How to Treat Cystic Acne, According to Dermatologists
However, she notes that noncomedogenic products won’t necessarily treat your breakouts — they just won’t contribute to the problem. That said, choosing a moisturizer that contains ceramides, niacinamide, or hyaluronic acid can be especially helpful.
“These ingredients help to reduce redness and inflammation and restore the skin’s protective barrier. This is important because many acne-fighting active ingredients tend to be drying and irritating to the skin.” The Dr. Dennis Gross Stress Repair Face Cream is a noncomedogenic moisturizer that contains all three. Use it after washing with a salicylic-acid cleanser.
Finish with a medicated spot treatment to kill the bacteria
Benzoyl peroxide works by lowering levels of acne-causing bacteria on the skin, thereby reducing inflammation, which is why Dr. Zeichner recommends using the ingredient as a spot treatment. Skin-care products come in 2.5, 5, and up to 10 percent concentrations of benzoyl peroxide, but you don’t necessarily have to max out on it. “Studies have shown that even low concentrations of benzoyl peroxide are as effective as higher concentrations, but are associated with less dryness of the skin,” he says.
Dr. Zeichner recommends looking for leave-on acne spot treatments with 2.5 percent benzoyl peroxide, such as Neutrogena Rapid Clear Stubborn Acne Daily Leave-On Mask or Paula’s Choice Clear Daily Skin Clearing Treatment.
For painful cystic acne, top it off with a hydrocortisone cream cocktail to reduce redness and inflammation
Applying an over-the-counter, one-percent hydrocortisone cream, which contains a low dose of topical steroids, can help reduce redness and calm inflammation. Try Aveeno’s 1% Hydrocortisone Anti-Itch Cream or Cortizone 10 Maximum Strength Cream.
For the peskiest of big pimples, like cystic acne on the chin, combine a hydrocortisone cocktail as a leave-on spot treatment. Dr. Zeichner recommends a hydrocortisone cream to reduce inflammation, a 2 percent salicylic acid product to dry out excess oil (we like The Ordinary’s Salicylic Acid 2% Masque), and then benzoyl peroxide to kill acne-causing bacteria. “Put a drop of all three in the palm of your hand, mix them together, then apply,” he says.
For those with skin that’s not sensitive or doesn’t get easily dried out, another combo option is to swap in a sulfur-spiked treatment in place of the salicylic acid. “The combination of these three over-the-counter products — a sulfur-containing mask (try Sunday Riley’s Saturn Sulfur Acne Treatment Mask), a benzoyl-peroxide cream (we love Clearasil’s Daily Clear Acne Treatment Cream), and a mild cortisone salve — usually proves very effective when mixed and applied two to three times a day over the cyst for seven to 10 days,” says board-certified dermatologist Leyda Bowes, M.D., who is based in Miami.
When all else fails, color-correct the cyst
When your cystic acne persists despite your very best efforts, Dr. Nazarian recommends using makeup with a slight green tint to help mask redness and blend your pimple into your natural skin tone. Try Cover FX Correct Click Color Corrector, applying a thin layer over the cyst before reaching for your concealer and foundation.
Does cystic acne go away on its own?
Cystic acne may go away on its own, but waiting until your skin magically clears isn’t a risk that dermatologists want their patients to take. “I do not suggest waiting until it phases away, particularly because cystic acne can cause severe and permanent acne scarring,” says Dr. Farhang.
Acne scarring can be more challenging and expensive to treat than the acne itself — better not to scar in the first place than to have to treat a scar after the fact, right? — so as soon as you feel those telltale bumps under the skin, try to get right to your doctor.
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