A Derm Weighs In On How To Treat Cystic Acne At Home


There are certain skin conditions, like acne, that almost everyone can relate to. And while acne comes in all forms, cystic pimples tend to be the most difficult to treat. Those red, buried-under-the-surface zits don't just ruin good skin days, but they can also be quite painful (and seemingly take forever to heal). Whether you don't have access to a dermatologist or you don't have time for frequent appointments, the best cystic acne treatments can help in a pinch.

Before you get to shopping for a treatment, it's helpful to know more about the acne in question, which is why Bustle got in touch with Dr. Hilary Baldwin, M.D., medical director of the Acne Treatment and Research Center in New Jersey and New York. "Technically, there is no such thing as cystic acne because cysts are not acne and acne is not a cyst," Dr. Baldwin explains. "When the phrase is used, it typically means the patient has large, red pimples, rather than small ones or blackheads." While Dr. Baldwin says that for adult women, these breakouts can be hormonal and tend to most commonly occur on the lower face, jaw, and neck, she's quick to point out that "It can occur anywhere on the face, without rhyme or reason."

Because there isn't necessarily anything causing cystic acne in the first place, Dr. Baldwin stresses that severe or regularly occurring cases are best treated by a dermatologist. "It has a tendency to scar and to cause psychological discomfort and reduced quality of life," says, adding that cystic acne often requires prescription-only treatments, like antibiotics, to effectively treat the condition. But over-the-counter products can work on their own (or with your derm-prescribed treatments) if you're choosing the proper ingredients. Dr. Baldwin shares that the most effective ingredients you'll find available for at-home use include benzoyl peroxide and the retinoid adapalene, which are both applied topically (either all-over or as a spot treatment).

To help fight acne at home, here are five of the best cystic acne treatments available on Amazon — whether you need an all-over solution or a secret weapon to stop the occasional blemish from making its big debut.


The Derm’s Pick

"This is the best over the counter benzoyl peroxide," Dr. Baldwin says of the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo spot treatment. The product uses 5.5% micronized benzoyl peroxide and lipo-hydroxy acid to exfoliate dead skin cells and clear acne-causing debris from pores without over-drying the skin. Dr. Baldwin recommends using the Effaclar Duo with another La Roche-Posay product for the best results. "Topical benzoyl peroxide and adapalene, like the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Adapalene Gel 0.1% Acne Treatment, should be applied once daily," she says, pointing out that these are the strongest over-the-counter ingredients for treating acne on your own. In addition to receiving this dermatologist's seal of approval, both of La Roche-Posay formulas are fragrance-free and oil-free, making them suitable for a variety of skin types.


Best Drugstore Treatment

For a prescription-strength treatment at an accessible price point, there's the Differin Adapalene Gel. Similar to the La Roche-Posay adapalene treatment recommended by Dr. Baldwin, Differin was the first in America to offer an over-the-counter retinoid treatment. While you're probably familiar with retinoids being used to treat a number of different skin concerns, the reason it's so helpful when it comes to acne is that retinoids, like adapalene, accelerate skin cell turnover and unclog pores. By extension, it's also effective at reducing unwanted scarring from previous breakouts. Differin's formula is oil-free, alcohol-free, and fragrance-free, and it was designed to be applied in a thin layer all over the face once daily. Just don't forget to be diligent about applying sunscreen in the morning, as retinoids are known to make skin more photosensitive.


Best Spot Treatment

From celebrity aesthetician Kate Somerville's eponymous skin care line, the EradiKate Acne Treatment has been a longtime favorite for spot-treating blemishes. Use it in the evening after cleansing by dipping a Q-tip into the pink solution and applying it directly onto any blemishes. (Don't shake the bottle even though the formula will look separated). Once you apply the treatment, EradiKate works while you sleep to reduce inflammation and heal spots faster. Several ingredients are to thank for its effectiveness, including 10% sulfur and salicylic acid, which both help to exfoliate dead skin cells and unclog pores. The formula also contains zinc oxide to absorb excess oil.


Best Mask

A favorite among beauty editors, Instagrammers, and Amazon reviewers alike, this once-weekly mask can help treat just about every imaginable skin concern. Not only does the Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay get credit for clearing up blackheads and whiteheads, but an overwhelming amount of Amazon reviewers claim it cleared up stubborn cystic breakouts, too. The jar contains 100% calcium bentonite clay, which is said to help detoxify the skin, and when you're ready to use it, you mix the clay with either equal parts apple cider vinegar or water. As you stir it, the mixture will form into a smooth paste that you apply to your face for five to 10 minutes, depending on how sensitive your skin is. Post-mask redness is to be expected, and while the clay is on, your face will feel tight (you might even feel it "pulsating"). "This clay mask is magical," shared one reviewer, who added, "The cystic acne that usually lasts one to two weeks is gone either overnight or by the following day." Plus, since a little amount goes a long way, one tub can literally last you years.


Best Pimple Patches

When you feel one of those painful bumps brewing below the surface, pop one of these Rael Microneedle Technology Acne Healing Patches on to stop it in its tracks. These sanitary hydrocolloid patches come in a pack of nine and were designed to protect the area from further damage as they deliver acne-fighting ingredients to the pore (they prevent you from picking at your pimple and spreading dirt and bacteria to the rest of your skin, too). Each patch is covered in super-thin microneedles that (painlessly) prick the skin so that the active ingredients like tea tree oil and salicylic acid can work below the surface to unclog pores and reduce inflammation. The patches are also practically invisible, so you can stick one on at your desk or at the gym.

Bustle may receive a portion of sales from products purchased from this article, which was created independently of Bustle's editorial and sales departments.


Dr. Hilary Baldwin, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and medical director of the Acne Treatment and Research Center in New Jersey and New York.

Studies referenced:

Retinoids in the Treatment Of Skin Aging: an Overview Of Clinical Efficacy and Safety, Siddharth Mukherjee-Abhijit Date-Vandana Patravale-Hans Korting-Alexander Roeder-Günther Weindl -