How to Treat Cystic Acne: 5 Steps to Treat & Reduce Cystic Acne

Cystic acne is caused by clogged pores, which leads to inflammation and redness. The result is unsightly and sometimes painful bumps and pimples. If left untreated, cystic acne can become chronic and cause permanent acne scars. Fortunately, there are ways to treat cystic acne naturally without expensive prescription medications.

Here are 5 steps for treating cystic acne:

  1. Don't try to pop it!
  2. Use an ice compress.
  3. Develop a good skincare routine.
  4. Use a strong spot treatment.
  5. See a dermatologist.

What is cystic acne?

Cystic acne is characterized by large, deep pore openings that fill with oil and dead skin cells. This causes the skin around the opening to swell and form a bump. These bumps appear most frequently on the face, back, chest, and shoulders.

Cystic acne usually occurs during puberty or adolescence and affects both men and women equally. Many people find that this type of acne clears up after the teenage years and when hormone levels even out, but sometimes it can continue into adulthood, too.

Symptoms and Causes

Cystic acne is a severe type of acne that develops when pores get clogged with bacteria or too much sebum, which is produced by the sebaceous glands (oil glands) in the skin. The bacteria and oil get trapped beneath the surface of the skin, causing inflammatory acne and painful pimples that look red and sometimes feel painful.

How do I know if I have cystic acne?

Cystic acne is characterized by large inflamed pimples filled with pus. They may feel painful and sensitive, and you may notice white or yellowish pus. The cysts can be as small as a pea or even dime-sized or larger.

What causes cystic acne?

There is no single cause for cystic pimples, but there are a number of factors that can contribute to this form of acne. 

Bacteria & Oil Buildup

Cystic pimples can be caused by an accumulation of bacteria and oil due to external factors like the skincare or makeup products we use on our faces. If you recently switched to a new facial cleanser and notice that it makes your acne worse or significantly increases oil production in your skin, you should stop using it immediately and switch to a more gentle cleanser that is specifically designed for your skin type.

People with oily skin tend to struggle more with severe forms of acne because the oil can get trapped beneath the skin. If this is the case, you'll want to look for an acne treatment cream or cleanser that is made specifically for oily skin.

Hormones

Cystic acne can occur during hormonal changes, including those triggered by menopause, menstrual cycles, pregnancy, oral contraceptives, and certain health conditions like PCOS. Women with acne may notice an increase in pimples during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, just before the menstruation phase begins. 

Certain cystic acne treatments should be avoided during pregnancy. Women who notice an increase in acne due to hormonal fluctuations during pregnancy should stick with products containing natural ingredients, and avoid topical retinoids and other topical products that contain harmful ingredients known to cause birth defects. It's always best to check with your doctor if you are unsure if your over-the-counter acne products are safe during pregnancy.

Teenage boys may experience severe acne during puberty as their hormones fluctuate, too. 

Genetics

If you have a family history of cystic skin conditions, you're at greater risk of having them yourself. It's especially true if your parents developed adult skin conditions after age 25.

5 Steps to Treat Cystic Acne at Home

Before you head straight for prescription medication, there are some treatment options you can try at home to manage your cystic acne. 

1. Don't try to pop it.

We know you want to do it. It's so tempting. But don't! Cysts should not be popped because they're embedded below the surface of the skin. Pushing them out could cause scarring and an increased risk of infections.

2. Use an ice compress.

If you're experiencing acne, apply some cool compresses or an ice cube to the affected area to help soothe the inflammation and reduce pain. Applying ice to your cystic breakouts can help decrease the swelling, redness, and/or itching associated with them.

3. Develop a good skincare routine.

A good skincare routine is crucial for your skin health, whether you have mild acne or more severe types of acne. You should cleanse your skin and hydrate with a moisturizing cream on a daily basis. 

Look for products that contain:

  • Tea Tree Oil: Tea tree essential oils have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, making them an effective treatment for cystic acne. They can help reduce the number of acne-causing bacteria on the surface of the face and at the same time reduce inflammation. Products with tea tree oil are a good natural option for people who are sensitive to stronger ingredients like benzoyl peroxide or topical retinoids that can cause adverse effects like burning or excessive dryness.
  • Peppermint Essential Oils: Peppermint essential oil is a natural antiseptic that helps control the flow of sebum and oil production. 
  • Activated Charcoal: Activated charcoal is a natural cleansing and exfoliating agent that removes dead skin cells and bacteria and refines pores.
  • Vitamin E and Vitamin C: Vitamin E and Vitamin C help strengthen the skin and reduce the look of blemishes, fine lines, and wrinkles.
  • Aloe Vera: Aloe heals and soothes the skin, helping to moisturize the skin and calm inflammation and irritation caused by pimples.
  • Salicylic Acid: Salicylic acid is popular in many acne treatment products. It sheds dead skin cells and reduces inflammation. It's a powerful ingredient, so if you have dry skin or sensitive skin, use it sparingly. It can cause sun sensitivity in some people, so be sure to use a moisturizer with SPF if you are using products that contain salicylic acid.

Charcoal Acne Exfoliating Face Wash

We recommend using TreeActiv Charcoal Acne Exfoliating Face Wash daily, followed by the Acne Treatment Face Cream Moisturizer. Each of these products contains powerful, natural ingredients that treat and prevent acne blemishes, while being gentle enough to use daily.

If your cystic acne occurs on your back, arms, or other places on your body, check out the Body Acne Treatment Spray. It covers large, hard-to-reach areas. We recommend applying it to dry skin directly after a shower.

4. Use a strong spot treatment.

Cystic acne often causes more severe breakouts than those with mild to moderate acne, so sometimes a spot treatment is needed in addition to your daily skincare routine. A spot treatment will help clear up any blemishes that appear overnight.

Try using a product containing natural ingredients like Bentonite Clay and Witch Hazel, like the TreeActiv Cystic Acne Spot Treatment. It's concentrated and more powerful than a daily cleanser. Apply a small amount of this product directly onto problem spots to quickly reduce the appearance of blemishes. The bentonite clay removes toxins and takes out severe acne quickly, while the witch hazel and other natural ingredients fight bacteria and unclog pores. 

5. See a dermatologist.

If you still have severe acne or if your cystic acne still doesn't clear up after these at-home remedies, it may be time to call a dermatologist. They can prescribe a prescription topical treatment or oral medications to help.

Prescription treatments for acne tend to be stronger and should be monitored by your doctor to ensure you don't do damage to your skin. Your doctor may prescribe an oral antibiotic or topical antibiotics to help treat your cystic acne. Antibiotics are known to cause sun sensitivity, so be sure to use a SPF moisturizer daily while taking any acne medications. 

Your dermatologist may also recommend that you adjust your diet. Research is still being done on the link between food sensitivities and acne, but some studies suggest that certain food sensitivities can trigger an immune response that can aggravate acne.

They may suggest that you avoid foods like dairy, white bread and other simple carbs, whey protein (which is derived from a milk product), and greasy foods.

Don't Settle For Living With Cystic Acne

Woman who got rid of acne

You don't have to settle for living with cystic acne. Often, some changes to your skincare routine can quickly reduce cystic acne spots and get you on the path to healthier skin. 

Here are some of our favorite TreeActiv products that you can add to your skincare routine to treat cystic acne: