Most acne advertisements and products are made for “common acne” that most people suffer from. However there is a type of acne called cystic acne that requires separate care. And it can occur in people of all ages, and at almost all parts of the body.
Cystic acne is characterized by large, red breakouts called cysts deep within the skin. The entirety of the cyst is below the surface of the skin. Cysts can be painful to touch, and can be filled with pus as well. Their size and depth can vary.
So the appearance boils down to these features :
- White or red bumps on the skin
- Pus-filled cysts
- Large bumps resting deep inside the skin
The pores of our skin sometimes get clogged with dead skin cells, dirt and other pollutants. Breakouts occur when bacteria gets trapped within such clogged pores and starts multiplying. The spread is further helped by the natural oil produced by the body, as it creates the perfect environment for the bacteria to breed. When this infection develops further inside the skin, it causes pus-filled volumes to appear.
As the skin is a barrier against outside elements (yes, even with the existence of pores) most people never have to deal with cystic acne as infection simply doesn’t spread deep enough.
Common facts :
- Cystic acne improves only slightly with age, unlike common acne which can disappear with time.
- Cystic acne doesn’t completely disappear with time and the cysts remain as red and painful bumps under the skin (if left without treatment).
- Popping the cysts should not be attempted as it is quite painful and causes scarring.
- Popping the cyst can cause the infection to spread.
- Cysts can cause scarring whether popped of not.
- Over the counter (OTC) acne medications aren’t sufficient in getting rid of cystic acne. The treatment period of cystic acne is also longer.
- Best results for treatment of cystic acne come from stronger, prescription medications.
- Hormones like androgens are known to affect the development of cystic acne.
Treating cystic acne with simple OTC medication mostly proves futile. You should consult a dermatologist for a treatment plan and prescription medication that is customized specifically for you. Prescription medication tends to show results within few weeks for most people.
These are the steps you can take before your appointment with the dermatologist, when you’re unsure of your condition:
- Antibiotics: Fundamentally, all acne is caused by bacteria growth. Cystic acne just occurs when the growth is deep into the layers of the skin. It is always advisable to consult a dermatologist for the choice of antibiotic. Taking antibiotics can help the cysts with inflammation and in good cases the cyst may even recede slightly. As the bacteria is trapped under the skin, it is unfortunately not a decisive measure in ending the breakout.
- Chill Cyst: Applying ice directly to the affected area can reduce the swelling and inflammation as it constricts the small blood vessels feeding into the cyst. You should chill the cyst by this method before washing/cleansing your face and doing the rest of the routine.
- Never Pop: cysts should never be popped. Not only will it serve to be a painful ordeal, but the infection can spread very quickly as a cyst is filled with pus. The inflammation can also cause scarring and pigmentation if handled too much.
- Oil be gone: As the oily environment provides a good environment to the growing bacteria, it is one of our targets. A dermatologist will be able to suggest the right wipes that have beneficial chemicals that help you have clean and healthy skin. If you have dry skin, you would be prescribed gentle cleanser. The key is to not overdo it.
- Now, Bacteria be gone : Benzoyl Peroxide skin care products are available over the counter. Benzoyl Peroxide products help kill the harmful bacteria. Make sure to cleanse first (with or without salicylic acid) so the product can work well. Unless this is the last layer of your home treatment, make sure to let the benzoyl peroxide product dry before you apply the next layer.
It is of utmost importance to note that these methods may not help you as much you’d like since cysts are deeper and topical applications won’t penetrate as well. A complete plan is required for this for which one must consult a dermatologist.
Here are some ways your dermatologist might choose to treat you :
- Cyst Drain: If the cyst is swollen and the pus built-up is in very large quantities, the dermatologist might see it fit to reduce the built-up liquids. This option is then chosen, often as a precursor to any proper treatment (as cysts may reappear after drainage). A precise cut is made into the cyst, and all the liquids are gently drained away by the dermatologist. This is often quick and painless, if not visually stimulating.
- Steroid Injections: An injection containing small amounts of corticosteroids is made into the cyst. The corticosteroids help with the inflammation but don’t actually deal with the root of the problem – the bacteria. As the cyst recedes much quicker than other treatment (a couple days or less at times), it is very helpful in reducing scarring and lessening the severity of the cyst before the actual treatment.
- Isotretinoin: A powerful oral medication derived from Vitamin A, it comes with quick effects but has to be prescribed with caution . Only a dermatologist can prescribe it as a person’s general health needs to be considered before being administered isotretinoin pills. Isotretinoin works by immediately decreasing the sebum production on the skin. The medication does this by affecting the sebum glands on the skin. Women who are pregnant should not take this medication as it may harm the unborn child. Side effects include dry skin, dry lips or mouth, nosebleeds due to dryness and an upset stomach. If any of these side effects persist, you should consult your doctor promptly.
Like all other acne, cystic acne is treatable and should not be ignored. It only requires a little more attention, a little more care, and a few consultations with a professional dermatologist.