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The Cyst That Persists: Tackling Cystic Acne

How to fight cystic acne

You know it’s coming; you can feel it about to erupt like an under-skin Vesuvius. It finally comes out with a force unmatched by run-of-the-mill pimples, making you self-conscious like the elephant on your epidermis. It refuses to go away, for days, weeks—maybe even months. What is this monster pimple, anyway? And with warmer weather on the way, can you clear your skin in time for summer?

These epic blemishes have a name: cystic acne. Caused by a number of factors but driven largely by hormonal changes, cystic acne is the byproduct of sebum overproduction. Sebum clogs your pores, bacteria fuel inflammation—and you’re left with cartoonish blemishes. So what’s a girl to do? Here’s your three-step action plan when cystic acne strikes.

1.  Treat It (AKA Crush It with Kindness). It’s tempting, we know: You want to attack. But so many acne treatments swing the pendulum the other way, over-drying skin and accelerating the vicious sebum cycle (not to mention feeding your body harmful chemicals). Strike back with safe, gentle treatments instead. Natural ingredients like tea tree oil, clay, camphor and other essential oils remove bacteria from the equation, and gently shrink cysts without stripping the skin. And safe exfoliators (we love Josh Rosebrook’s Active Enzyme Exfoliator) help remove dead skin cells to make way for healing—and makeup.

2.  Take Cover. Camouflaging a pimple is tricky business, but it’s doable with the right tools. First, since safe makeup is essentially like tinted skincare, choose products with soothing ingredients that will calm your skin as they cover it (we’re happy to help you choose your personal lineup). Then follow these steps:

  •  Apply a light-medium coverage nontoxic foundation, only where you need coverage.

  •  Blend a concealer or high-coverage foundation with your ring finger on the back of your hand (tip: Make sure your hands and brushes are clean--don’t fuel the bacteria fire!) to warm it up. Then, pick up a touch of concealer with a brush, and gently place it all over the cyst. Using your ring finger, pat and blend edges where you applied the concealer so they fade into skin and the center of the cyst has the highest concentration of product (be sure to pat—dragging will only remove the coverage).
  • With a fluffy shadow brush or powder puff, apply a setting powder to the blemish (we love the aloe in W3ll People Altruist Powder—it soothes as it sets). Use soft, downward motions if using a brush, or press and roll when using a puff. 
  • Finally, spritz with a healthy face mist to help keep your cyst undercover (keep one in your bag so you can refresh as needed throughout the day).

3.  Practice Prevention. Now that you’ve treated—and covered—your outside skin, take a look at your inside habits. For example, reducing stress and changing-up your diet can tamp down breakouts. “Everyone has a slightly different trigger,” says Natalie Moulton-Levy, MD, an integrative dermatologist in NYC. “That’s why I recommend my patients try avoiding dairy, refined sugars, alcohol and caffeine.” Bonus: check out our guide to eating for acne over on mindbodygreen.

If all else fails, and you’re seeing more cysts that persist, see a dermatologist. An integrative specialist like Dr. Moulton-Levy can take a holistic look at your acne triggers, and formulate a personalized treatment plan to help you strike back against cystic acne, safely.

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