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Bella Guide: Cystic Acne 101

If you're in your 20s or 30s, you've probably experienced stubborn breakouts on your chin. And no matter how much you exfoliate or get facials, a few stubborn lumps won't go away. Welcome to the wonderful world of cystic acne!

Cystic acne differs from your everyday, run-of-the-mill pimple farm. This kind of spot is buried under the skin, so it won't come to a head no matter the amount of poking and prodding you do. Worse yet, the cysts can be red, tender and sore. And lucky for us women, hormones make them more common for us than for men—which is why these devils pop up around that time of the month. To find out what you can do about cystic acne, just

Unfortunately, there's no magic treatment to clear up cystic acne. Don't even think about trying to squeeze the cysts, as you'll just wind up with a lot of pain and potential scarring. (Really, don't do it!) In a few weeks or even months, most of these zits clear up on their own. In more extreme cases, a few treatment options can improve the situation:

  • It won't eliminate cystic acne, but gently applying a warm-to-hot wet washcloth on the pimple seems to help it disappear a little more quickly. It could just be the placebo effect, but at the very least, it's soothing and calming.
  • Birth control pills regulate hormones, which minimizes the breakout factor; but, as is the case with any other medication, you might experience side effects. I use YAZ, a low-dose pill approved by the FDA to keep women minimally zitty (and minimally pregnant). I still break out a little bit each month, but nowhere near as badly as I used to.
  • Topical retinoids such as Retin-A Micro can help clear up cystic acne, but things might get worse before they get better—be prepared for peeling, redness and photosensitivity. I tried Retin-A Micro a few years ago and decided the side effects weren't for me, but your experience could be different.

  • Accutane is considered the last-resort option for severe, recurring cystic acne. While it's largely effective, most dermatologists I've talked to say they won't prescribe it unless it's the sole remaining option due to the side effects (which can include birth defects).


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