When I was in high school, I suffered from about six months of cystic acne. Believe it or not, I was incredibly stressed about tennis, of all things. As much as I preferred to hang with my punk peers, I was fully committed to having a professional tennis career as a tween. Every spring, I trained with a coach and took my teen angst out on the court, and the more pressure I put on myself the more I became prone to one of the most painful forms of acne. The bumps were soft, painful, and unable to be popped in most cases; being anxiety-ridden about upcoming matches and tryouts, I would blissfully scratch in my sleep, only to wake up with my face literally eating itself. I needed a boost of confidence on the courts, and I didn't need cystic acne ruining my much-needed poise to spike a return that my opponent never had a chance at hitting. Tennis, for whatever reason, was very much an image sport; neat hair, adorable little skirts, and a graceful demeanor were key to getting in with the more prestigious coaches; I used a topical cortisone ointment to quickly treat the cystic acne that was vomiting all over my face. And I was in luck: For a while, it worked.
It didn't come back again until my Junior year of college, and this time it came back with a vengeance. I had become so stressed about my poetry and unexpected life changes, that my face literally broke out in cysts that couldn't be seen from a distance, but were often tender and sore. I saw another dermatologist and received a similar treatment that relieved me from cystic acne, but it dried the crap out of my face and didn't even attempt to heal the scars. Of course, this only made me feel more stressed — and the cycle went on. And on. And on.
Here's what I've learned: Cystic acne is a genetic condition. It can be caused by overactive oil glands or an excess of bacteria that causes acne. They are inflamed "pimples" that for me, often are under the skin, this means I can often feel them even if they can't be spotted by the public — until I start messing with them. As an adult, cystic acne has only affected me in the most dire of times: writers block, a death of a friend, heartbreak, and hurricane Sandy have all caused major outbreaks. Which is why I would like to state for the record that I had serious cystic acne denial before I realized hormones and stress are a common cause of flare-ups.
The thought of going on a topical steroid makes me want to crawl under my covers and watch re-runs of Law and Order: SVU for the rest of my life (fortunately, there are likely enough marathons on cable that I could do so); I've thrown in the towel on most OTC products with the exception of a few items — of course, none of those are for cystic acne. Sources say that the best skin treatments for cystic acne are plant-based cleansers and a natural skin routine. I couldn't have been more bummed out to see my cystic acne starting to flare up even though I keep a completely natural skin regimen.
I finally found a topical treatment that is completely natural, safe, and affordable. If you are struggling with this painful form of acne, you must try these tips. Sure, crawling under your bed and waiting for them to disappear on their own is one option, but even Emma Stone has suffered from cystic acne and SHE is still making some slammin' movies and lookin' pretty damn good doing it.
These recipes have already started to yield my deep-seeded skin woes AND lighten those spots that they leave behind. In fact, it was sooooooo amazing, I just had to share it!
1. The Honey Mask
Raw honey is one of my beloved moisturizers. Honey has antiseptic qualities and heals scars like a boss. It also cures acne-related bacteria and can heal wounds and scars from cystic acne. I've stepped up my honey-game with my latest bout of crazy hormones; three times a week I am dipping my face in my all-time fave raw honey, cinnamon, and nutmeg mask. You'll get bonus benefits if you're using manuka honey, which is known to heal scars faster. Most OTC cystic acne treatments can dry out your skin and even the natural remedies can be somewhat drying, so this is going to restore your skin's moisture without clogging your pores.
2. The Facial Mask
This facial mask has been a life-saver. Cystic acne can flare up because of an imbalance in pH level. This is something I try to be on top of, but it's just all those daily vices I indulge in that are unhelpful to my case. I mix equal parts of lemon juice (an excellent astringent, skin repairer, and skin-lightener) with apple cider vinegar, which restores pH levels and has some seriously serious probiotics: a key element in combating cystic acne. Then I pour in organic turmeric powder; turmeric will be your anti-inflammatory to alleviate the redness and pain in those embarrassing bumps. Add enough of this spice to form a nice, potent paste and leave on my face for about 5 minutes.
Real talk: This is the JAM for cystic acne. My recommendation is that if you've suffered from it before, you should know when it's starting to flare up. Get it while it's starting and this natural remedy will have you camera ready in just a few days!
3. Baking Soda & Epson Salt
This mask means business, y'all. I actually feared the dryness of the mask and suggest using this as a spot treatment before you apply all over your face. Even though baking soda proves to be one of the most diverse substances I've had the pleasure of using it is very alkalizing. Dilute your baking soda and Epson salt with warm water (enough to form a paste) and then apply on the affected area: Allow the solution to harden before rinsing off with lukewarm water. Start off using once a day, then try twice a day, and on the third day, inspect the area to make sure it's working, three days of treatment will increase your odds of getting rid of the gnarly flare-up. If you are looking to add a smidge of oil to ease dryness that can be caused by these ingredients? I suggest clove oil — it's well-known as a warrior in battling cystic acne, but if you're adding clove oil, be sure to dilute it properly as this essential oil is incredibly powerful.
4. The Beverage of Choice
You MUST load up on water as soon as your shit starts getting out of whack. Even if you aren't usually subject to cystic acne, any outbreaks are going to get flushed out faster if you are chugging three liters of water a day. Diet can have a lot to do with flare-ups; I try to squeeze at least half a lemon in my H20 while I'm chugging. The vitamin C will remove toxins from your body (which is exactly why I'm all about adding it into my facial mask) and boost your immune system.
5. When in Doubt, Ice It
I've tried steaming techniques to reduce inflammation of cystic acne before. They certainly work when I've got a few pimples I need to knock off the ole kisser, but nothing works like icing the infected area. Just like icing a sprained ankle, the cold pressure applied can reduce swelling and actually freezes skin pores, removing dirt, and oil build-up. This method works best for single cysts and not a cluster; unless you have the time and patience to evenly spread ice over each individual, inflamed spot.
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