What Is Cystic Acne and How Do You Get Rid of It?
by Tina Ferraro
Underground zits are the worst of them all.
We've all woken up to the horrifying sight of a pimple (even with our comprehensive array of acne products and carefully crafted skincare routines!), and prayed that it would disappear within a few days. There is, however, a certain skin condition that doesn't go away on its own and can last for up to a few (painful, miserable) weeks: cystic acne. "This particular breed leaves scars and needs to be treated correctly," says Dr. Elizabeth L. Tanzi, a dermatologist and co-director of the Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery. "Teens tend to treat cysts as they would a standard blemish, which will only serve to further irritate already-sensitive skin," she says.
Unlike standard zits, cystic acne is deeply embedded in the skin tissue, so it never actually comes to a poppable head. "It's essentially an infection of the skin, exactly like when you scrape your knee and it gets red and infected," says celebrity skin care expert and esthetician Renée Rouleau. Large, fluid-filled cysts form layers under the surface of the skin, and are often painful to the touch. As with anything acne-related, there's no easy way to discern one specific source of the problem. You may notice that they tend to pop up around that very glamorous time of the month, or they could be the result of a really stress-filled few weeks.
There's even a chance that your diet could be the problem. Rouleau suggests taking a step back and examining your eating habits so you can try to pinpoint the culprit foods behind cyst formation. For example, she cautions, you consume more dairy products than you may be aware of each day, like that delicious latté in the morning or that walnut-coated fro-yo you munched on after school. But daily intake can affect the natural balance of your skin and cause inflammation, which actually speeds up the formation of cysts. (Not too long ago, a Teen Vogue writer gave up dairy to see what it would do to her complexion.)
And as we said before, a cyst is not a zit. So seriously, put the pins and needles down! "Everyone thinks that if they have any kind of pimple, they should pop it," says Joanna Vargas, renowned celebrity esthetician.
"But you need to leave cysts alone, because all that aggression is only making it worse." Cyst-like breakouts actually damage healthy tissue, so picking only exacerbates the skin and inhibits its self-healing abilities. Also? You're more likely to develop scars from trying to pop something so deep down.
Furthermore, since cysts form on the inner layers of the skin, they can't be treated as easily as typical surface acne. "A lot of my clients use traditional spot treatments and end up with dry, flaky bumps, and nothing gets healed because these products aren't designed to penetrate the skin's layers," Rouleau says. These treatments are actually formulated to kill bacteria on the surface, which helps to reduce the infection. A cyst, however, needs a product that can be absorbed deep down. One of the few available on the market is Renée Rouleau Anti-Cyst Treatment, a lactic acid-based formula that acts as an anti-inflammatory. Another plus: It cuts recovery time from those nasty eruptions in half. (Seriously.)
A pretty big key in preventing cyst formation is to focus on proper lymphatic drainage, which will ensure liquids don't get trapped or built up. The easiest way to do this is by incorporating sonic cleansing into your routine. A face brush, like the Philips Pure Radiance Facial Cleansing System,
will help to stimulate the cells and promote proper circulation. You can also check out a genius YouTube tutorial on the French lymphatic facial
Finally, it's important to know that, unlike surface acne, cysts won't heal themselves over time, so it may be wise to consult a dermatologist if this is a recurring issue. "Derms can help you explore different treatment options, from over-the-counter medication to cortisone shots, and find the one that works best for you," Dr. Tanzi says. However, Rouleau cautions that you should exhaust all at-home treatments first. "Those shots are expensive, and they can actually cause temporary indentation on the face," she notes. "It's better to explore all your options before heading to the doctor's." However, if multiple eruptions show up at once or tend to occur frequently, a visit to the derm is in order.
Have any questions for our experts? Leave them in the comments and we'll get back to you.
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