Due to some recent hormonal changes related to switching my birth control, I've started getting cystic acne. I remember when the first one popped up. To the naked eye, it was invisible. But I could feel it brewing underneath my skin, and if I accidentally brushed it with my fingertips, it hurt. Soon it turned into a full-fledged red, raised bump that basically had its own heartbeat and hurt all the time.
"Cystic acne is severe acne that forms stubborn cysts and that takes forever to go away," she explains. "Cystic acne can be caused by hormonal changes or genetic predisposition," Anna Guanche, MD, explains.
Meet the Expert
Anna Guanche, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of the Bella Skin Institute in Calabasas, CA. With over ten years of experience, Guanche focuses on minimally invasive cosmetic surgery and laser treatments.
Not knowing what to do but just wanting it to go away, I tried to pop it. Spoiler alert: That is actually probably the last thing you want to do to cystic acne. "The main thing I am concerned of when I see cystic acne is the potential for scarring," Guanche says.
And you know how you make scarring more likely? By trying to pop cystic acne. Don't do that. Instead, try one of these. From cleansers to spot treatments to masks, here are the best products for cystic acne.
Best Cleansers for Cystic Acne
Try adding a benzoyl peroxide cleanser into your skincare regimen, says Guanche. She recommends this one from Jan Marini.
Benzoyl peroxide is an antibacterial agent that helps to kill P acnes, the bacteria that have been implicated to play a role in the development of acne. It also helps to prevent small pimples called comedones (comedolytic).
I've personally found this creamy benzoyl peroxide cleanser to be effective, but be warned: It is super strong. Start off by using once a day and gradually working up to twice a day. Also, be sure to moisturize afterward, as it can be drying.
In addition to being a thing I will never be able to spell correctly on the first try, salicylic acid is also a potent acne-fighting ingredient because it helps exfoliate skin. This cleanser is gentle but effective and leaves skin feeling clean without feeling stripped of moisture.
Best Spot Treatments for Cystic Acne
The magical elixir formerly known as the Anti Cyst Treatment, this is a product I personally swear by. With a combination of ethyl lactate, citric acid, and (I assume) witchcraft, it manages to drastically reduce the size of cystic acne overnight and cuts in half the amount of time it takes to go away overall.
A blend of salicylic acid, probiotics, and silver ions work actual magic on pimples. Bonus: It also contains zinc and sulfur to help speed up skin's healing.
The formula of this spot treatment is pumped full of the highest amount of sulfur allowed in beauty products. So yes, it smells, but it's also incredibly effective.
Sulfur is keratolytic, which works by softening and thinning the epidermis to prevent clogged pores. Sulfur also reduces the growth of the Propionibacterium acnes bacteria and the blockage of pores.
This drying lotion has a cult following. The combo of sulfur and salicylic acid is incredibly effective at dissolving gunk stuck underneath the skin.
This mask brings in the pore-decongesting heavyweights: sulfur, kaolin clay, and bentonite clay. They work synergistically to reduce inflammation, draw out gunk, and suck up excess oil.
A mask that contains six—count 'em, six!—debris-clearing, pore-unclogging acids, including salicylic and glycolic. It also contains activated charcoal, which is stellar at absorbing excess oil and clearing out pores.
This bubbling sheet mask (yes, you read that correctly) helps detox skin with a blend of charcoal and oxygen. It also contains skin-soothing aloe.