You know how dermatologists and skin experts always say that stress causes breakouts? Well stressing about breakouts just makes the whole thing a vicious cycle. Step one: chill. Next, let’s assess the situation. How do you know it’s a cystic pimple and not, say, a hive or just a really big zit? Well, cystic pimples are more than just a clogged pore. They sit deeper under the skin, feel painful and firm to touch, and sometimes are red. This is generally because instead of just dead skin accumulating in your pores, it’s bacteria and pus (sorry, gross), which causes the infection.
Do not poke, pick, or scratch. Just don’t touch them. Why would you want to anyway? It hurts. If you try forcing them to pop like a whitehead or blackhead, you could spread the infection, creating more cystic breakouts. What sucks about cystic acne is that since it is deeper under the skin, picking at it or trying to pop it with a needle will almost definitely lead to scarring because of the collagen-damaging infection that created it in the first place (you need collagen to plump out your skin cells and help them turn over and make way for new healthy cells).
MORE: A Dermatologist Explains How to Identify And Treat Types of Acne
How to deal. Since cystic pimples are more hardcore than your run-of-the-mill zit, it takes a bit heavier treatment to deal with. For starters, are your cystic breakouts hormonal? Do you get them all the time no matter what you do? Or do they always crop up around that time of the month? Hormonal acne is a pain, but there are options to help stave it off, including birth control (hormonal balance) or prescription antibiotics like Spironolactone that are hormone-blockers. Cystic acne can also be genetic for which hormone blockers and balancers may be your answer.
As for the one occasional honker here and there, you can apply a topical treatment that contain retinoids. You should definitely consult a dermatologist about prescription-strength retinoids, but you can find them in lower doses in some over-the-counter treatments, too. Some people swear by zinc to reduce the size of a breakout. Zinc works because it’s a DHT blocker, which works by blocking hormones in the skin—the same hormones that cause your pores to overproduce oil. It also prevents keratinocyte activation, so your skin produces less keratin—the tough bonding protein that makes skin cells stick together—too much of which can block your cells from separating, leading to clogged pores. Zinc does these things in such small doses that it’s over-the-counter safe (and also found in sunscreens and diaper rash cream). Mostly, zinc reduces inflammatory responses to bacteria as well as kills acne-causing bacteria on a deeper level. Some people find that a drying treatment or clay mask helps since clay is great for absorbing oil and impurities straight out of your skin. Apple cider vinegar or a baking soda and water mixture are popular as DIY home remedies that work by balancing the pH levels of your skin so it doesn’t overproduce oil.
MORE: 10 Things To Know About Hormonal Acne
Good habits pay off. Of course a diet full of fruits and veggies will benefit your skin—not to mention your immune system— so it can better fight off any bacteria. Find out if what is triggering your acne could be diet-related. Dairy is usually the first offender, followed by high-glycemic foods like pasta, sugar, and white bread. Getting enough sleep is so important, since not doing so doesn’t give your body a chance to repair itself while you’re sleeping and also leads to greater stress, AKA wacky hormones. If you’re trying something new, skincare-wise, that could also be the culprit. Think of this like a detective mystery game of elimination.