Cystic Acne: What, Why and How to Treat It

by Charlotte Smith
Cystic Acne: What, Why and How to Treat It

Cystic Acne is one of those skin conditions that often gets overlooked as a superficial issue. Several women battle with the condition beyond teenage years and it can be quite the confidence knocking feat. Even supermodels amongst us have spoken about the effect cystic acne has mentally and emotionally. Kendall Jenner recently announced her partnership with ProActiv, a skincare brand specifically designed for acne-prone skin and shared her struggle with the condition.

If you suffer from breakouts on a regular basis and can’t pinpoint what it might be, you might need to look at the issue from a health perspective. Cystic acne is caused by a myriad of health reasons that can be easily treated. Healthy skin starts with a healthy body. I recently spoke with Aesthetic Specialist and Consultant Dr Toni Phillips at ZO Skin Health to discuss what causes cystic acne in adults and what can be done about it. Check out some of our product recommendations below.

What is it?

What makes cystic acne different from regular breakouts is that it is “deeply embedded in the tissue of the skin so the pimple itself never comes to the surface of your skin” says Dr Phillips.

“Essentially it is a skin infection, large fluid-filled cysts can quickly form layers under the surface of the skin creating a tender bump that is full of pus and is sometimes quite painful to touch. The pimples are formed when a pore in your skin gets clogged – most likely with dead skin cells which leads to swollen and irritated skin. If a cyst burst, the infection can spread and cause further breakouts.”

What causes it?

Whilst it is hard to magnify one direct cause, Dr Phillips mentions hormone shifts as a major cause of cystic acne. “It can be triggered by the increase of hormones that are linked to your period, this is because the hormone level shift increases oil-producing glands which can become swollen due to the excess oil. Hormone shifts can also be brought on by pregnancy, menopause or a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome. The areas most affected are those with the largest number of oil glands such as your jawline and chin.”

Dr Phillips also confirmed that “your diet and the daily consumption of certain foods can affect the natural balance of your skin and cause inflammation which will lead to cysts. Also, if one of your parents had severe cystic acne then you have a greater chance of getting it.”

Working as a model with acne

Model Nejilka, 24 says she first started noticing acne on her forehead as a teenager but noticed acne appearing on her cheeks in the last two years. She has also tried to pinpoint what triggers her acne. “First it was dairy and greasy food, then I noticed it could also be a change of moisturiser or a certain perfume or a foundation. I’m not really sure anymore but it could also be down to the pollution in the environment.”

“The breakouts do affect my confidence. Without makeup, I don’t feel comfortable. Sometimes I don’t care, but the majority of the time I always have makeup on because I feel so self-conscious. I feel like I kind of look really ugly or like a drug addict or something because it’s in such a weird position on my face.” Suffering from cystic acne can make you feel as though you are not in control of your appearance, especially when your career depends on how you look.

“I understand the influencer game, but there are kids that really look up to (Kendall).”

“As a model, it does affect my life a lot, what with a lot of castings and shows. Right now, I can’t do anything with beauty because I don’t have clear skin. I can’t do sunglasses shoots because of the acne. It’s not hard to retouch but it is frustrating for retouchers and it’s frustrating for the photographers and makeup artists. It’s also frustrating for me on a set day because they cake me with makeup, which I wear for like 8 hours and I immediately notice a new pimple after wearing makeup for that long.” Clogged pores is another factor that causes acne and makeup is the main culprit.

“Luckily, I don’t have any more acne thanks to a new skincare regime. I use face masks and exfoliants overnight to help prevent breakouts, as well as Salicylic Acid, which is amazing to use on pimples that are active so they can dry out.”

On Kendall Jenner working with ProActiv, despite it being highly likely she’s never used the range, Nejilka shared her thoughts, “It’s a problem. I understand the influencer game, but there are kids that really look up to her and it’s disrespectful to those kids when she claims it will work for them. It can’t work for everyone. Everyone’s skin is different. There might be different routines, different foods you might need to eat. It’s fake.”

Nutrition and Probiotics for Acne

When it comes to diet, Dr Phillips confirmed that dairy is a big factor in causing inflamed acne. She says to find out if your dairy intake is directly related to your acne cysts, you can do this by completely cutting it out of your diet for three weeks and if no new cysts develop – dairy is your problem. Acne sufferers should also consider using supplementary probiotics. “Using probiotics for your skin is beneficial since it acts as a shield around the skin cells and prevents them from encountering harmful bacteria and parasites, which may produce the acne as immune system response.” However, it is crucial that you buy high-quality probiotics that are acid-resistant.

Quite the confidence knocking feat.– Acne is a problem that everyone hopes they will not have to deal with, especially after dealing with acne as a teenager. Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky and when the time comes, the best source to get information from is They have all the answers to our acne problems plus they suggest products and the best routines to follow.-

Steps to Beat Cystic Acne – Doctor’s Advice

Dr Phillips insists you need a cleanser that deeply unclogs your pores of all dirt and impurities leaving you with refreshed skin. After a deep cleanse, the products in your regime need to have anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants to protect your skin from daily aggressors. ZO Skin Health offers a range of products suitable for all skin types.

Shop some of Nejilka’s personal recommendations:

cystic acne mask

cystic acne moisturiser

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