Close up of a woman's face with acne, she has her eyes closed and a hand over one side of her face.

Battling Cystic Acne: Understanding the Challenge

Unlike milder forms of acne, cystic acne is differentiated by deep, inflamed, and sometimes pus-filled cysts that develop beneath the skin’s surface.

Cystic acne is a severe and often painful form of acne that can significantly impact your self-esteem and quality of life. Unlike milder forms of acne, cystic acne is differentiated by deep, inflamed, and sometimes pus-filled cysts that develop beneath the skin’s surface. Here we explore the causes of cystic acne, discuss its challenges, and provide practical tips for managing and treating it.

What is Cystic Acne?

It occurs when hair follicles become clogged with excess sebum, dead skin cells, and bacteria, leading to inflammation deep within the skin. The inflammation causes the formation of large, tender, and sometimes painful nodules or cysts. Cystic acne commonly affects the face, but it can also occur on the neck, chest, back, and shoulders.

Causes of Cystic Acne

  • Hormonal Imbalances: Hormonal fluctuations, particularly an increase in androgen levels, can trigger excessive sebum production. This excess sebum can mix with dead skin cells and bacteria, clogging the pores and leading to breakouts.

  • Genetics: It often has a genetic component. If your parents or close relatives have a history of severe acne, you may be more prone to developing it.

  • Inflammation: Inflammation plays a significant role in cystic acne. The body’s immune response to the bacteria within the blocked pores can cause the lesions to become red, swollen, and painful.

  • Lifestyle Factors: Certain lifestyle choices can exacerbate cystic acne. Factors such as stress, a diet high in refined carbohydrates and dairy products, and using comedogenic skincare or cosmetic products can contribute to its severity.

Treatment and Management of Cystic Acne

Cystic acne requires a comprehensive and personalised treatment approach. Here are some strategies that can help manage and treat this challenging condition:

  • Consult a Dermatologist: It often requires professional intervention. A dermatologist can assess the severity of your acne, identify underlying causes, and develop a tailored treatment plan. They may prescribe oral medications, such as antibiotics, hormonal therapies, or isotretinoin, which can help reduce inflammation and control breakouts.

  • Skincare Routine: Establish a gentle skincare routine to cleanse your skin twice daily. Use mild, non-comedogenic cleansers and avoid harsh scrubbing or abrasive products that irritate the skin and worsen inflammation. Incorporate topical treatments, such as benzoyl peroxide or retinoids.

  • Avoid Picking or Squeezing: It’s crucial to resist the urge to pick or squeeze cystic acne lesions – this can lead to further inflammation, infection, and scarring. Instead, rely on the guidance of a dermatologist for safe and effective extraction techniques.

  • Manage Stress: Stress can exacerbate cystic acne breakouts. Incorporate stress-reduction techniques, such as exercise, meditation, or engaging in hobbies, to help manage stress levels and promote overall well-being.

  • Diet and Lifestyle: Adopt a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Reduce your intake of refined carbohydrates, sugary foods, and dairy products, as they may contribute to inflammation and worsen acne. You might try incorporating anti-inflammatory foods in your diet to help. Additionally, ensure you get enough sleep and practice good hygiene, such as washing your hair regularly and avoiding touching your face.

  • Professional Treatments: Your dermatologist may recommend additional treatments to complement your skincare routine. These can include chemical peels, corticosteroid injections, laser therapy, or light-based treatments. These procedures can help reduce inflammation, promote skin healing, and reduce the appearance of cystic acne scars.

  • Patience and Consistency: Treating cystic acne requires patience and consistency. It’s important to understand that improvement does not happen overnight. Stick to your treatment plan, follow your dermatologist’s recommendations, and give the treatments time to work. Results may take several weeks or even months to become noticeable.

  • Support and Self-Care: Dealing with cystic acne can take an emotional toll. Seek support from friends, family, or support groups to help you navigate the challenges and maintain a positive mindset. Practise self-care activities that promote relaxation and self-confidence, such as engaging in hobbies, exercising, or pampering yourself.


Cystic acne can be a persistent and frustrating condition, but with the right treatment approach and lifestyle modifications, it is possible to manage and reduce its impact on your skin and confidence. Remember to consult a dermatologist for guidance. Be consistent with your skincare routine, and practice self-care to support your overall well-being.

While the journey to clear skin will have ups and downs, don’t lose hope. With time, patience, and professional support, you can take control of cystic acne and work towards achieving healthier, happier skin.

Everyone’s skin is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. Therefore, it’s important to work closely with a dermatologist to find the most suitable treatment options for your specific condition.

Remember that acne is a common condition that affects many people of all ages and backgrounds. It’s important not to let your skin define your self-worth.

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