Cystic Acne

What Is Cystic Acne?

Cystic acne is when you have large, red, painful breakouts deep in your skin.

Pimples start when a pore in your skin gets clogged, usually with dead skin cells. Bacteria can also get trapped, causing the area to become red and swollen.

Cystic acne happens when this infection goes deep into your skin, creating a bump that's full of pus. It may hurt or itch. If a cyst bursts, the infection can spread, causing more breakouts.

You can treat these breakouts. Don’t try to wait them out. Cystic acne can last for years. It can affect large areas of your skin and leave scars. A dermatologist can help you with a treatment plan.

Cystic Acne Causes

Doctors aren’t sure exactly what causes cystic acne.

Hormones called androgens play a role. When you’re a teenager, your androgen levels go up. This leads to changes in your skin that can result in clogged pores and acne.

Other things that can cause acne include:

Despite what you might have heard, these things don’t cause acne:

Cystic Acne Risk Factors

You’re most likely to get cystic acne in your teens or early 20s. But it can happen to children as young as 8 or adults as old as 50. Your face, chest, back, upper arms, or shoulders can be affected.

If one of your parents had severe cystic acne, you have a higher chance of getting it.

Severe cystic acne is more common in men. Women who get it often have cysts on the lower half of their face.

Cystic Acne Complications

The cysts can leave permanent marks on your skin, including:

  • Deep, tiny holes (icepick scars)
  • Wider pits
  • Large, uneven indents

Cystic Acne Treatment

Over-the-counter medicines that treat mild acne don’t usually work on cystic acne. Your doctor will probably recommend one or more of these treatments:

 

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Cystic Acne Home Remedies

You can take some steps to help prevent acne or keep it from getting worse:

  • Wash your skin twice a day and after you sweat. Use your fingertips and a gentle cleanser. Rinse with lukewarm water.
  • Don’t scrub your skin or use irritating products like exfoliants.
  • Don’t touch cysts or pick at blemishes. You might push the infection deeper and make it spread. Let blemishes heal on their own, instead of popping or squeezing them, to lower your risk of scars.
  • Stay out of the sun and away from tanning beds, which can damage your skin.
  • Try to relax. Stress can make your body release more hormones, which can make acne worse.
  • Keep a healthy lifestyle. Get plenty of sleep and exercise. Some research suggests that a low-glycemic diet, which limits sugar, can help ease symptoms.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on March 02, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Dermatology: “Acne,” “What Can Clear Severe Acne?” “Stubborn Acne? Hormonal Therapy May Help,” “Acne: Tips for Managing.”

Laura Ferris, MD, PhD, University of Pittsburgh Physicians Department of Dermatology.

Sharon Raimer, MD, chair, department of dermatology, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

Diane Berson, MD, FAAD, associate professor, department of dermatology, Weill Medical College of  Cornell University; assistant attending dermatologist, New York Presbyterian Hospital.

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: “Questions and Answers about Acne.”

Merck Manual Consumer Version: “Acne.”

National Health Service (U.K.): “Acne.”

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