Select a treatment to
get started

What Is Cystic Acne?: Causes, Treatment, and Tips

What causes cystic acne? Preventing cystic acne clearing can often be a long and frustrating process learn how to prevent it and how to avoid it.

Read on

Everyone has had the occasional pimple or breakout, but cystic acne is a much more intense and less common type of acne.

This form of acne can become so severe that it can reduce self-esteem and confidence, making rapid treatment all the more important.

One study showed that successfully treating cystic acne leads to significant improvements in anxiety and depression levels, emphasizing the toll that can take on the overall mood of the person affected.

In this article, we will cover the basics including what it is, what causes it, how you can treat it, and what you can do to prevent it from happening again.


What is cystic acne?

Cystic acne is the most severe form of acne, where the clogged follicles are much deeper than your usual pimples.

These deeply clogged follicles can rupture leading to intense swelling, inflammation, and localized pain, sometimes almost appearing like a boil on the face.

These large blemishes are called cysts, and if left to their own devices they can cause damage to the surrounding tissues, leave scarring, and take weeks to heal.

Cysts can be identified by appearing as large, soft, painful, red or white bumps that are filled with pus and deep in the skin.

Cystic acne is more likely to leave a scar than your usual everyday pimples which are situated in more shallow levels of the skin.

This type of acne is normally on the face, but can also be found on the chest, neck, back, arms, shoulders, or behind the ears.

What causes cystic acne?

Acne cysts are pores that have been clogged by the same things that cause regular pimples - oil, sebum, dirt, dead skin cells.

The cystic acne just tends to be much deeper and more intense than your usual one-off pimple.

Cystic acne is considered to be largely hormonal, meaning that those going through significant hormonal changes like puberty, pregnancy, or menopause tend to be more likely to have a cystic acne outbreak.

One study looked more into the cystic acne hormonal link by measuring the hormone levels of 91 men and women with longstanding cystic acne.

The study found that both the men and women had higher levels of androgens than usual, indicating that higher androgens may play a part in this type of acne.


Potential factors include:

Hormonal changes


Certain birth control medications


Oily skin

Oily cosmetics

Excess sweating

High humidity


Certain medications: Lithium, corticosteroids, phenytoin, isoniazid

How to treat cystic acne?

Cystic acne is significantly more severe than your general acne breakouts, and usually, the best course of action is an oral or topical medication from a doctor.

The over-the-counter acne washes and creams are often not strong enough to fully clear up your acne.

The possible treatments for cystic acne include:


Benzoyl peroxide


Oral antibiotics

Steroid injections

Incision and drainage by a dermatologist

Birth control pills (women only)

Spironolactone (women only)

All medications come with the risk of side effects, and the best treatment course for this type of acne will be identified by your dermatologist.

Strut Acne Formula is a compounded prescription-only acne medication that contains tretinoin along with a topical antibiotic and a skin-soothing B vitamin.

You can meet with our doctors today via an Online Visit to see if Strut Acne Formula is a good option for you.

Best way to prevent cystic acne

With the long healing times and risk of bacterial spreading, clearing can often be a long and frustrating process - so prevention is key.

The following tips might help you prevent these outbreaks:

Don’t wash your face too often (twice daily should be plenty)

Don’t wash your face too little (aim for at least once a day)

Avoid harsh scrubs, exfoliants, or cleansers

Don’t touch your face

Don’t pop and pick at acne

Avoid heavy or oily cosmetics

Remove all makeup before going to sleep

Wash your face after sweating

Shave more gently

Avoid excess sun exposure

Wash your hair regularly to avoid oil transfer

Reduce stress

Avoid high blood sugar spikes

Free shipping
Free follow-up care
Cancel anytime, no fees
Free online MD visit

Related posts