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Cystic Acne: What Is It, Causes, Symptoms And Treatments

Are you struggling with under-the-surface breakouts? Here’s everything you need to know about cystic acne.

We all know how emotionally and physically taxing breakouts can be. But those under-the-skin cystic breakouts are particularly hard to deal with. Cystic acne is painful to touch and often leaves scars. And these types of acne are more common in people with oily skin. But what causes these painful breakouts, and how do you get rid of them?

What is cystic acne?

Although there are many different types, sizes and forms of breakouts, cystic acne is the most severe form of acne. This inflammatory acne causes painful, pus-filled pimples to form deep under your skin. Cystic acne frequently appears on the chin. But it can also affect other parts of the face, including your arms and back. It often keeps reappearing in the same spot, so unless you get treated, your first cystic breakout will likely not be your last.

What causes cystic acne?

Pimples can develop when pores in the skin become clogged with too much oil and dead skin cells. Bacteria can enter the skin pores and get trapped along with the oil and skin cells, causing swelling in the dermis. This inflamed, red, swelling lump is cystic acne. 

An unhealthy diet is often believed to be one of the main causes of cystic acne. While certain foods can trigger cystic acne, it is unlikely that diet is the sole cause of acne. Stress, hormonal imbalances and excess sebum production could lead to cystic acne.

How do you identify cystic acne?

Are you wondering how to identify cystic acne? Look for these symptoms:

  • A red lump under the skin
  • Painful or tender to touch
  • Small as a pea or big as a dime
  • Oozing pus from a whitish-yellow head
  • Crusty

How do you treat cystic acne?

Since cystic acne is one of the most severe types of acne, it is particularly challenging to treat – your at-home acne treatments might not work. Therefore, it is important to consult a dermatologist to treat these pesky breakouts. Here are some effective cystic acne treatment options that you can try:

Benzoyl peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide is an excellent treatment option for acne. It works by killing bacteria, particularly Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes). Benzoyl peroxide is available in both alcohol and water-based forms. The best formulation of benzoyl peroxide depends on your skin type. Formulas containing alcohol have a drying effect, making them better for those with oily skin.

Oral antibiotics

Since cystic acne forms multiple layers beneath the surface of your skin, topical medications are not very effective. Often, oral medications are required. Oral antibiotics can effectively kill Propionibacterium acnes, thus reducing cystic acne. They can also help reduce inflammation, a common symptom of cystic acne. 

Steroid injections

A corticosteroid drug called triamcinolone can be injected directly into a cyst to reduce swelling and avoid scarring.

Surgical drainage

You might require surgical drainage if you have a large, painful cyst. However, we strongly advise against doing this at home because doing so can increase the risk of serious scarring and deeper infection.  

Topical retinoids

Topical retinoids treat cystic acne by unplugging hair follicles to remove and prevent severe acne. These are often prescribed in conjunction with topical antibiotics to make them more effective. Topical retinoids are available in a variety of forms like creams, gels and lotions.

Celluma LED Light Therapy

If you want to get rid of cystic acne, Celluma LED Therapy is an excellent option for you. It uses blue LED light to target the oil glands and make them less active, reducing acne. Blue light also kills or disrupts the growth of acne-causing bacteria beneath the skin, which can help treat severe acne pimples, including cysts and nodules.

To learn more about cystic acne, schedule a consultation with us. You can speak to us on +971 4 346 6641, email on, or schedule an appointment here.

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