Cystic Acne: Causes, Treatments, Prevention

Cystic Acne: Causes, Treatments, Prevention


Teens and adults alike get anxious when they see that familiar bright red spot on their forehead. Just when you were about to get a good photo, the zit is all you can think about. Acne affects most of us but things get serious when you have nodules and cysts that just won’t go away. This is called cystic acne. 

Actually, over 80% of the population experiences acne between the ages of 11 and 30. It's painful, irritating, and attention-seeking. Compared to those numbers, cystic acne is far less common. 

What is cystic acne?

Cystic acne is a painful type of acne that can cause scarring and bubble-like features on the face. With cystic acne, the pores become clogged and inflammation spreads. 

Characterized mainly by cysts along with nodules, papules etc. it generally starts on the face like most other acne but it can extend to the neck, upper arms, upper back and more. Like most other kinds of acne, it can be mild or severe. 

What are cysts?

So what exactly is a cyst? It is, after all, what characterizes cystic acne. 

Our skin has lots of pores or small openings. Usually, it’s how oil and sweat comes to the surface. Normally acne forms when dead skin or other particles get caught in these pores. 

When bacteria enters and gets trapped in those openings, the rest of the skin reacts by flaring up and swelling. Those are cysts- the distinctive features of cystic acne. It is a severe condition that is frequently found to plague those with oily skin. 

Causes of cystic acne: 

Acne might not seem like the worst thing when you learn the causes of cystic acne. Generally anything can trigger acne- from stress to your skincare routine but nine out of ten times you can make some changes and it’ll go away. 

With cystic acne, that’s not the case at all. Doctors still don’t know the exact cause of cystic acne but they guess its hormones. As a teenager, your androgen (a hormone) levels go up. This causes the acne you see as a young adult. Every time your hormones change it affects your skin in rare cases, this can cause cystic acne. 

A few specific causes of cystic acne are: 

  • Menopause: Menopause causes your hormones to change a lot. They fluctuate so much that this can trigger your cystic acne. 

  • Pregnancy: The mood swings people experience during pregnancy are also a result of hormonal changes happening in the body. Naturally, those changes can also cause acne. In extreme cases, it leads to cystic acne. 

  • Certain Medication: Any medication that changes your estrogen, testosterone, cortisol or other hormone levels can cause your skin to break out. Make sure to check the ingredients and consult your doctor before starting any medication. 

Identifying Cystic Acne

As with any disease, you have to identify cystic acne before you can treat it. Are you seeing red pimples on your face or lumps? Does it go away in a few days or does it keep getting worse? Does it hurt?

These are all questions you need to answer before you can treat it.

Here are some things to look out for when you are trying to tell whether you have cystic acne: 

  • Cysts
  • Clumps under the skin
  • Inflammation or irritation
  • Painful to the touch
  • In extreme cases, pus may ooze from larger bumps on the skin
  • Spreads beyond the face- for example, the upper arms or back

How to prevent cystic acne

Though cystic acne (much like normal acne) can’t be prevented forever, you can take precautions to lower the risk of getting it. Here are some ways you can decrease your chances: 

  • Wash your face 

  • You have to (and I can’t say this enough) wash your face! Not once a day, not half-heartedly, but properly wash your face twice a day. Use a mild foaming cleanser and rub it in circular motions onto your face. If you exercise, or sweat more during the day, do it three times. 
    • Moisturize 

      • No matter the skin type, you have to moisturize. If you have lots of acne already, opt for an oil-free moisturizer with natural ingredients. 
    • Don’t use oily makeup

      • There’s no point in using an oil-free moisturizer if you end up smearing oily makeup over your face. Makeup also has lots of harmful chemicals so make sure you use products that suit your skin (yes, products that will suit you and look good do exist). 
    • Don’t touch your face constantly

      • A lot of people excessively touch their faces because they are shy or for no reason at all. Don’t do it. The oil and bacteria on your hands just made your face their home. It’s not good for your skin or your confidence. 

    Treatment Methods

    Since cystic acne forms deep within the skin, over-the-counter acne treatment might not be enough to treat it. It can even lead to scarring if it isn’t treated properly. Before it begins to spread, make sure to seek medical help. Cystic acne can ease with age but most people prefer treatments. 

    The following are some common treatment methods to help cure cystic acne. 


    The first treatment for cystic acne is antibiotics. In some not-so-severe cases, antibiotics can do the trick. 

    They can help soothe the skin, reduce redness, swelling, and more. Antibiotics are also made to fight bacteria so they help root out the main problem. That being said, antibiotics aren’t made to exfoliate the skin so you might still see acne lingering around on your skin.


    The most common prescription drug for cystic acne is isotretinoin. It is a derived form of concentrated vitamin A which is renowned for its anti-inflammatory and cell-protecting capabilities. 

    Isotretinoin, however effective, should not be taken during pregnancy. It can harm the unborn fetus. Since it is highly concentrated, it also has quite a few side effects. These include: 

    • Diarrhea 
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Liver damage
    • depression
    • Talk to your doctor before treatment

    Birth control pills

    Most cystic acne is a result of hormonal imbalance. To equalize these changes, birth control pills are useful- especially if your acne shows signs of correlation with your period or menstrual cycle. 

    Birth control pills help balance hormones by regulating your estrogen levels. Some people believe that this reduces acne in general. 

    There is a downside to it though. Birth control pills can’t be taken by everyone. If you are trying to conceive, or have a history of medical issues, you should consult an expert first. 


    Cystic acne is painful- more than most any other kind of acne. Generally, it happens when bacteria gets caught in the pores deep under the skin. Since it is caused mainly by hormonal changes, the most you can do to prevent it is to take care of your skin properly. If you still experience cystic acne be sure to talk to a professional. Meanwhile, pamper yourself and use this to elevate your self care routine and take all the measures necessary to protect yourself! Don’t forget to share and follow us on socials!

    Cystic Acne Infographics

    Cystic Acne Infographics, Cystic Acne

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