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Cortisone Shot For Acne: Description and Review

What It's Like to Get the Emergency Acne Shot

There are two kinds of beauty stories. The first type involves fun, fantasy topics like sexy hair and gorgeous lipstick. And then there's the other kind of beauty story, which sheds light on unattractive and awkward subjects like chin hair. This post falls firmly into the latter category. You've been warned. The subject: seriously nasty acne, and what to do about it.

A few months ago, I started breaking out worse than ever before. It was not cute. We're talking zits that you could easily see from 10 feet away, zits that were painful to the touch, zits that settled in for months at a time. Nothing helped — not benzoyl peroxide, not tretinoin, not blue light. Nothing. So as a last resort, I made an appointment for a cortisone shot. Find out whether it worked, and what it's like to be needled for your acne, after the jump.

So what is a cortisone shot? Basically, it's a last resort for a pimple that won't go away or needs to disappear fast. Such injections are administered only by dermatologists, and they aren't meant to be a regular thing. For instance, if Krakatoa sprouts on your chin two days before your wedding, you might consider a cortisone shot. The shot works by releasing cortisone, a corticosteroid, into an inflamed pustule. It dramatically reduces inflammation and speeds up healing time. In some cases, a monster pimple can disappear within 24 hours. Side effects are unusual, but the most common one is a "sunken" appearance where the pimple used to be.

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In my case, I had two stubborn spots. One was your typical gargantuan pimple next to my nose, and the other was a cystic bump. Off to the dermatologist I went. "How long have you had this?" he asked of the enormous, deep-under-the-skin lump on my jaw.

"About two months," I said.

"Oh, you should have come in earlier," he said. Noted.

Then he went to work. It's kind of icky stuff, but if you want to know what it's like, here you go. First, my dermatologist cleaned my face. Next, he used a metal tool to lop off the top of the pimple and push out all of the sebum inside. Then, he injected the cortisone directly into the pimple. It wasn't painful, but it certainly wasn't the most comfortable sensation. That was over in a matter of 10 or 20 seconds.

Here's where things get grosser. The pimple on my jawline was a deep cystic nodule. It felt like a pea underneath my skin. "That's never going to come to a head," my doc said. "I'm going to have to numb the area first." Ruh roh. So that's what he did. After injecting my face with what seemed like three gallons of anesthesia — in reality, less than a syringe full — he made a small incision with a scalpel, then drained the pimple. Even with the numbness, I could feel the pressure and was glad I couldn't see the bloody scene.

From there, he injected the spot with cortisone and covered it with a small bandage. "It won't leave a scar," he said, "but it's pretty red right now." And off I went.

People claim that such shots can make pimples disappear overnight, but my results weren't quite that dramatic. The next day, I still had some redness at the injection sites. But the blemishes were much less obvious, and more importantly, they were no longer painful. The biggest benefit was the healing time; I had significantly quicker healing and less scarring than I had from earlier similar monstrosities. During the following month, I finally figured out the cause of my acne — more on this soon — so I haven't had many breakouts since then. For an emergency, though, I'd consider a cortisone shot again. If you have questions, ask them in the comments, and I'll answer!

Pros:

  • Drastic improvement and faster healing time
  • Effective when all other fixes have failed

Cons:

  • Cost. My office visit was $125.
  • Can't be used frequently.
  • Requires a doctor's appointment, which can be difficult to schedule.
Image Source: Thinkstock
dennismitchell dennismitchell 3 years

Yes wash your face with cetaphil and use the cortisone as a moisturizer. I keep it in the refrigerator. That's all is use, someone showed me this and complelety worked for me

Nathalie15320985 Nathalie15320985 3 years

does it??? really??? I have cystic acne on my cheeks and no prescription has helped me :( My derm wants to put me on accutane but I don't want to.

dennismitchell dennismitchell 3 years

Tip if you get cystic acne and don't want to contsantly get the shot, try cortizone cream it also works.

Shelly14833897 Shelly14833897 4 years
So what was the cause of your acne? I can't find the post.
Annie-Tomlin Annie-Tomlin 5 years
The shot is meant to be used only on existing blemishes — it doesn't prevent acne. And you don't want to use it on every single one. Think of it as an emergency option.
xloriann xloriann 5 years
Is it only on your blemishes that you get this.. or you could get this shot to prevent acne?
Annie-Tomlin Annie-Tomlin 6 years
So, Denver, how did it go? Are you glad you got the shot? Sounds like it. The pill also improved my skin, but pretty much made other things awful. I do break out more than I did when on it, but everything's a tradeoff, it seems.
DenverFashionista DenverFashionista 6 years
I just had an injection this morning. I haven't broken out like this in years and was dealing with the breakout until the MONSTER took residence on my chin over the weekend. I promptly called my dermatologist and got an appointment with the Physician Assistant (great alternative as typically has availability and the office visit is less than the MD). I am relieved to say the pain has disappeared and the bump is quickly shrinking down. I am hoping a little make-up in the morning will make me presentable for work. Is it awful that I called in sick today? Thank goodness for these shots! On a side note, these types of breakouts are mainly due to hormones. I stopped taking the pill last month and clearly it has wrecked havoc on my face. I will promptly get back on it. I also got a prescription for a med that is supposed to help regulate hormones but also acts as a diuretic - a little weight loss on the side will be a benefit. Once I pick it up, I will post the name since I can't remember now.
jamie-ferrari jamie-ferrari 6 years
Thanks for the great article. I've gone through having these injections on a couple of occasions and they worked like a charm. These shots for those enormously painful, under the skin, won't go away, and seem to look angrier by the day spots are amazing. I had a short period of time when this was happening with my skin and the shot seemed to work instantly. The pain, pressure and swelling was gone within a day or two and what a relief. Great choice before a special event or if you just can't stand another day of suffering with one of these hideous monsters under your skin.
Annie-Tomlin Annie-Tomlin 6 years
Styrch, I've heard good stuff about the anti-cyst treatment. Will write about acne/dairy discovery soon -- it's been a busy week here at Sugar HQ. Zeze, Yelp is super helpful for things like doctors, plumbers, dentists, et cetera. It's a good starting point, and I found my wonderful dermatologist that way. Good luck!
zeze zeze 6 years
Thanks Annie, I'll take a look, I've only used yelp for restaurants, I had no idea!
styrch styrch 6 years
I was going to interject here that I too was on the edge of my seat waiting to hear the continuation of the Acne issue. There's been a lot of talk lately about dairy and acne. Your revelation is very much in sync with what I've been reading. On another note, I've found I can get my cystic acne under control using Renee Rouleau's Anti-Cyst treatment. I was skeptical at first, purchased it on a 20% off deal and am now IN LOVE. I even got a coworker who had similar cystic acne issues hooked on it. Good stuff.
GoryGorilla GoryGorilla 6 years
I've also gotten a cortisone shot! I had this one dime size pestering cystic pimple on my cheek. It just grew under my skin and it started to get sore to the touch and discolored. Some days it would look like someone punched me in the face. After months, the weight and pain of it being on my face was unbearable so I went to the dermatologist and got it injected. It was pretty painful for me when he had the stuff out before he injected the cortisone. It looked sunken in for a day. It's basically gone but from this day, when I feel the area where the cyst used to be, I still feel a small bump. It seems minor but still disconcerting. My dermo told me that cysts never actually go away without surgery?
Annie-Tomlin Annie-Tomlin 6 years
Congrats, anon — it feels good to clear up skin problems, no? Glad things are working so well for you. Interesting that hummus breaks you out! At least now you know, right? Zeze, I don't know what part of Michigan you're from, but I found mine by looking at Yelp reviews. I'd imagine the larger cities like Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Kzoo, etc will have quite a few dermatologists to choose from.
zeze zeze 6 years
I need to find a good dermatologist, what's the best website to find this info, anyone know. I'm in Michigan by the way.
Annie-Tomlin Annie-Tomlin 6 years
Carooooooooooooooooooline, I'd talk with a dermatologist if it bothers you, see what he or she says. If it doesn't bother you, enh, I'd personally let it ride.
Annie-Tomlin Annie-Tomlin 6 years
Anon at 10:48, nope, cortisone cream won't do the same thing. Here and there, you could apply it, but long-term use of cortisone isn't a good idea. Ladyseven, thanks for the comment. I'll look for that Neutrogena gel -- haven't tried it. prblms4loki, it depends on what's important to you. I'd probably go back for a small, painful cyst or one that hasn't disappeared in months. Otherwise, I would save the shot for the monsters. There are, after all, possible side effects. I think it's smart to use it just as a last resort, and even then, sparingly. Deanna, I wouldn't feel vain if it's something that really upsets you. Getting a pimple here and there is no big deal, but if you feel self-conscious or have painful cysts, a dermatologist can help. The cysts take months to go away for me, too, and that particular one was very sore. If you've never been to a dermatologist and OTC methods aren't working for you, definitely make an appointment. Sometimes a doctor can prescribe a treatment that makes a big difference. My derm said that if I hadn't come in for the one on my jawline, it could have taken a year to go away.
deanna024 deanna024 6 years
Cystic acne is the worst. I hate the feeling of those horrible bumps under the skin, and they are so painful and take months to clear up (on me, at least). Hearing what your doctor said about you coming in sooner, maybe I should start doing that. I feel so vain going in for help with acne!
prblms4loki prblms4loki 6 years
Thanks so much for doing an article on this! I always heard of it as the last resort, like ladyseven, but have known anyone who's done it! I'm glad it's all gone now, but would you recommend it for smaller cystic ones? Or just wait for the monsters?
Ladyseven Ladyseven 6 years
Excellent article! I've always heard of the cortisone shot as a "last resort" for a beastly zit, but never tried it. I wish I had- I have a gnarly scar on my forehead from rooting out a deep bastard about two years ago. Fortunately *product alert* I grabbed a tube of Neutrogena 2-in-1 Fight and Fade Gel. It's healed the really noticeable scarring, and you can really only see the scar in particular light, now. I use it on all my lurkers now, especially the spots I pick at (i'm terrible with that) and my skin is so happy with me for it! I was surprised, because I have sensitive combo skin and slight rosecea. Aside from the slightly freaky bleach scent, A freaking +++++. p.s. I actually think the smell has a weird placebo effect- I automatically think of industrial cleaners, which it sort of is. :)
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