Stop the Popping: Cystic Acne – Causes & Best Treatments
Acne develops in almost everyone, and this is especially true during one’s teenage years that it’s considered as a rite of passage to adulthood. Acne hits everyone differently too, and just because you’ve experienced moderate breakout during your younger years doesn’t mean that you won’t ever develop acne later in life.
The threat of acne doesn’t end there. While regular acne is usually due to dirt, oil, stress, and even hormonal changes brought about by age, more severe acne cases like cystic acne can occur and can actually start as regular acne.
There are a lot of risk factors that you might encounter when dealing with acne, so it’s best to know what cystic acne is so you’ll learn how to manage your risk in developing it, as well as the best cystic acne remediesfor prevention and relief.
What Is Cystic Acne?
Cystic acne is a more severe form of acne, and it could manifest as deep, hard, and painful sores. This will look like large red bumps on your skin that can last far longer than normal acne. While acne generally develops on the surface of your skin due to your pores getting clogged with bacteria or dead skin cells, cystic acne gets deeper into the skin and may form cysts inside hair follicles filled with pus. It can form not just in the face, but also on your neck, shoulders, arms, or back.
Cystic acne also differs from regular acne in that it might not appear as “poppable” acne. It instead tends to stay underneath your skin due to the cyst that has formed. Thus, it could also be a cause of swelling in the area where it grows.
What Are the Causes of Cystic Acne?
Since cystic acne usually starts off as your usual acne breakout, they are caused by similar things, including:
Change in hormone levels, specifically in androgen levels commonly associated with puberty
Excess production of skin oil or sebum
Bacteria and dead skin cells, which can block pores and hair follicles
Ingrown hairs that cause inflammation
Other factors such as certain illnesses, pregnancy, menopause, as well as some skincare products and allergic reactions can also trigger acne.
Cystic Acne Risks
Your risks of developing cystic acne increase with certain factors. The more susceptible you are to acne, such as when you’re between the teenage years, the more likely you’ll develop cystic acne. Men are more likely to developsevere acne, and there is also an increased risk for those whose parents experienced cystic acne throughout their life.
What Complications Can Cystic Acne Bring?
Touching and popping acne cancause it to scarand may lead to more severe infection and spreading. This is especially the case with cystic acne—since they’re buried deep in your skin, trying to pop them will more likely lead to deep pits and holes that may scar over. These scars could become permanent, so it’s best to avoid scarring to keep your skin clear.
The best way to avoid scarring is to just leave your acne alone—certain treatments can address scarring and discoloration, but it’s better to learn and apply prevention methods rather than wait around for it to occur and get worse.
What Makes Cystic Acne Worse?
You may have encountered certain “myths” when it comes to dealing with acne. This includes acne prevention tips that are said to help alleviate your breakouts and perhaps even do-it-yourself home remedies that help specifically with cystic acne. Ideally, you should always consult your doctor when trying remedies for the first time so you can avoid those that can potentially be harmful. While some might make sense, others may actually pose more risks than benefits:
Touching your acne
You’ve probably come across a lot of videos of professionals who pop pimples of all shapes and sizes. Some find it oddly satisfying to watch, while others balk at the sight of it. But if it’s a professional dermatologist who’s doing it, then maybe it does work, right?
However, it’s important to note that there’s a distinction between a professional dermatologist and someone who’s not. Professionals know how to safely clean cystic acne, and they generally don’t recommend popping these types of acne anyway. Further, cystic pimples are more likely to get infected and develop scarring, so popping them wouldn’t be the wisest thing. There are actually prescription medications and even home remedies that could work better at alleviating the pain and unsightly appearance of cystic acne.
It’s a tale as old as (teenage) time—someone who had a breakout one summer decided to dab a small amount of toothpaste on their acne and noticed several days later that it dried out. Toothpaste is made of more potent compounds that dry your skin—not just the acne. You might notice some visual improvements, but that dry skin could actually be more susceptible to damage and might just get even more infected, worsening your cystic acne.
Exfoliating too much
While exfoliation will help clear out dead skin cells and prevent more acne from developing, it could actually get to a point where your skin gets exfoliated too much and dries out. This can lead to one of two things—your skin might produce more oil, further increasing the risk of acne, or your severely dried skin might get damaged and infected, especially on cystic acne surfaces where the skin is extra sensitive.
Having an unhealthy diet
Having cystic acne and seeing it on your face can make you feel bad about your appearance. And if popular culture is any reference, you might also resort to stress eating. That is, eating those bad feelings away, usually with sweets and dairies to make yourself feel better. Well, not so fast.
Diet plays a huge part in your body’s chemistry, enough that it can cause even more breakouts. At best, eating high-sugar foods could make healing your acne slower. At its worst, eating too much of things like dairy and high-fat foods could contribute to the formation of cystic acne. If you find yourself in the middle of this cycle, consider doing a cleanse and clamping down on junk food to see if your condition improves.
Best Treatments and Prevention for Cystic Acne
While there are no quick one-shot treatments against cystic acne, there are a lot of available remedies that range from small lifestyle changes to prescription medicines that you can take. The best first step, though, is to talk to your doctor for consultation.
Your dermatologist can prescribe medicines that can’t be purchased over-the-counter, especially for more severe and serious acne cases. These medicines can include a medicinal form of Vitamin A called Tretinoin, ointments such as topical retinoids, or Spironolactone. While these medications have been known to work, they might take some time and are only applicable for extremely severe cases.
Since acne is caused by bacteria, some over-the-counter acne medicine actually includes antibiotics that are designed to kill excess bacteria on your skin, reducing redness and lessening your risk of cystic acne.
For women encountering cystic acne, one viable option is to take oral contraceptives to help regulate your hormone levels. If you find that you’re getting more cystic acne flare-ups during your menstrual cycle, this may help manage it a little.
Salicylic acid is one of the first remedies that you can consider for regular acne, but it’s also effective againstsevere acne. It works by clearing your pores and protecting them against clogging and inflammation. This BHA can come in the form of a gel, ointment, lotion, orcleanser with salicylic acid.
Alternative home remedies
You can also look inside your cupboards for some potential home remedies that may help alleviate your acne or get you started on the right road to recovery. Even as simple as adding probiotics to your diet can help reduce inflammation. Spearmint Tea is also said to be a natural anti-androgen, which can block hormones that can cause acne.
Tips for Helping Prevent Cystic Acne
Of course, while there are remedies to help you deal with cystic acne, it’s still best to minimize your risk of developing it in the first place. Here are some steps you can take that may be useful:
Keep your face clean.
Wash your face with a dedicatedcystic acne facial cleansertwice a day. This also means you need to keep from touching your face with your hands and making it a point to always wash your hands regularly. Bacteria can last a long time in surfaces and on your skin, and you might inadvertently be giving them a quick trip to your exposed pores.
Avoid irritants on your skin.
While some face care products are safe for acne, you should avoid greasy products and harsh chemicals such as hair products from making contact on your skin. Given that, it’s best to stick to water-based cleansers, toners, and moisturizers to avoid blocking your pores.
Tie your hair, and avoid heavy hair products.
Even things as simple as your hair could irritate your skin and cause acne. Coupled with greasy hair products, it could block your pores, especially on your forehead and jawline where your hair frequently comes in contact with your face.
Use UV protection.
Sun exposure dries out your skin, and can also cause accelerated aging and worsening acne. Some medications make your skin more sensitive to sunlight as well—specifically, antibiotics such as tetracyclines.
When taking medications that may cause photosensitivity, avoid too much sun exposure when outside. Also, use a light, non-greasy sunscreen, or break out your trusty umbrella when you need to step out.
Avoid tight accessories and clothing that can irritate your skin.
Cystic acne isn’t restricted to your face—it can also develop on your arms, neck, and back. Make sure to avoid tight clothes and accessories that may rub against your acne and worsen it.
Stop picking at your acne.
As mentioned previously, there’s nothing good that will come out of popping your cystic acne—not only is it uncomfortable or downright painful, it can also create irreversible scarring and holes on your skin that can get even more infected.
Avoid stress, and live a healthy lifestyle.
It’s been identified that stress plays a role in the development of acne. Stress and a lack of sleep are both known to cause fluctuations in your hormone levels, which could cause excess oil buildup on your skin. Sleeping early and observing proper self-care will help with this, and so will eating healthy and avoiding junk food.
While cystic acne is a severe form of acne and can be quite disruptive, it can easily be remedied with the right attitude by observing proper hygiene and self-care. Always consult your doctor for the best way to address your condition, especially when considering new treatments for your acne.