Fighting Cystic Acne

I have been suffering from cystic acne since before I could remember. One of the most severe types of inflammatory acne, cystic acne consists of painful, inflamed nodules that form large–well, cysts–that can last for weeks on end, cannot be “popped”, and even cause scarring. Growing up with my mother as a physician, I learned very early the key to preventing scarring is to treat them at the first sign. For my doctor-oriented family, that meant getting regular injections in the cysts of steroid (+/- lidocaine — it’s super painful!). But if you can’t go in to see a dermatologist every time, this is the only regimen/brand that I have found truly helps with cystic-type acne.

What I’ve been doing for my latest cystic acne explosion is alternating the drying mask and healing mask every night. 20 minutes on just the afflicted area (for me, that’s my chin), then rinsed off. Then every night afterwards I apply the Buffering Lotion. Key tip: sulfur is the bees knees when it comes to beating cysts. I’ve observed over the years that benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid are essentially useless on cystic pimples once they’ve already formed.

For the rest of my face that just suffers from normal pimples (comedones), I have been liking this new acne solutions treatment from Clinique. It has witch hazel which is cooling and antibacterial, in addition to your usual salicylic acid. The thing I like best about it is that unlike other salicylic acid gels, this one absorbs super fast so I can go right on to applying my makeup without waiting 10 minutes for it to dry.

One thing I cannot stress enough: DO NOT PICK. Unless you want permanent, disfiguring scars on your pretty face. Step away from that mirror! I hope this helps some of you who are fellow inflammatory acne sufferers. Leave a comment below if you have been afflicted with acne (especially cystic acne).

Cystic Acne Essentials


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  1. 02.28.2014 / 11:37 am

    This is a great post. I get mine on my forehead mostly but on my chin too and they are so painful! I am always looking for a way to treat them so I’ll have to see if my ultra carries this line. I feel like I’ve tried every product but with thirty something skin most products are not with us in mind…

  2. Rachel
    02.28.2014 / 1:04 pm

    Great tip about sulfur! I’ll need to look into that. I have semi-cystic acne and the only way I know how to keep it under control is to regularly see an aesthetician who can “drain it” and send it on its merry way to healing so the it doesn’t last for weeks and doesn’t scar. After they’ve been drained I use BP on it to speed up the process and keep it from infection. I get them on my forehead and they are so gross and painful–thanks for the informative post!!

    • 03.01.2014 / 9:15 pm

      Never drain actual cysts! If they are comedones/whiteheads they can be drained/extracted properly. But “draining” cysts can lead to permanent scarring. so be careful!

  3. 02.28.2014 / 1:37 pm

    I SWEAR by the Buffering Lotion on cystic acne. Now that I’m knocked up, I am actually not experiencing any cystic breakouts. Hallelujah! So you could always try that? Haha. But seriously, the Mario Badescu line is really awesome for those experiencing hormonal/cystic breakouts. I know how frustrating it can be, and it seems like a vicious circle… like once you’ve cleared one, another one starts forming. I’ll have to check out the drying and healing masks!

  4. Darlene
    02.28.2014 / 3:47 pm

    Spironolactone will work wonders!

    • 03.01.2014 / 9:14 pm

      I use spironolactone too! But it’s not for everyone (pregnant patients, men, etc) and since I don’t like to recommend many prescription products on my blog (since it can be construed as medical advice) I leave those bits out. But it does work wonders!!

  5. 02.28.2014 / 11:03 pm

    Thank you for sharing some great tips in the endless battle against acne. I discovered Mario Badescu products about 6 months ago and I’ve totally fallen in love. I use their drying cream to help calm down angry, inflamed pimples, which has both aloe to soothe and sulfur to treat.

  6. 03.01.2014 / 12:55 am

    Another vote for Spironolactone! I have had problems with cystic acne off and on for years, and last year I had a TERRIBLE breakout on my back/chest. None of the products I tried helped at all. After a few months I finally broke down and went to the dermatologist, and she put me on 50 mg of Spironolactone, twice a day. It cleared up within a month. A few months later she dropped me down to just one 50mg pill/day, and I haven’t had one cystic pimple since! I’m not sure how long I will stay on it, but I’m very happy for now!

    • 03.01.2014 / 9:15 pm

      I use spironolactone too! I mentioned above in a previous comment, it’s not for everyone (pregnant patients, men, etc) and since I don’t like to recommend many prescription products on my blog (since it can be construed as medical advice) I leave those bits out. But it does work wonders!!

  7. larasophia
    03.01.2014 / 1:28 am

    I’ve never suffered with acne but my brother does. I definitely want to recommend these products to him.xx

  8. chantelle
    03.01.2014 / 6:24 am

    Epiduo! Took 3+ months to finally work, and it was ABSOLUTELY BRUTAL… but now my skin is nice and clean with only a few little comedones here and there once in a while, and I’ve cut down on the epiduo to only a couple times a week. Cystic acne sucks, man.

  9. Nivea
    03.02.2014 / 2:04 am

    Oh my goodness! Thank you so much! I’ve been going to the dermatologist since I was BORN (I’m thirty now), and it’s just so frustrating! I even used Accutane which brought on terrible depression when I was young. This sounds so exciting since it looks like it’ll work much quicker than anything I’ve tried (Accutane is the only thing that has really worked) – – I will try them right away!

  10. Lorena
    03.02.2014 / 11:51 pm

    Your skin is so beautiful, it is difficult to believe that you had and have cystic acne. Acne has been my nightmare. I tried everything, finally Accutane. The treatment is hard, it is horrible, but I did not suffered any depression, it just dries everything and at the end it is very hard. But the treatment is effective, my acne was gone for years. It came back, the dermatologist recommended another cycle and I said no. Instead I followed a very healthy, low glycemic diet and my skin is better than ever, but even in my forties a lot of products can cause a pimple, so I have to be very careful. I have scars, they have improved with peelings, lasers and IPL, but some scars are there.

    • Gaby
      03.12.2014 / 2:37 am

      I use accutane severas years ago, and my skin was better than ever, but when i got pregnant the acne came back, i dont think i would use it again either

  11. Janice
    03.03.2014 / 8:40 pm

    I have just turned 56 and suffered from cystic acne from the time I was 13 until I managed (through the help of my naturopath) to get my hormones adjusted properly. Fixing my acne problem was a lovely side affect of the bioidentical hormone therapy initiated to the address the onset of menopause. I know you are very young (my daugher’s age :)) but I look back at my journey and have to wonder if my hormones were out of balance for all of those years! As a physician, have you researched the relationship between your hormone balance and the cystic acne breakouts? Until I achieved hormonal balance, I was still experiencing acne problems into my 40’s! Just something to think about. I love your blog – so entertaining and refreshing!

  12. Gaby
    03.12.2014 / 2:44 am

    I recently start to use the Buffering lotion and the glycolic foaming celanser from MB, my single its very happy!!! The glycolic celanser its great!! I will try the drying mask, do you recomend the drying cream?

  13. God is My Mojo
    03.25.2014 / 2:39 pm

    The only thing that has consistently worked for me is cutting out dairy. I still eat meat but dairy I find is very inflaming for my skin and was disastrous for my pores. Hydration with water and eating your veggies also does the trick.

  14. India Benjamin
    09.22.2014 / 3:06 pm

    I have cystic acne, I’m on Yasmin now (basically the pill Spironalactone, I was on actual Spironalactone but my doctors won’t prescribe it anymore) which means I don’t have loads of spots at once but I get at least one cyst a week and around my period or say if I’ve had a weekend where I’ve drank, I’ll get loads. I currently have four huge painful ones by my lip so I think I’m going to buy the drying mask and the buffering lotion. I’m so fed up of acne, it’s taken over my life for so long and now I don’t even have it really and it still affects me 🙁 thanks for the recommendations! Do you have any for scarring? As I have quite bad pigmentation from my last two acne breakouts.India / Touchscreens & Beautyqueens

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