The Top 4 Causes for Cystic Acne

Causes for Acne

Did you know that the top reason why regular people, like you and me, visit a dermatologist is acne?

Personally, I had no idea!

The reason for a visit is usually to get rid of horrible, painful cystic acne. And while the causes for cystic acne are actually more or less identical to other types, the treatments between them can differ greatly.

In this post, you’ll learn everything you thought you never needed to know about the most severe type of acne known to man – cystic acne – and how to hopefully get rid of it for good.

What is Cystic Acne?

Cystic acne is, without a doubt, the most severe form of acne. It’s developed when the pores in your skin clogs and eventually get infected and inflamed.

Usually, cystic pimples hurt… a lot. And between all the different types of acne, cysts definitely take the longest time to disappear. They’re also the type that barrows the deepest into your skin.

The good news is, while it may be the most severe type of acne, it’s also the rarest one.

However, the bad news is that the risk of obtaining scarring on your skin is increased with cystic acne. But there are ways to prevent that. Just keep reading to find out how!


Spotting cystic acne is quite easy. Usually, somebody who’s become the victim of it tends to know right away.

Quite noticeably, you get big, red bumps on your skin. Usually in your face, but it’s not unheard of that it can grow on your shoulders and torso as well.

As a result, your self-esteem could plummet because of your inflamed face, along with your psychological health. Because if you notice the cysts; won’t others do too?

Cystic pimples tend to both hurt and itch, often at the same time. And scratching them usually makes them pop and leak fluids (yuck, I know). This increases the risk of scarring even further and also allows for bacteria to flow freely into the open wound, which can worsen the infection dramatically.

Chocolate cake

What Causes Cystic Acne?

When I started reading and learning about acne, I thought that the causes between the various types of acne were different.

But the fact is that the growth gets triggered identically among the different kinds of acne.

The sebaceous glands in your pores produce a matter called sebum. Usually this matter is there to protect your skin and its hair follicles. However, an excess production of sebum tends to clog your pores and build a perfect environment for the P. Acnes bacteria to grow inside them.

The main reasons for excess sebum production are the following:

  • Hormones. Commonly found among teenagers during puberty,  but an imbalance of hormones might also affect women who are pregnant or using birth control. Certain periods in a menstrual cycle can also disturb the hormonal level.
  • Stress. While stress also is a reason for hormonal imbalance, I felt that it deserved to be mentioned separately because of how many diseases today that are stress related. Slow down, people.
  • Genetics. In some cases, your ancient relatives are to blame. Some people with acne are genetically more susceptible to acne related skin conditions.
  • Drugs. No, not that kind. I’m talking medication. Your skin may start developing acne due to the kind of medication you take. Common culprits include lithium, isonazid, phenytoin and corticosteroids. (Yes, I had to Google those words)
  • Grease. Grease from cosmetic products can worsen your acne severely, depending on type and brand. Try being without makeup for a while, just to see if your skin gets any better.

However, there are also plenty of misconceptions (or myths) about what causes acne. These are simply not true and have been scientifically disproved in several studies. The most common ones are:

  • Chocolate. Hooray! As deeply rooted as this myth may be, there’s no scientific proof that chocolate, specifically, causes acne outbreaks. However, that doesn’t mean you can start binge-eating that brown, tasty piece of heaven-on-earth. Chocolate still contains sugar, and too much sugar is considered bad dieting. And a bad diet is definitely not good for your skin!
  • Hygiene. Yes, you still need to take showers. But acne is not caused by poor hygiene. However, maintaining a good hygiene can help keeping your acne at a minimum.
  • Masturbation or sex. Hooray! I’m not sure how sex or masturbation would be even remotely connected to acne, but it’s still one of those myths people believe is true. So I’m just putting this out there. These activities do not cause acne.

So, I bet you’ve heard of at least one of them before. Did you also think at least one of them caused acne?

I’m not ashamed to admit that I did. I used to believe the chocolate myth was true until a few years ago. And I’m hardly alone. It’s a well established, long-lived factoid.

Woman with acne

Who Gets Cystic Acne?

To put it simply; anybody!

Everybody, in all age ranges, can get cystic acne – your 10 year old daughter, to your grandfather at the fine, golden age of 85.

It is, however, more common among teenagers and young adults. Usually because the hormones in their bodies tend to spike through the roof during these years.

Among grown men and women, men tend to get cystic acne more often. However, when women are unlucky enough to attract a cystic pimple, it’s more common that it ends up in the lower half of their face.

How is it Treated?

There are several ways in which you can try fighting your cystic acne. In fact, some treatments can actually be performed right in your very own home.

Beware of the snake oil, though. Some “treatments” that you can find online have little to no effect, and if you’re unlucky they can even end up damaging your skin badly.

So please, please, please… be careful when browsing for remedies!

Below I’ve listed some ways you can treat your cystic acne. All methods work differently for each person, so test a few and see which of them that suits you the best.

  • Benzoyl peroxide. Used as a bleaching agent in teeth whiteners and hair bleach, benzoyl peroxide is also quite an effective zit killer. Beware of dry skin, though.
  • Home remedies. There are several working remedies for acne that you can try at home. Test a few and see which ones that suit your needs.
  • Oral antibiotics. Lowers inflammation and eliminates bacteria. Antibiotics can work, but the results vary greatly.
  • Isotretinoin. Highly effective treatment, but comes with a heap of side effects. Also, it’s unsuitable for pregnant women as it can very likely put the fetus in danger.
  • Steroids. Pay a visit to your nearest dermatologist and they might be able to inject some triamcinolone straight into the cyst(s). This treatment is definitely recommended in order to minimize scarring. Can be a bit expensive, though.
  • Birth Control. Yes, I know I said that birth control can cause acne due to hormonal imbalance. However, this can also work the other way around. Birth control is sometimes used as a long-term acne treatment. It can be combined with spironolactone – a steroid – to hinder androgens.

Preventive Measures

As I’ve recently explained, stress is quite a common cause for cystic acne. Stress can trigger hormones, which trigger the overproduction of sebum. Reducing stress can help a lot with hindering outbreaks.

A few ways to reduce stress include:

  • Meditation.
  • Getting enough sleep.
  • Yoga.
  • Not spreading yourself too thin. Delegate responsibility to others.
  • Being periodically unavailable. Turn off your phone and computer now and then.

Also, maintain a healthy diet to keep your GI at a sound level. A high GI load (glycemic index) has a tendency to trigger acne outbreaks.

Meditating person


So, as you can see, the causes for cystic acne are exactly the same as any other kind. Where the various acne types differ, however, is in the way they’re treated.

Treatments for cystic acne is a bit more extreme than what you’d normally go through with milder acne. And that’s not so strange, because cystic is definitely the most severe kind by far.

You should now have a little idea about the different causes, symptoms and treatments related to cystic acne. Hopefully you can find a treatment that works well for you.

Just remember to maintain a steady, healthy diet and keep your stress at a minimum in order to prevent acne outbreaks. Ideally, acne shouldn’t be the main motivator. They’re simply good habits to have, regardless of if you have acne.

Finally, if you feel there’s something missing in this article, or if you’d like my help with anything, just drop a comment below and I’ll back to you as soon as possible!

Until next time!

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6 Reply to “The Top 4 Causes for Cystic Acne

  1. Wow, this is such a useful information about cystic acne. My niece has acne and we are not sure who to get rid of it. You have given such an amazing information, she might have cystic acne, I will forward this article to her soon after finishing my feedback. As I can see you have many other amazing articles regarding skin problem. I think I should share it with my friends. Great job you have done…keep it up..looking forward for more articles from you.

    1. Thank you, Sarah! I try to provide as much thorough information as I can 🙂

      I’m sorry to hear about your niece. Acne is such a complex disease and treatment that may work for one person, is not guaranteed to work on the other. I hope she can take advantage of the info I’m posting on here, though. 🙂

      Thanks for the visit!

  2. Hi Mike.
    This is a great article, that I wish I would have found in my teens, cause I was really badly hit with acne at that time. It actually went on well into my twenties, and even though I tried a host of different remedies, nothing really seemed to work.

    Today I’m pretty sure that a combination of stress and hormones were the main culprit. But back then I only looked at my diet. So I would stay away from any sugary foods for weeks. But when I didn’t see any noticeable results I would throw myself into binge eating in frustration… Not a particularly healthy cycle… 😉
    I really wish I had knownsome of the things you describe in this article, it would have been a big help!

    Thank you for spreading good information!

    Best wishes,

    1. Hey Michael,

      Yeah, acne affects teens most commonly because of the tsunami of hormones in their bodies. And like you say, I don’t think stress is helping either.

      Speaking of diet; apart from sugar, dairy is also quite a common culprit when it comes to diet related acne. Did you drink a lot of milk in your teens?

      Thanks for the kind words, and for sharing your experience with us 🙂

      Have a nice day!

  3. Hi Mike
    Thank you for sharing this post, its very informative.
    My teen daughter is struggling with acne, she has tried so many remedies but nothing seem to be working for her. She has changed the diet but still not working for her. I will recommend this article to her because she is really concerned. Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Hi Lydia 🙂

      Acne is never fun, so I can understand that your teenage daughter is quite worried. It’s not very pretty, unfortunately.

      I hope that she’ll have use of this article. Tell her to drop me a comment in case she’s got any questions! 🙂

      Thanks for visiting!

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