8 Cystic Acne Causes You Need To Know


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cystic acne flare up causes

What Causes Cystic Acne?

Let’s be honest, all acne is absolutely terrible to deal with, but if you’ve ever had cystic acne, you know it’s its own kind of terrible. And if you’ve never had cystic acne? Well, consider yourself very lucky. Many people struggle with the painful breakouts and have trouble treating it. That’s why it’s super important to look at what causes cystic acne and figure out why you could be getting it. So keep reading to check out these surprising cystic acne causes!

Surprisingly, making a few simple skincare routine and lifestyle changes can have a huge impact on cystic acne!

I personally struggled with cystic acne for years. It got so bad that I almost had to go on Accutane. Luckily, I had a great dermatologist who let me try everything else possible before taking that leap. And here I am now, cystic acne free, and have the best skin of my life!

So, I’m here to help you figure out what causes cystic acne and how you can treat it and get clear skin, too.

What Is Cystic Acne?

why do I suddenly have cystic acne

If you’ve never been diagnosed with cystic acne, you might wonder what does cystic acne look like? Unlike regular acne, cystic acne forms deep under the skin and never comes to a head. Cystic pimples are usually large and painful and can take months to heal. Cystic acne also usually does not respond to typical acne treatments, and needs more powerful products to fight it.

You can also get cystic acne all over your body. Other common places include your back, shoulders, chest and arms.

Cystic Acne Causes To Know

Everyone wants to know “what’s the main cause of cystic acne?” Unfortunately, cystic acne causes can vary from person to person, so it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what is causing your acne. That’s why understanding what causes cystic acne is so important. When you know the common causes, you can look at your routine and lifestyle and make appropriate changes as needed to help get rid of it.

Cystic acne causes can also vary depending on the location of cystic acne. For example, the cause of cystic acne on the forehead will be different than the cause of cystic acne on the chin or cheeks. It can even depend on age, as cystic acne causes in adults may differ from cystic acne causes in teenagers. As you can see, cystic acne can be very complicated!

However, the usual causes of acne do come into play here as well. Excess oil production, bacteria and clogged pores all contribute to acne and cystic acne.

So, let’s jump right in and learn all about what really causes cystic acne!


Certain bacteria are naturally found on your skin is a big culprit for acne. Specifically, the acne causing bacteria, Propionibacterium acnes. The bacteria found on your skin naturally make up your skin’s microbiome and actually keeps your skin healthy and helps defend your body from pathogens.

The bacteria on your skin live in a delicate balance, and when this balance gets interrupted, it can cause the bad bacteria, like Propionibacterium acnes, to flourish. When this happens, that means there is more Propionibacterium acnes on your skin and can lead to acne.

When bacteria get trapped inside your pores, the bacteria will multiply inside your pores leading to inflammation and acne.

Clogged Pores

why do I keep getting cystic acne

Your pores can become clogged from dirt, bacteria, oil, skin care products and so much more. When your pores get clogged, it can not only cause cystic acne, but blackheads and closed comedones as well.

Excess Oil

Some oil production is good, believe it or not. Your skin naturally produces oils that protect your skin and keep it hydrated. However, many people have oily skin, which means that your skin is producing too much oil. When this happens, the oils can get trapped in your pores, and when mixed with bacteria and dirt, acne forms.


Many people wonder “is cystic acne hormonal?” and while it can be, it’s not always. If you have cystic acne you think is caused by hormones, then you have a special type called hormonal cystic acne. Hormones are a major cause of cystic acne, and unfortunately can make it tricky to treat and will usually only respond to treatments like birth control. Luckily, not all cystic acne is cause by hormones.

Certain hormone fluctuations and imbalances are big causes of hormonal cystic acne, especially in adults.

  • menstruation
  • polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • menopause
  • increased androgen levels

How to tell if you have hormonal acne:

  • acne on the lower half of your face (chin, cheeks, jaw and neck)
  • fluctuations in acne (it get worse certain days of the month)
  • skincare treatments don’t seem to help

If these apply to you, you could have hormonal acne. If you’re not sure, try a skin log where you track your skin each day. Write down how many new breakouts you get, how your skin feels, etc. for a few months and see if you can find a correlation.

Certain Medications

what causes cystic acne on forehead?

Many people don’t think that acne can be a side affect of routine medications, but unfortunately, a lot of times medications can make acne so much worse.

Now, there’s a ton of medications that can potentially cause acne, so I’m not going to list them all. However, I do want to make you aware of the common ones.

Common medications that can cause cystic acne:

  • Certain birth control
  • Steroids
  • Anti-depressants
  • B Vitamins

If you are taking any of these drugs and think they may be causing your acne, it’s important to talk to your doctor before stopping or switching! Oftentimes there are other equivalent drugs you can try without the side effects.

Stress Levels

When we are stressed, certain hormones get released in our body to help our body respond and cope. These hormones trigger inflammation in our bodies, which can lead to acne.

Certain hormones can even increase our skin’s oil production!

Additionally, when we are stressed, we tend to not eat as healthy and not take care of ourselves like we usually do. When I’m stressed, I tend to crave really unhealthy foods and don’t follow my skincare routine as I should.

All of these things combined and exacerbate acne.

Certain Skincare Products

cystic acne jawline causes

The health of your skin is really dependent on what skincare products you use on it. However, that doesn’t mean you need to have a 20 step skincare product that costs $800 each month.

It really comes down to listing to your skin and using better formulated products for your skin type. Skincare is so individual that it’s hard to make recommendations for everyone.

Certain ingredients may clog your pores or cause a reaction just because your skin happens to not like that particular ingredient. Yet, other people can use it without any problems.

For example, my skin hates sunflower seed oil. I used it for a few days and got a cyst right under my eye! Yet there are thousands of people out there who can use it with no issues.

Hair Products

Hair products are one of the most common causes of cystic acne that many people don’t even think about. Many hair products have comedogenic ingredients and when you wash your hair, the products can get on your skin and cause clogged pores, which can lead to cystic acne.

This is also really common for those that suffer from cystic acne on the back. Be sure to wash your hair first and wash your face and body last so you remove any residue from your shampoo and conditioner.

What Doesn’t Cause Cystic Acne?

how can I prevent cystic acne?

You have probably heard that certain foods cause acne, so you might be wondering “what foods cause cystic acne?” or “does dairy cause cystic acne?”

Unfortunately, there are a lot of myths and confusion out there about what causes cystic acne and what doesn’t. So, I wanted to clear up some confusion about certain things that do not have a proven correlation to acne.

Here are some cystic acne causes that have not been proven:

  • dairy
  • greasy foods
  • chocolate
  • not washing face often enough

Now, it’s true that eating healthy is good for your body and your skin, but having pizza for dinner tonight is not going to make your face breakout.

Cystic Acne Treatment Options

what causes cyst acne

Now that we’ve looked at all the causes of cystic acne, let’s talk about wha to do about it. Unfortunately, cystic acne can be hard to treat, which is why it’s so important to take a hard look at your lifestyle and skincare routine to see if you can make any changes. Many times all it takes is a few tweaks and you can see improvement in no time.

However, that’s not always the case!

For me, I had to go to a dermatologist to finally get some relief. And I’m so glad I did! Finally getting to a doctor made all the difference and I finally was able to get clear skin – something I had dreamed of for so long.

Below, I’m going to talk about the most effective cystic acne treatments, most of which I’ve tried myself.


Topical or oral antibiotics are very commonly prescribed for any type of acne, not just cystic acne. They work by killing acne causing bacteria, which will prevent new breakouts.

Antibiotics for acne typically take a few weeks (at least 4 weeks) to see a difference. As with any type of acne treatment, the results aren’t instant, so be patient.


Retinoids are a form a vitamin a, which helps shed dead skin cells so they don’t get trapped in your pores. The most effective retinoids are prescription only, or you can get them through places like Curology and Apostrophe. Differin, which used to be prescription only, is now available over the counter.

Birth Control

If you have hormonal acne, chances are your doctor will prescribe you birth control to treat it. And if you’re already on it, your birth control could actually be the culprit! Make sure to talk with your doctor to see if yours could be causing your cystic acne.

There are also some birth controls that are FDA approved to treat acne, so consider asking your doctor about switching to one of those.


Spironolactone has become very popular in recent years for the treatment of hormonal acne. It’s is a diuretic and used to treat high blood pressure, but it’s off-label use for acne has shown great results in the treatment of hormonal and cystic acne.

So, how does it help acne?

Spironolactone blocks the male hormones (androgens) in your body and prevents them from causing acne.

Benzoyl Peroxide

Benzoyl peroxide has been around for years, and there’s a reason why it’s a staple in many skincare routines! It kills bad bacteria fast and helps with inflammation that comes along with acne.


Sulfur – my Like, benzoyl peroxide, sulfur kills bacteria and helps with inflammation. Sulfur can also help absorb excess oil, so it’s a great choice for those with oily skin.

I personally find that sulfur is less drying/irritating than benzoyl peroxide and works better for me.


In short, Isotretinoin is an oral form of vitamin a that can kill bacteria, shrinks the sebaceous glands on your skin and stops oil production. Isotretinoin (Accutane) is only for those with severe acne that does not respond to other treatments. It’s an extremely serious drug that comes along with tons of side effects and precautions.


Most dermatologists offer what’s called a cortisone injection. Essentially, it’s a steroid that’s injected right into a cyst to reduce the inflammation and speed up healing. Cortisone injections for cystic pimples can make the pimple go away in a couple days as opposed to a couple weeks.

Cystic Acne Causes: Wrap Up

how do I get rid of cystic acne

Cystic acne can be a literal pain and tricky to get rid of. More often than not, you’ll need a little help from a dermatologist to clear up cystic acne. However, with these cystic acne causes, you’ll be able to identify any lifestyle factors that may be contributing to your acne.

Remember, you don’t have to live with cystic acne and constantly have to google “how to shrink a cystic pimple overnight” because it never fails – one will pop up the day before a big event! There are great treatment options available for cystic acne and if you’ve tried all you can yourself, it’s time to see a dermatologist.

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cystic acne causes on face

8 Cystic Acne Causes + How To Treat Cystic Acne

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