Cystic Acne Treatment: What is Cystic Acne & How To Address It

Scott McDougall
Scott McDougallMPharmDirector & Registered Manager

The skin condition of acne vulgaris is very common. Teenagers tend to suffer from it when they’re heavily hormonal, of course, but it also affects plenty of adults. In most cases, though, it’s fairly mild. The average acne sufferer will face patches of small spots and reddened skin: inconvenient and frustrating, yes, but minimal enough to accept.

Unfortunately, there are other acne forms that prove significantly harder to deal with — and cystic acne is the most serious by far. Severe acne won’t just go away with time. It’ll linger and recur, causing great pain and just as much embarrassment (and leaving nasty acne scars). If you’re dealing with cystic acne, then, it’s important that you get the support you need.

In this guide, we’ll cover the core concern of how you can successfully treat cystic acne. We’ll start by quickly going over the nature of acne, explain what makes cystic acne particularly rough to endure, and introduce some notable treatment options (plus tips for prevention). Let’s begin.

Recapping acne: bacteria, oil, and dead skin cells

Though it manifests in different ways, the core condition of acne is consistent. Due to some skin imbalance (usually the production of excess sebum, an oily substance that serves to protect your skin), local bacteria begin to cause problems, and the resulting immune responses account for the rest of the typical acne symptoms.

The typical process sees hair follicles (or pores) in oily skin become clogged with dead skin cells due to the presence of so much sebum, resulting in the growth of spots. At the same time, skin bacteria start to act differently due to the strange skin conditions, and the body’s immune system reacts to this by ramping up skin inflammation and producing pus.

With so many variables involved (particularly the level of excess oil, the types of bacteria present, and the strength of the immune system), it’s easy to see why acne symptoms can vary so wildly. And when a sufferer gets keenly unlucky, they can develop cystic acne. But what specifically does cystic acne involve?

Cystic acne is the most severe acne type

As the name suggests, this variety of acne involves cysts, which are skin lumps that typically contain fluid but can also be hollow. Acne cysts are inevitably full of pus, making them painful and obtrusive — and making this the worst form of acne. It bears noting that cysts can cause problems even if you don’t suffer from acne, as sebaceous cysts (which are cysts that develop in the sebaceous glands that secrete sebum) can become infected.

Cystic acne doesn’t just produce acne cysts, though. It also leads to the reddened and flaky skin typically associated with acne, making it fairly easy to identify. If you have red blotchy skin with large white lumps that are sore to the touch, you’re probably suffering from severe cystic acne. The face is the most common area for it to develop, but it can appear all over the body.

It isn’t just the size and pain of the cysts that make this the roughest form of acne, though. It’s also its tendency to produce serious acne scarring. Removing dead skin cells and clearing out sebum and pus will drain the cysts but not get rid of them — and acne cysts drained by popping or pricking will be prone to filling back up and causing further scarring down the line. These cysts can be surgically removed if absolutely necessary, but that will also leave scarring.

We can now turn to the titular matter of dealing with cystic acne. What are your options? And how can you lower your chances of suffering from it in the first place? More on this below.

How can you treat cystic acne?

Due to the severity of the condition, there’s a pressing need for cystic acne treatments. When you want to treat acne that’s mild to moderate, you can choose from a huge range of simple acne medications (including topical treatments and oral antibiotics), many of which are available over the counter — but you need something stronger to clear severe acne.

You may ultimately need a combination of topical retinoids (applications that encourage the turnover of skin cells) and antibiotics. Dual-action treatments such as Treclin can prove very effective at treating acne with cysts. Large cystic breakouts can make it worthwhile to use oral antibiotic tablets, like Tetralysal, though it’s necessary to regulate their use to avoid raising resistance. The chance of antibiotic resistance can often be reduced by using a second non-antibiotic treatment, such as Differin, Skinoren, or Epiduo, alongside the oral antibiotic.

In the average case, treating cystic acne requires a lot more time than treating normal acne: you may need to stick with it for six months to see major progress. Frustratingly, many treatments will make your symptoms (though not truly your acne) worse before things start to get better, so it can feel as though you’re moving in the wrong direction. All inflammatory acne takes time to treat, though, so it’s simply something you need to accept.

Prevention is better than treatment

Even if you’re able to clear your outbreak of cystic acne with suitable acne treatment, you’re going to be left with some scarring. Laser treatment can reduce this scarring if necessary, but that’s an extreme move and will never be fully effective. So what can you do to prevent cystic acne? Well, you can focus on skin health. The more you focus on keeping your skin healthy, the better positioned you’ll be to avoid this (and any other) severe type of acne.

Your aim should be to keep dry skin cells from clogging up your oil glands, and you can do various things to further this goal. Ensure that your skin stays clean, but don’t allow it to dry out: use gentle moisturiser to avoid dryness and cracking. Aim to limit your level of stress. There’s a combination of issues that causes cystic acne, with major stress and a bad diet making it much more likely. Healthy living will lead to healthy skin tissue.

Always remember that you can reach out to The Independent Pharmacy if you need some support facing (or avoiding) cystic acne. We’ll be happy to help you figure out your situation, and can provide a free consultation so we can find and ship you the most suitable treatment.

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