- Cystic acne is characterized by large pus-filled lesions that form deep beneath the skin’s surface
- This form of acne is classified as one of the most severe and requires prompt intervention with over-the-counter and prescription medications
- While home remedies cannot heal cystic acne, they can provide multiple benefits by supporting conventional therapies and alleviating uncomfortable symptoms
Acne is a chronic skin condition in which hair follicles (pores) become blocked with sebum, (lubricating oils) dead skin cells and other debris to form noninflamed pimples. However, when Cutibacterium acnes bacteria multiply, this triggers a response that causes mild to severe inflammatory acne. This form of acne is considered severe, and as such, requires aggressive treatment; however, home remedies for cystic acne can be complementary treatments to support healing.
Cystic acne is a type of acne that requires prescribed oral and topical medications, as well as over-the-counter (OTC) treatments.
How to Tell if You Have Cystic Acne
The first sign of inflammatory acne is characterized by lesions called papules. These are small, red bumps that may feel tender, but are free of pus. Without intervention, C. acnes will accumulate and cause worsening symptoms in the form of pustules and cysts.
Cysts are inflamed, large and painful, pus-filled lesions that form deep within the dermis and cause widespread redness, swelling and irritation; symptoms are a result of the immune system attempting to rid the body of the harmful bacteria.
This infection is also visible on the surface of skin and presents as small to large red boils that are both tender and unsightly. These boils are filled with pus that rupture and form crusty scabs.
Your dermatologist can provide you with an accurate diagnosis, but you can tentatively identify your symptoms as cystic based on the above description.
Study after study shows that acne can have a great impact on self-esteem and quality of life. As well, acne severity is linked to level of emotional distress due to the skin’s appearance during active flare-ups as well as the extensive scarring that commonly develops afterward.
Cystic acne causes
Cystic acne develops for the same reasons as other forms of inflammatory acne, but is distinguished by its severity.
Cystic acne causes are linked to greater sebum production as noted in the following causes:
Diet: While there are conflicting studies, some studies have established a link between acne and certain dairy products as well as high-glycemic foods such as white bread, pasta and rice. High sebum production and worsening acne is strongly influenced by these foods.
Genetics: Some people may be at greater risk of developing cystic acne due to their genetic predisposition. These genes can influence sebum production and acne severity, as well as play a key role in inflammatory responses.
Stress: Anxiety and stress, especially for prolonged periods of time, causes greater levels of cortisol, a hormone that is released during times of stress. This has a negative impact on skin as it not only stimulates sebum production but causes widespread inflammation.
Do Home Remedies Work for Cystic Acne?
Home remedies, by themselves, are not effective against severe forms of acne.
Cystic acne is challenging to treat due to the extent of the inflammation and infection. It is vital to begin a prescribed treatment plan immediately upon diagnosis in order to limit the extent of the skin damage by managing and controlling the infection.
In short, effective treatment requires an approach that includes well-established topical and oral treatments, both OTC and prescribed. By using combination therapy, several modes of action can better target the infection quickly and accelerate healing.
However, home remedies in the form of herbal medicines and vitamins can offer support by helping to alleviate the redness, inflammation, pain and itching that is associated with cystic acne. Research demonstrates that medicinal plants, such as tea tree oil and aloe vera can offer several strong benefits, and therefore have a role alongside conventional acne medications.
How fast will they work?
As with any topical treatment, it takes time and consistent use to see results. As well, these are temporary improvements that will alleviate symptoms only; cystic acne requires specific topical and oral treatments for control and management.
That being said, cold water therapy in the form of cold compresses or ice can bring immediate relief by decreasing swelling and redness, and calming irritation and pain.
Best Home Remedies for Cystic Acne
Herbal medicines, natural products and vitamins contain valuable healing properties to tamp down inflammation, swelling and stinging, and subdue itching and pain. These remedies are to be used alongside an effective cystic acne treatment plan as decided by your dermatologist.
In one study review examining herbal medicines and acne, researchers found that herbal medicines were commonly combined with standard acne treatments for greater efficacy.
In addition, when used as maintenance therapy, this strategy also proved to be promising, as doing so enabled the initial dose of certain drugs to be reduced along with their commonly associated adverse effects.
Several studies also reported greater synergistic therapeutic effects when different herbal medicines are combined.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is an antiseptic that contains several types of organic acids, including lactic, citric and acetic acids which have all been demonstrated to kill C. acnes bacteria and reduce inflammation and redness. This vinegar can also speed up skin cell turnover to clear skin of damaged and dead skin cells, and remove excess oil.
Undiluted apple cider vinegar is highly acidic and can cause burning and irritation, especially on inflamed skin. Ensure you dilute it properly before applying it to your skin by using 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water.
Use a cotton ball to apply the mixture to the affected area; allow to rest for 10–15 minutes and then rinse it off. Apply 2–3 times per week. It may take 4–6 weeks to see improvements in your skin.
Aloe vera is a plant that has long been used in traditional medicine for its healing properties: it has strong antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects in addition to powerful skin healing vitamins including vitamins A, C and E, which are all antioxidants. These vitamins help
reduce inflammation, repair damaged skin and minimize the appearance of flare-ups.
Aloe vera can soothe inflamed skin, reduce redness and itching and can be used as a moisturizer. As well, it has been demonstrated to significantly reduce acne lesions.
You can purchase a variety of ready-made skin care products containing aloe vera or you can simply take the gel from the plant itself, apply to your skin in the evening and rinse off in the morning.
One fast and effective remedy to treat cystic acne is to use cold temperatures to constrict vessels in the skin to reduce swelling and redness and ease pain.
For best results, first wash your skin with a gentle face wash to rid your skin of grime, debris and excess sebum; gently pat dry.
Wrap an ice cube in a thin cloth and place on the affected area for 1 minute; wait 15 minutes and reapply until symptoms subside. It’s important to avoid placing ice directly on skin or to leave it on skin for too long as this could cause frostbite.
Another way to achieve these results is to perform an ice facial. Submerge your entire face in ice water for 10–15 seconds; lift your face and rest for 15 seconds; repeat this process up to 10 times, maximum. You can perform an ice facial once per day.
Niacinamide, a form of vitamin B3 can provide a number of important benefits to help heal acne, especially severe acne: it has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant and antipruritic properties.
Niacinamide can kill acne-causing bacteria, reduce swelling, inhibit itchiness, and repair, protect and strengthen the skin barrier.
Long-term use of niacinamide can help treat acne by reducing excess sebum production while simultaneously maintaining a balanced level of moisture in skin. This achieves brighter, healthier skin with fewer lesions and improved texture.
Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil is an essential oil that has historically been used as a topical antiseptic agent. It’s an effective choice to help alleviate the symptoms of cystic acne as it has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties to help reduce skin inflammation, redness and swelling.
This oil has been proven to significantly reduce inflamed lesions with fewer side effects than the standard treatment, benzoyl peroxide; it’s also an effective remedy to include alongside prescribed treatments as it can counteract the side effects of standard therapies such as irritation and dry skin.
Tea tree oil is best applied as a spot treatment using a cotton swab. It must be diluted first with a carrier oil (such as almond, olive or rosehip oil) before being applied to the skin; use a ratio of 2 drops tea tree oil to 12 drops carrier oil. Perform a patch test first to see if you have any sensitivities.
Turmeric is a flavorful spice used in Indian cooking and has played a prominent role in traditional medicine. It’s still used today as a topical treatment for a number of health and skin conditions.
Curcumin, the primary active component of turmeric, is known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It can effectively relieve the itching that accompanies inflamed lesions and that occurs during the healing process; produce significant improvements in skin disease severity; subdue redness and inflammation; scavenge for free radicals and protect skin.
To make a turmeric mask, combine 1/2 teaspoon organic turmeric powder with 1/2 cup plain yogurt. After cleansing your face, apply the mask to the affected areas of skin and allow it to rest for 15–20 minutes, then rinse thoroughly with warm water.
Note that it is important to choose organic turmeric as many commercial spices have synthetic dyes which can cause significant staining.
Alternative Over the Counter Treatments
First-line prescribed treatments for severe acne include oral antibiotics and topical combination therapy such as benzoyl peroxide or retinoids. There are several OTC options available to choose from that will complement these prescription medications.
- Azelaic acid has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties to target acne-causing bacteria and inflammation to help heal pimples, and tamp down swelling and redness; it has been demonstrated to reduce the severity of acne and improve quality of life
- Benzoyl peroxide is an anti-inflammatory that kills C. acnes bacteria, calms redness and swelling and shrinks inflamed lesions; it has been shown to be most effective when used in combination with other acne therapies
- Salicylic acid is a chemical exfoliant that can help heal inflamed cysts by breaking apart and dissolving the bonds that hold dead skin cells together, clearing clogged pores and sloughing off grime and excess sebum. One study combining salicylic acid and glycolic acid demonstrated that two acids were better than one in treating cystic acne with over 90% of patients reporting they had significant overall improvements
Cystic acne is a severe form of acne and develops when acne-causing bacteria becomes trapped with noninflamed pimples to form large pus-filled cysts deep within skin tissue. Painful acne blemishes in the form of boils also develop on the surface of skin.
This form of acne must be treated using a two-pronged approach that includes OTC as well as prescription oral and topical medications.
Home remedies such as ice, turmeric masks and niacinamide can help alleviate inflammation, redness, irritation, itchiness and pain. These remedies are to be used alongside conventional treatments and are not a replacement for them.
For best results, see your dermatologist who will determine the best course of treatment; this will help control and heal acne breakouts and will also minimize skin damage and acne scars.
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