scarring can be effectively treated by a number of methods. A chemical peel can improve acne scarring by exfoliating and removing multiple layers of the skin, revealing fresh, rejuvenated skin underneath. Lasting only 20 minutes, a chemical peel treatment will remove your damaged scar tissue and give you back the clear complexion you’ve dreamed of. PICO Genesis is cutting-edge laser treatment technology that delivers three wavelengths of light in short pulses to disrupt and remodel the deepest layers of your skin – right where your cysts have formed.

How To Prevent Cystic Acne

If your acne is caused by hormonal fluctuations, the only step you can take to prevent it is to make an appointment to see a dermatologist to consider whether any medication could help to regulate your hormones. If you're wondering whether your diet could be causing your cystic acne, the first step is to try cutting out dairy from your diet. If you haven't developed any new acne breakouts after three weeks of a dairy-free diet, you've most likely found the culprit. Alternatively, a low glycaemic diet could help prevent acne, due to the inflammatory nature of sugar. If you're concerned about your acne and would like more information on reducing acne scars, contact the team at Clinica Lase today. Our friendly, helpful clinicians are ready to sit down with you and discuss various acne treatment options that could be available.