6 Things You NEED To Know If You Have Cystic Acne

Teen girl with problem skin look at pimple with magnifying glass. Woman skin care concept
Coach Coach


Cystic acne is a skin condition I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Feelings of embarrassment are almost unavoidable as you try to cover your face with scarves and pounds of makeup hoping no one will notice, and most of all, that they don’t judge you based off your skin. First, acne is extremely common! Even the most beautiful celebrities and models can suffer from acne; Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Megan Fox, Cameron Diaz, and countless others have all battled serious acne conditions. You are not alone and you are certainly not abnormal.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, women can get cystic acne from stress, their monthly cycle, or even genetics, yet there are hardly any helpful articles or tutorials out there for cystic acne prone skin. That’s why I created a guide to caring and covering up cystic acne -straight from someone who suffers along with you.

Use Gentle Skin Care

This is a crucial step in caring for cystic acne, regardless of whether you are a long time sufferer or someone who has flare ups every now and then.  It is also a step that most people can totally botch, either by doing way too much cleaning, scrubbing, and moisturizing -or not nearly enough.

Eucerin Sensitive Skin Cleaner, $8

The first thing to note is that any products you use on your face should be gentle. Your skin is sensitive right now, and the last thing you want is to further inflame the already irritated bumps on your face, so gentle cleansers and oil-free moisturizers are your best friends right now. Also, avoid products with fragrance, mineral oils or color. 

See A Pro ASAP

As far as acne treatments, there are plenty of drug store products that claim to cure stubborn acne or all-natural Pinterest hacks to “DIY your way to clear skin,” but I highly recommend seeing a dermatologist first. You may have to shell out a little bit more cash, but your derm can recommend high quality products based on the condition of your skin. You may even see faster results with prescription oral or topical medication as opposed to a drug store product, which are typically weaker and not necessarily targeted for serious skin conditions like cystic acne. You need a professional dermatologist to handle cystic skin conditions, so the sooner you see a pro, the better. Do not wait! This is not a condition you can DIY.

NEVER Pick At Cystic Acne, EVER

We can’t emphasize this enough. This is a no-brainer and yet the hardest thing ever; do not pick at your acne. Cystic acne is TOTALLY different from a blackhead or basic whitehead. It can get infected and much worse if you pick at it! It is so hard, I know, but hear me out. The satisfaction that you feel from picking at your zit will quickly be replaced by regret as your acne grows larger, more irritated, or potentially starts to bleed and become infected. It is hard enough caring for and covering acne as it is, but when you are dealing with a big, red, angry monster zit? Forget it. If you have a particularly large, painful cystic pimple, go to a dermatologist to get it extracted. Never attempt to do it yourself!

Choose The Right Makeup Products

When you have cystic acne or intense acne scars, there is nothing you want more than the ability to cover it all up so no one notices. The only problem is that the color and texture of your skin makes applying makeup extremely difficult. Thankfully, there are some fantastic high-coverage products out there that will help you look fresh and clear. First, you will want to look for products developed for acne-prone skin.

Clinique Acne Solutions Clearing Concealer, $23

Avoid any makeup that has oils, fragrance or is not labeled “non-comedogenic.” Many cosmetic companies make concealers and makeup specifically for acne-prone skin, so we recommend going to your local Sephora or cosmetic counter and talking with a beauty consultant about which products are best for your skin. A makeup expert will help you choose a product that’s right for you., Best of all, at department store counters and specialty makeup stores like Sephora, you can return the product if it’s not right for you -making it risk-free!

Proper Makeup Application

When someone with cystic acne tries to cover up their acne, they tend to cake on way too much foundation and concealer, which draws more attention to the area by sitting uncomfortably on bumpy, flakey skin. However, the thought of applying less makeup can be terrifying. What works best in this situation is to use medium to high coverage products that are buildable, so that you can customize the application and not look so cakey with the first dab of your BeautyBlender.

After you cleanse and moisturize your skin, apply a redness canceling or smoothing primer to your entire face. If your acne is particularly dry and flaky, apply a layer of an overnight moisture mask to your skin and let that soak in before your primer. The mask will provide fast, heavy duty hydration to your skin without looking greasy, and it will help instantly smooth out your acne and keep your skin looking fresher during the day.

Once properly primed and hydrated, use your sponge applicator to gently dab foundation on your skin. The key is being gentle, as pressing too hard can irritate your acne further. Next, let your foundation sit for a minute and then apply your concealer on top. Though it will be tempting, do not apply too much concealer.  If you have chosen the right foundation, it will cover up most of your redness and smaller zits fairly well, so the concealer should only be used on larger bumps and stubborn redness. Use the same pressing motion as used with foundation to apply the concealer. Let the concealer sit on your face before proceeding.

Once you have reached the desired amount of coverage and are happy with how your acne is covered, use a setting power and a blush brush to hold your foundation and concealer in place. The blush brush allows for lighter application, which is key here because you don’t want to add too much powder and dry out the recently hydrated and covered area. Your goal is to lightly cover the area in powder with a thin veil. You can always add more if you start to get oily or tough up your makeup throughout the day.   

Don’t Forget You’re Beautiful

On top of knowing the proper way to care for and cover your acne, it is important to know that you are still beautiful. It is easy to feel down when your face is majorly breaking out, but don’t let this interfere with how you feel about yourself and your life. It is just a phase that you skin is going through, and with the proper doctor and high coverage foundation, you will get through this. As the saying goes, “This too shall pass.” Trust me!


Brooke Schuldt is a freelance writer interested in fashion, beauty, lifestyle and feminism topics. Her work has been featured on various print and online outlets, including Parents Magazine, fitness.com, Ed2010, and Deux Hommes.

When Brooke is not focusing on her magazine career goals, she can be found knitting, teaching herself French, or updating her personal blog. Her bucket list includes traveling around the world, a shopping spree at Kate Spade, and writing a New York Times Bestseller.



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