The onset of a pimple is bad enough, but even worse than a standard-fare pimple is the dreaded cystic acne, the kind that burrows deep under your skin and is painful to the touch. You can’t press on it, or its fury worsens. You can’t even burst and drain it—or, if you try to hunt after it, you’ll be living with that scab, mark, and scar for months on end.
But unlike surface-level blemishes, cystic acne outbreaks can be easier to control. And we’re not talking about the crucial daily habits that prevent acne. Rather, you can get one step ahead of cystic acne as soon as you realize there’s one budding beneath your skin. With a simple day-long or overnight assault on that blemish, you can prevent it from reaching full boil. It can be gone in a matter of days (barely impacted the surface texture of your skin, and easily covered by concealer), never to be seen nor heard from again.
In order to get rid of cystic acne at the first sign, follow these three tips, which we got from board-certified NYC dermatologist Dr. Ryan Turner. And remember—don’t try to pop it!
1. Start with Benzoyl Peroxide and Salicylic Acid
At the first sign of any breakout, Turner says to start with benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid. “Benzoyl peroxide helps to reduce inflammation, treat acne bacteria, and unclog pores,” he says. “Cleansing with salicylic acid or using it as spot treatment is a tried-and-true treatment to help stop breakouts.”
Benzoyl peroxide treatments can be prescribed by your doctor, but often for combatting ongoing and prominent acne problems. (You probably know it as the stuff that stains your towels and pillow cases.) However, it’s wise to have a benzoyl peroxide cleanser or treatment cream on hand for the times when you sense a budding cystic pimple.
Then, it’s time to move on to that salicylic acid spot treatment. It will soak deep into the pore to help dissolve anything clogging it, from dead skin to excess oil accumulation. (Having a salicylic acid cleanser in your regular rotation is also a great way to prevent these kinds of things from budding in the first place.)
Then, after the outbreak passes, it’s a great time to refresh your skin care basics.
2. Apply a hydrocolloid acne patch
This is the #1 public enemy of budding cystic acne. “For the individual giant cyst that starts to form, I recommend ‘acne patches’ which can draw fluid from and reduce the swelling of the cyst,” says Turner. “The patches are often made out of hydrocolloid materials that are super absorbent to help flatten the cyst. In addition, some of these acne patches contain active ingredients such as salicylic acid or tea tree oil that treat the pimple while concealing it.”
Most of these patches require six to eight hours of wear, in order to get the best benefits. Don’t sell yourself short with a measly two-hour application, either. Wash your skin, gently pat dry, then apply the patch and leave it on overnight, or all day (or both, with a fresh patch before bed). It can be the difference between that thing erupting on your face, or retreating back into your body. It may linger (with a slight pressure and very light redness) for a few more days, but you’ll note that it’s not increasing in size or fury.
An under-the radar benefit of wearing a patch: you’ve got a built in reminder to not pick.
3. In the event of emergency, see the doctor
If it’s your wedding day, or you’ve got a big interview, or a date with Rihanna, or something urgent, then you may need to rush into the doctor’s office. “For a pimple emergency, I recommend that you see your board-certified dermatologist for a cortisone injection,” Turner says. “This involves the injection of a drop of a potent anti-inflammatory to help shrink down the pimple overnight.”
It’s a drastic approach, but it the best and quickest way to guaranteed results.