Everything you need to know about dealing with cystic acne.

Image via Instagram (@mrshayre).

It’s an unfortunate myth that pimples and acne end with your teens, with many people still facing skin troubles well into their twenties, thirties, forties and beyond.

Singer Lily Allen has spoken openly about adult acne, echoing what most are thinking: “How is it fair that I’m getting acne at 30?”

The worst offender of the lot? Cystic acne.

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Also known as “nodulocystic acne”, cystic acne often surfaces later than other forms and is actually quite common on other areas of the body too.

What causes it?

“It’s different from other acne as it’s often triggered by hormonal changes (like puberty) but it can also be triggered by some hormonal treatments, your environment and much more,” explains Darlene O’Gara, National Training Manager at Australian Skin Clinics. (Post continues after gallery.)

“When sebum becomes trapped in follicles beneath the skin, bacteria can increase which subsequently becomes infected creating a cyst of infection leading to cystic acne,” she says.

“The pressure of this built up sebum can cause cell walls to breakdown, leading to the infection to spread sideways underneath your skin.”

Attempting to squeeze it is the worst thing you can do.

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How can you treat it?

“Never try to squeeze the cyst as this will increase the likelihood of infection spreading through the deeper tissues,” says O’Gara.

According to Associate Professor Greg Goodman of the Dermatology Institute of Victoria, a consultation with your doctor is essential. They might recommend you take sustained oral treatments such as antibiotics or Isotretinoin (RoAccutane) to treat it effectively.

Lily Allen suffers from acne on her chin and jawline. Image via Instagram.

"Sometimes even oral cortison is required. Injection of cysts with cortisone as well as drainage of the cysts on occasion in severe cases," he says.

If hormones are a contributing factor for females, O'Gara says the introduction of contraceptive pill can often stabilise or regulate hormone levels and help reduce cystic acne.


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Unfortunately, there's no quick fix, and the time it takes to clear up varies from person to person based on a number of contributing factors and which treatment option you go for.

O'Gara says symptoms can be effectively improved over a period of months or sometimes years, but Dr Goodman warns that even on adequate treatment, you can be prone to scarring unless it is treated early and aggressively.

Unlike normal acne, there aren't really any set preventative measures you can take to avoid cystic acne, but ensuring you're using the usual non-pore clogging ingredients in your skincare can be helpful. (Post continues after gallery.)

O'Gara advises that advanced skin treatments like microdermabrasion, medi-aesthetic peels and fractional radio frequency treatments can help, as they aim to reduce the size of the sebaceous glands which will in turn reduce the production of sebum.

In terms of skincare products, she recommends looking for formulas that use ingredients such as AHAs and retinol, although it's important to consult your doctor to find the best product to cater to your own individual needs first.

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The worst thing you can do when it comes to cystic acne? Not seeking medical help at the first opportunity.

"It can have a negative impact on your emotions and mental health. It is treatable and needs to be done early and effectively," Dr Goodman explains. (Post continues after gallery.)

Using the wrong products and squeezing and spreading the infection are also common mistakes O'Gara sees being made.

Ultimately, the best thing you can do is seek help right from the start. Rather than fretting or worrying about it on your own, early treatment is the best way to the best results.

Do you suffer from cystic acne? What do you use to treat it?