How I Beat Adult Cystic Acne


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In high school I suffered from the typical hormonal acne—the kind that comes to a white head and is over within 2-3 days. I thought it was the worst thing that could ever happen to me as a typical, mellow dramatic high schooler.

Little did I know that adulthood would usher in the next level of acne: unpoppable, reoccurring, enduring, deep, painful cystic (or hormonal) acne. Oh, and as if that wasn't enough, this new kind of acne left me with dark spots of hyper-pigmentation that took and additional six months to completely fade.

Stepping into my first professional corporate job, I was supposed to feel "adult," yet, as a petite woman with naturally young features, and now newly acquired stubborn cystic acne, I just didn't feel the "adult" part some days. 

Full disclosure, I did not have severe cystic acne by any means. On average, I would get around 1-3 deep cystic zits per month (usually in the same spots), each one lasting about 10 days. I was usually able to cover it up with makeup to some partial extent.

Fast forward to today, and I am 100% acne free. I've found what works for me to "beat" cystic acne, so I thought I'd share it in hopes of helping you, if you're suffering from the same thing.

Definition of cystic acne

Cystic acne is a type of localized inflammation formed when oil ducts become clogged deep underneath the skin and rupture, or become infected. Subsequently, an abscess (consisting of white blood cells) forms deep beneath the skin that cannot be "popped."

Approaches and products I tried (that failed)

Hours upon hours of Google searches returned the very unsatisfactory answer that there was no "cure" to cystic acne, so I decided to start trying different products.

Curology: Curology is a company that advertises custom skin care solutions based on a skin quiz. The idea of "custom" or "individualized" sounded very appealing to me, but unfortunately, Curology made my skin worse. On top of that, after I cancelled my subscription, they kept charging me, but they were nice enough to refund me after I inquired about it.

Benzol Peroxide 10%: This was my go-to stuff for my high-school grade acne. It is available at any drug store, and dried up my acne within 24-48 hours usually. However, it had absolutely zero effect on my adult acne. It seemed too topical to penetrate deep enough to reach the infection underneath my skin.

Renée Rouleau: This company is known for its Anti Cyst Treatment, which comes in a serum. The internet had led me to believe that this would solve all my problems, so I dished out a pretty penny ($47.50) for a little bottle. To my great disappointment, I found that it had zero effect on my cystic acne. However, I found that it was just *slightly* more effective if I was able to catch the zit early enough in the tingly, pre-zit stages, but not significant enough to buy it again.

Glossier: I was initially drawn to Glossier’s ‘skin first, makeup second’ motto. However, their signature face wash did cause a small breakout on my combination oily skin, and so I decided not to invest further in their brand. However, I’m in love with their lip and product packaging!

The skincare routine that made me acne-free for years (4 to be exact)

When I discovered Ole Henriksen, my acne improved dramatically fast. It solved (pretty much) all of my skin problems, from breakouts to hyper-pigmentation. Over the years, I added in a few more products and nailed down a routine that still gets me results.

Morning AM

Step 1: I wash my face with Find Your Balance™ Oil Control Cleanser by Ole Henriksen and pat my face dry with a clean towel.

Step 2: I apply Balancing Force™ Oil Control Toner (also Ole Henriksen) on top with a cotton circle. I’ve found this cleanser to be amazing for my combination normal/oily skin. It also smells really great and feels refreshing. I added in the toner a few months after I started using the face wash, and it seemed to seal the deal in terms of keeping my face acne-free.

Step 3: After the toner, I use Truth Serum by Ole Henriksen, a Vitamin C and collagen serum that helps brighten my skin tone and fade hyper-pigmentation (dark spots) caused by old acne scars.

Step 4: Following the serum, I use a gel-based moisturizer, Water Bank Hydrating Gel by Laneige. I used to use a moisturizing cream, but I found out that it was clogging my pores. Gel-based moisturizers are amazing for sensitive, acne-prone skin and do not clog pores. After switching from a cream to gel-based moisturizer, I rarely have any breakouts anymore.

Post-workout: I try not to wash my face more than twice a day, but it happens sometimes. If I workout, I’ll usually just wash it after with water, and nothing else.

Night PM

Step 1: I take my eye makeup off using Bye Bye Makeup™ 3-in-1 Makeup Melting Cleansing Balm by IT Cosmetics, which has also been a HUGE game changer (takes off even waterproof mascara). Back when I had acne, I used makeup remover pads every day to take my makeup off. Let me tell you, those little convenient wipes are a huge CAUSE of your acne. They basically just spread germs all over your face. (Plus, they are bad for the environment.) When I stopped using these to take my makeup off, my skin improved dramatically—much fewer breakouts overall. While this makeup remover is expensive, the one I bought 6 months ago is still half full.

Step 2: After, I wash my face with the same cleanser as the morning—the Find Your Balance™ Oil Control Cleanser by Ole Henriksen, and follow it up with the same toner—the Balancing Force™ Oil Control Toner also by Ole Henriksen.

Step 3: I follow this up with Invigorating Night Transformation™ Gel by Ole Henriksen. I can still remember the first time I tried this serum: I woke up the next morning and was shocked how smooth, even, and hydrated my skin looked and felt. I’ve been addicted ever since for its immediate results in improving skin complexion and texture literally overnight (and if you know me, I never believe in quick fixes!).

Bottom line

If you have cystic acne and combination oily skin, and you tried just about everything, I hope these tips help! While I can’t guarantee it will work for you, it worked for me.