Acne comes in many types and forms, but none can be more severe or harder to treat than cystic acne. Characterized by large, irritated nodules under the skin, cystic breakouts tend to respond less effectively than whiteheads to topical treatments. In certain cases, dermatologists may administer an in-office cortisone injection or prescribe oral medications (including spironolactone, birth control pills, and isotretinoin, also known as Accutane) to treat the blemish from the inside out.
“Cystic acne is a more inflamed, nodular type of acne that tends to also leave scars,” David Lortscher, a dermatologist in San Diego, tells Allure. “However, it’s important to remember that cystic acne varies from patient to patient and the same treatment does not work for everyone.”
Depending on the severity of your breakouts (and your budget), seeing a dermatologist who can administer an in-office quick fix or prescribe oral or topical medications might be a worthy investment in your time and money. “A cortisone injection will reduce inflammation and shrink swelling within six to 48 hours,” says New York City-based dermatologist Dendy Engelman, who also recommends light therapy to target bacteria within the pores. “Some oral antibiotics — like tetracycline — are also anti-inflammatory, which helps improve acne.” (Note: Antibiotics aren’t suitable for long-term use, so make sure you’re working with your doctor on other methods of treatment.) Prescription topical retinoids, like tretinoin, may also be recommended by your dermatologist.
There are plenty of treatment options at every price point. And as the experts will tell you, gentle, targeted approaches will always work better than too-harsh products that strip your skin of moisture. Here, we take a closer look at 14 cleansers, masks, and spot treatments that help get the job done.