What is Cystic Acne?

young female with acne

What is cystic acne?

Cystic acne is different from your typical breakout and is considered a more serious type of acne. It causes an infection that’s deep within your skin, resulting in a red, pus-filled bump that can hurt or itch. If a bump – also called a cyst – bursts, it can spread the infection, resulting in more breakouts.

It’s most common in people with oily skin and occurs more often in teens, women, and older adults who have hormone imbalances. It can form on the face, chest, neck, back, arms, shoulders, or behind the ears.

How can you tell if you have cystic acne?

A dermatologist will need to diagnose your condition, but the following characteristics are strong indications that you may have cystic acne:

  • Bumps are often larger in size than a regular pimple
  • Large pus-filled cyst
  • Redness
  • Painful or tender to the touch

What causes it?

Pimples form when your skin’s pores get clogged, often due to oil and dry, dead skin cells. When bacteria is trapped inside the pore, you can get an infection that goes deep into your skin, causing cystic acne.

Hormones called androgens can also play a part in cystic acne. These hormones increase when you’re a teenager and also during pregnancy, menopause, and menstrual cycles.

How can you avoid cystic acne and making it worse?

  • Follow a good cleansing routine, but don’t overdo it. Wash your face twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening.
  • Look for products labeled “oil-free” or “noncomedogenic,” since they’re less likely to clog pores.
  • Remove all your makeup before going to bed.
  • Try to manage stress, since it can cause your body to release more hormones.
  • Don’t touch or pick at the cysts, this can spread the infection.
  • Avoid abrasive soaps.
  • Get plenty of sleep and exercise.
  • Try to limit sugar, which may be linked to cystic acne.

What are the best treatment options?

You should see a dermatologist for one or more of the following treatments:

  • Antibiotics – to control bacteria and reduce inflammation
  • Birth control pills – to help women regulate hormones
  • Retinoid – prescription lotions to help unclog pores
  • Isotretinoin – an oral medication that can achieve permanent results in some cases but should be avoided if you’re pregnant
  • Spironolactone – a water pill that’s often used to treat other conditions but is also often effective for treating cystic acne

If you’re experiencing symptoms that could indicate you have cystic acne, make an appointment today with Hollywood Dermatology & Cosmetic Specialists. We have multiple convenient locations throughout South Florida, and our team is dedicated to providing compassionate, personalized care that helps your skin look its best.


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