Acne is a pain. Not only can it be very damaging when it comes to self-confidence, but some spots can also be incredibly painful and difficult to get rid of — and if that's your case, then chances are you have cystic acne. Depending on where they are situated on the face, spots require different treatments, and although some gadgets or unexpected products can help calm your skin woes, cysts are a whole new beast that needs to be fought very carefully. To learn more about them, I called on Dr. Jonquille, a cosmetic doctor and skin expert. Read on to see what she had to say, and remember: whatever you do, do not put toothpaste on your spots.
What Is a Cyst?
According to Dr. Jonquille, there are around 42 types of cysts. They range "from sebaceous cysts on the skin and benign cysts in the breast, to acne which presents itself as cystic in nature." Spots, she explains, come from "the increase of hormones, which in turn increases the production of oil and sebum on the surface of the skin. When the pores get clogged with dead skin cells, sebum, and bacteria, the area becomes red and swollen. With cystic acne, the infection goes deep into the skin, forming a red, tender lump that is filled with pus."
What Are the Differences Between a Cyst and a Normal Spot?
Normal and cystic spots can be quite similar in appearance (they are red, raised, and pretty painful), but the former will be easier to clear. "They usually clear up on their own or with the use of a mild topical cleanser or cream that contains an exfoliant such a salicylic, glycolic, mandelic, or lactic acid," explains Dr. Jonquille. "These products help to reduce the oil production, clear, and tighten the pores, and as such reduce the inflammation." When it comes to cystic spots, they tend "not to have a head as the infection is much deeper in the skin, and as such cannot be manually removed."
Why Do We Get Cysts?
Thankfully, not everybody gets cysts, but I was quite curious to know why some people do get them. "There is no definitive reason," explains Dr. Jonquille, "but it is usually hormonally determined. You can develop this condition at any age, but it is more common in your teenage years when there is a surge in hormones, although it can of course also be affected by the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and even the menopause. There is also a condition called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome which can also present itself in the formation of cystic acne on the face, back, shoulders, or chest." And if you thought it was yet another thing that women have to put up with, turns out that men are actually more likely to suffer from cystic acne than we are.
How Should We Treat Cysts?
Unfortunately, cystic acne is more difficult to treat than "normal" acne. According to Dr. Jonquille, one of the most successful treatments is a medical procedure called Theraclear, which uses a vacuum to deep cleanse the pores and broadband light to reduce sebum production and clear the bacteria. Other treatments consist of oral antibiotics, creams containing vitamin A or retinols, and, if all else fails, a course of Isotretinoin (or Roaccutane), which will decrease the activity of the sebaceous glands, and thus stop the oil production. Although generally effective, know that the use of this product should not be taken lightly as it could have severe psychiatric effects, and note that you will have to pass a few tests before your doctor gives you a prescription.
All that being said, Dr. Jonquille reminds us that, under absolutely no circumstances should a cyst be squeezed: "This will not reduce the inflammation but could cause the bacteria to spread, which will exacerbate the condition and could lead to further inflammation and scarring."
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