Contrary to popular belief, cystic acne isn’t just a teenage problem. It can affect anyone at any age.
In fact, cystic acne is a skin condition that can affect adults who have never had issues with acne during their teenage years.
This can be due to several factors, including years of damage from not having a good skincare routine, using clogging makeup, dealing with hormonal imbalances, experiencing food intolerances, etc.
Cystic acne is one of the most severe forms of acne, and if left untreated, this condition can cause scarring and permanent damage to the skin.
Luckily, there are many ways to treat and maintain this inflammatory condition, and although some people may require antibiotics or even Accutane, others may very well resort to natural homemade remedies that can help soothe inflammation and reduce the number of lesions.
Therefore, if you would instead take the latter route, this article is definitely for you.
Here, we will discuss some of the best natural remedies for cystic acne in adults and how to use them for the best results.
But before we jump to the remedies, let’s first understand what causes cystic acne, as knowing your condition will give you an idea of what you’re dealing with and what are some things you have to avoid while trying to improve your skin.
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What is Cystic Acne?
Cystic acne forms when pores become clogged with oil and dead skin cells.
This happens when the sebaceous glands produce too much oil, and the dead skin cells don’t slough off from the skin’s surface properly.
The combination of these two factors will create a perfect airless environment for bacteria to grow, leading to inflammation that would start as a small pimple and eventually become a cystic lesion if left untreated.
How to Diagnose Cystic Acne?
Symptoms of cystic acne are generally easy to spot and involve the appearance of large and inflamed cysts that are often discolored, red, purple, or brown, depending on your skin tone and the severity of the inflammation.
Cystic acne isn’t pustular, and the lesions don’t tend to have a white head even though they are full of pus and cellular debris under the raised surface.
Lastly, cystic acne is tough to the touch, and trying to pick or squeeze it will likely result in the eruption of the skin’s surface, followed by severe discomfort, bleeding, and oozing. While you should try to avoid rupturing cystic acne at all costs it is important to clean out the wound if this does happen. I suggest using warm soapy water to clear out the blood and pus followed by an antibacterial salve like Neosporin, which will promote healing and reduce acne scarring.
Cystic vs. Nodular Acne
Many people confuse cystic acne with nodular acne, but they are actually two different types of severely inflamed lesions that are similar in appearance with a few minor differences.
For example, if cystic acne is tough to the touch, nodular acne is even tougher because this type of acne is composed of sebum and dead skin cells that have solidified inside the pore to the point where they don’t contain any fluids.
Squeezing nodular acne will likely result in an extremely painful and uncomfortable experience, but since there is no fluid to be squeezed out, you will only end up with a sore area.
Nodules along with cysts appear during later stages of moderate to severe inflammation, but they are essentially the result of the same factors: a pore clogged with hardened sebum and dead skin cells that’s hosting bacterial overgrowth.
Additionally, many people who are dealing with severe acne usually have a combination of both nodules and cysts, which is something called nodulocystic acne.
This type of acne doesn’t contain a lining of tissue. And unlike the occasional nodule or cyst, this type of acne involves multiple nodules that join together, creating a larger inflamed area.
How to Manage Cystic Acne?
To successfully manage cystic acne, you will likely need to modify several approaches, including your diet, supplementation, and skincare regimen.
When it comes to managing cystic acne, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, and your journey will likely be unique and will require you to experiment with introducing or avoiding certain things that are causing inflammation in your body.
With that said, here are a few helpful starting points:
Since cystic acne is sometimes caused by nutritional deficiencies that affect your hormones, a good place to start is by cutting out potential food intolerances and stuff that could be causing inflammation.
Some components that have a direct effect on androgens and cortisol, which are the hormones that stimulate the sebaceous glands, include dairy, processed foods, sugars, and excessive amounts of caffeine.
Additionally, eating foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) that are abundant in sardines, salmon, and mackerel, have been shown to reduce inflammation and indirectly fight acne.
Lastly, you should also consider introducing probiotic foods into your diet, as these provide health benefits through fighting pathogens and maintaining the homeostasis of the gut and skin microbiome.
Some probiotic foods include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, tempeh, and kombucha.
If you want to improve your diet for clear and healthy skin but don’t really know where to start, you can check out GoogGlow’s Clear Skin Resource Kit, which delivers over 250 pages of food and drink database to set you up on your journey.
In some cases, taking a daily anti-inflammatory supplement such as zinc may also be beneficial since it will help restore the balance of bacteria on the skin by reducing inflammation.
Zinc gluconate is a particularly effective component in fighting moderate to severe acne, with some studies showing significant clinical improvement after three months of regular supplementation.
Besides taking care of your diet and hormones, and paying attention to potential underlying conditions, it’s also crucial to have a good skincare regimen when dealing with cystic acne.
Focus on finding products that are gentle, non-stripping, and don’t contain drying and irritating ingredients such as alcohol denat., perfume, and fragrant components.
These could be causing issues in many different ways and are likely dehydrating your skin to the point where the sebaceous glands work extra to produce excess oil and compensate for the dryness and irritation caused by these ingredients.
Additionally, opt for a gentle exfoliating agent you would use 2-3 times a week to clear the pores and dissolve the cellular debris that’s causing a clog.
Moreover, make sure to also use a lightweight, non-comedogenic moisturizer to balance out skin hydration and minimize the need for excess oil production by the sebaceous glands, as well as sunscreen to protect the cystic lesions from becoming hyperpigmented.
Lastly, if you find that your cystic acne is triggered by certain products that contain heavy and clogging ingredients, be sure to stop using these as this will eliminate a huge chunk of the problem and set you on the right path to recovery.
A good place to check your ingredients is a website called InciDecoder that shows a comedogenicity scale and potential irritating properties of every ingredient found in skincare products.
Natural Spot Treatments for Cystic Acne
Natural spot treatments are an excellent way to get rid of a cystic pimple quickly because these will focus on soothing the inflammation in the area, which is the first step in minimizing the severity of the cystic lesion.
Here are some excellent natural spot treatments for cystic acne:
Ice can be an excellent option for instantly minimizing inflammation on the skin, including a cystic lesion.
You can apply an ice cube directly to the cyst and hold it against the skin for several seconds. This will constrict the small blood vessels that are feeding the painful cyst and minimize its size almost immediately.
However, although icing your cysts can be helpful, avoid pressing ice against the skin for longer than a few seconds as this could lead to an ice burn and even more damage.
Applying ice on a cyst once or twice a day is more than enough, therefore, don’t overdo it, as this method definitely comes with potential side effects.
Witch hazel is an excellent antibacterial ingredient that helps balance out oil production and minimize the food supply for the acne-causing bacteria.
But besides that, its powerful antioxidant components protect the skin oil from oxidation and improve its quality.
Non-oxidized oil won’t become stiff inside the pores and will instead travel to the skin’s surface, where it will serve as a natural lubricant and provide a mildly antibacterial layer on the skin.
Honey is another excellent natural remedy for cystic acne.
Its antibacterial and soothing properties help relieve inflammation and minimize those angry, inflamed, and discolored cysts.
Honey is also abundant in many beneficial components, including fatty acids, amino acids, peptides, antioxidants, and B vitamins, which work together to keep the skin clear, balanced, and healthy.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is another well-known antibacterial ingredient that’s excellent for instantly minimizing the size of a cyst.
That being said, this potent ingredient shouldn’t be used directly on the skin without being diluted with either a carrier oil such as jojoba or in clean, warm, or hot water before applying it to the skin.
Although supper effective, tea tree oil is also super potent, and it can potentially cause irritation and chemical burns if misused.
Rosehip oil is a seriously underrated treatment for cystic acne that can instantly soothe inflammation due to its powerful anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
Prized since ancient times for its valuable healing benefits, rosehip oil is packed with skin-nourishing vitamins and essential fatty acids.
It also contains polyphenols, antioxidants, and nourishing components with antiviral and antifungal properties.
Best Treatments for Cystic Acne
Besides using natural treatments to spot treat cystic acne, you may also want to consider something stronger and more permanent, such as a leave-on product or medication that would work on larger areas affected by cystic acne.
Here are some of the best treatments for cystic acne:
Salicylic acid is an exfoliating acid usually found in lightweight toners and serums.
It works by cutting through the superficial oil and traveling deeper into the pores to dissolve the cellular debris that’s causing a clog.
Salicylic acid also has anti-inflammatory properties, which can soothe cystic acne in a matter of days.
Mandelic acid is another exfoliating acid that’s slightly different than salicylic acid.
This ingredient works both inside the pores and on the skin’s surface, and it’s even milder than salicylic acid, meaning it’s more suitable for sensitive skin.
It can be found in toners, serums, and masks and can be used 2-3 times a week for best results. If you are looking for a high-quality mandelic acid product, several members of our team have seen great success with the Ordinary’s Mandelic Acid serum. This serum helps keep the skin supple and hydrated without clogging the pores or triggering acne breakouts. If you want to take a look at all the skin serums our team has reviewed, take a look at our best acne serums article.
Benzoyl peroxide is an oxygenating agent that infuses the pore with oxygen and destroys the airless environment bacteria thrive in.
Benzoyl peroxide is also a keratolytic agent, meaning it can stabilize the cellular turnover and prevent the process of cyst formation before it even starts.
This ingredient can be found in cleansers, leave-on spot treatments, gels, masks, and moisturizers and can be used daily in combination with exfoliating acids or on its own.
Retinoids are vitamin A derivatives that increase cellular turnover, purge clogs to the skin’s surface, and reduce inflammation.
They’re available in prescription and over-the-counter form and can be found in various topical formulations, including creams, gels, and lotions.
Despite the initial side effects that include peeling, shedding, purging, and mild to moderate irritation, retinoids are one of the most effective treatments for cystic acne.
If your cystic acne is severe and you have been dealing with it for a long time, your doctor might suggest antibiotics due to their fast action.
Antibiotics work by destroying the bacteria causing the infection, and they are usually a short-term therapy that lasts from 3-6 months.
During the time of taking antibiotics, your skin is likely to change and experience side effects such as increased dryness and irritation, which is why having a good skincare routine is very important.
Lifestyle Habits That Can Exacerbate Cystic Acne
While cystic acne is mostly a bacterial issue, some lifestyle habits can worsen this condition in some cases.
Here are some of the most common culprits:
Lack of Sleep
Getting proper sleep on a nightly basis won’t only improve your overall health and wellbeing but will likely affect your skin through balancing your hormones and decreasing inflammation associated with cystic acne.
But besides getting a good night’s sleep, you should also pay attention to the pillows you rest your head on because, believe it or not, they could also be behind your skin concerns and may potentially be exacerbating your acne.
Cortisol, also known as the stress hormone, can have some positive effects on our bodies, such as making us get out of bed in the morning, but excess of it can definitely be a disaster for someone dealing with cystic acne.
Cortisol is known to trigger inflammation in the body, which not only exacerbates acne but can even trigger allergic reactions.
A small study of 144 medical students aged 22-24 indicated that an increase in stress severity strongly correlated with an increase in acne severity, which was statistically significant.
Additionally, some research suggests that individual differences in the bacterial populations of the gut microbiome, which play a modulatory role in systemic immunity, may worsen acne when impacted by stress.
It’s well known that alcoholic beverages like red wine contain antioxidants that are good for your blood circulation.
However, consuming alcohol in excess is never a good idea if you aim to have healthy and clear skin.
Alcohol is a toxin with little nutritional value and can contribute to acne breakouts, decreased liver function, reduced immunity, hormone disruption, cell damage, and insulin issues due to containing high amounts of sugar.
And these are all things your skin’s health and appearance pretty much depend on.
But besides causing so much inflammation in the body that’s certainly not doing your cystic acne any favor, excessive drinking may also lead to permanent skin conditions such as rosacea, which is one of the least understood and most challenging skin conditions to deal with.