Skin Struggles

6 years ago by

My longest relationship is with a cyst near my right ear. We’re going on seven years. I would apply for common law marriage if he had better health insurance and wasn’t so abusive. Instead, every couple of weeks he decides to balloon up (annoyed about god knows what, that I ate a doughnut?) and throb with anger. I vow to ignore him; attention only makes his ego grow. I wear my hair down to hide him. I suffocate him with lotions and potions. I wonder if my concealer is acting as fertilizer. Finally three glasses deep of merlot I attack with a sterilized safety pin. He surrenders, while deepening the ever present scar to remind me of his next visit.

Cystic acne, also called inflammatory acne, is the most severe of acnes. It is caused when oil ducts become clogged and subsequently rupture. What that visually equates to is large, red, hard to the touch, painful bumps* that can take weeks to fully heel and often leave a scar on one’s skin. Yes, a drone can deliver a baby kitten to your door within two hours but it still takes WEEKS for a cyst to heal (my proof that there is no god).

Cystic acne is painful. It is demoralizing. It is as persistent as our grandparents are racist. If you are a fellow sufferer you may stop me on the street any time, any day and I will discuss it at length with you. Seriously. I get it. I have battled cystic acne since I was a spry fourteen-year-old and now I battle cysts and wrinkles simultaneously (more proof there is no god), but I come to you with advice from a life spent on the battlefield:

1. THE HARD STUFF: If it’s an extreme case, please go see a dermatologist (not a facialist). Only dermatologists can provide such fixes as steroid shots or prescribe the heavy-duty oral medications and topical creams. And if anyone tells you that you just need to eat healthier and wash your face more please ignore them and go cry in the safe space of a dermatologist’s office. It is cathartic. Trust me, I know.

2. GUT CHECK: You don’t want to give up cheese. I don’t want you to give up cheese. I just want you to push pause on all dairy (and soy) products for two weeks to see if there is a connection. Especially if your cysts are clustered around your chin, i.e. hormonal. Dairy promotes estrogen production in our bodies. Excess estrogen can cause chin cysts (pregnant women will attest to this). My darling cysts prefer to colonize my entire face and back like the Imperial British Empire, so I still eat cheese, unless I’m about to menstruate, then I cut back because I have enough estrogen coursing through my veins to power a windmill.

3. THE WIZARD: Renowned facialist Renée Rouleau not only taught me I have sensitive, oily skin and should never use an abrasive scrub again unless I want to look like Steve Bannon, but also to never use spot acne crèmes that claim to “dry out zits” on my cysts. Those are meant for white and black heads only after you pop them, to zap any lingering dirt and oil. Cysts live much deeper under the skin and spot acne medications will only dry out the first few layers of skin, causing further damage to your skin and trapping the cyst deep inside your pore. Renée’s Anti Cyst Treatment is the only over the counter topical cream I now trust because she understands we don’t want a light crop dusting of pesticides, we want to target the soil from which this monster grows.

4.HOME REMEDIES: When short on cash I have also been known to dab gobs of Vasoline or Aquaphor on my cysts before going to bed. The ointments will suffocate the cyst while hydrating your skin – they actually work for all acne and are great at hydrating fine lines! Sometimes I sleep in a mask of Aquaphor much to my boyfriend’s horror (just remember to change your pillow case nightly).

5. A LIGHT SHOW: But, after every crème, tool, pill, prayer emoji I used in attempt to banish my cysts one thing has trumped them all; bi-monthly treatments at Skin Laundry. There they administer a fifteen-minute facial consisting of a YAG laser and YPL light system. The YAG laser reaches below the skins surface to deep clean pesky pores while the YPL light system kills light sensitive bacteria on the surface. Neutrogena’s Light Therapy Mask is a similar, much more affordable option. I continue to pay for the professional treatments because they also drastically reduced potmark cystic scaring that has plagued my forehead and temples since I was a teenager.

If I were a fairy godmother, none of my fairy godchildren would suffer from acne or the physical and emotional scars it leaves in its wake. Alas I’m a mere mortal who still picks at her own cysts when she knows damn well she shouldn’t. But the cool thing about us mortals is that we have empathy. And you have every ounce of my mine. And then some.

*What’s in these hard to the touch bumps? A mixture of blood and pus. I know, gross.

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  • You should team up with Dr. Sandra Lee, aka Dr. Pimple Popper. Go on out to LA and put an Atelier Doré spin on her practice.

  • Loved the writing and can’t wait to try some of these suggestions! I usually get a cyst or two right before my period and they drive me absolutely insane. When I’m at home I cover them with those spot band aids — otherwise I can’t seem to leave them alone.

  • Veronica McCarthy November, 1 2017, 3:24

    hahaha. I am stealing that band aid trick. maybe even when i’m in public. brilliant!

  • Thank you for this article. I’ve been dancing around trying #2 for a while, and your confirmation of extra estrogen makes so much sense. Hoping that my skin will be glowing two weeks from now. :)

  • Oh man do I know about it. tried every possible thing that was on the market, from prescription only medicine to home remedies. Taking birth control helped mine, but getting off it was so scary. I heard about acupuncture treatment for acne and tried it for the first time 2 months ago. I had exactly 2 pimples (not cysts!) ever since!!! I recommend everyone to give it a shot, its not cheap, but definitely cheaper that endless trips to the derm+expensive products.

    I go to Dr Ma in Midtown East, the treatment isn’t pleasant but its effective. TRY IT!

  • Wow this sounds like quite the battle. Great tips here! I know regular acne is caused by a problem with the bodies system to slough off dead skin cells so they then plug up the follicles which in turn traps the oil which becomes rancid and causes the pimple. So using some kind of exfoliant but not a scrub can help with regular acne. But cystic is deeper but it could help to degree if not too drying.

    Allie of ALLIENYC

  • Veronica McCarthy November, 1 2017, 3:27

    oh, totally! i swear by the Japanese brand, Cure Aqua Gel. The first time you use it, the amount of dead skin that comes off is slightly horrifying, but then you get addicted. also helps to use right before applying any medication / serums.

  • Great writing ! Keep going :)

  • The worst. I have heard good things about light therapy. They even sell it OTC (Neutrogena and others) now. I recently reviewed a great organic mask that is excellent for adult hormonal acne

  • Spironolactone! Literally the only thing that has ever cleared my hormonal cystic acne—and by cleared I really do mean completely cleared. Cannot emphasize enough how life-changing this medication has been.

  • That worked for my cystic acne as well. I was really surprised. If you ever decide to go off it (if you want to get pregnant or it’s wreaking havoc on your potassium levels), try spearmint tea. It’s how I weaned myself off of the drug. Spearmint tea is apparently anti-androgenic (reduce testosterone levels) which is the cause of my hormonal acne. Now I drink two cups of spearmint tea everyday and trying to get down to just one a day because everything has side-effects if you take it in large doses.

  • Bonjour,

    Je suis une Québécoise aux prises avec divers problèmes de peaux, dont de l’acné modérée. Je viens de subir un traitement à la lumière pulsée et au levulan en clinique dermatologique (Gatineau, Québec). Le médecin applique le levulan et le laisse agir pendant 3 heure. Ensuite vous passez à la lumière pulsée (qui est assez douloureuse). Après vous retournez chez vous et c’est défense de sortir au soleil pour 48 heures. Vous passez par des phases difficiles comme rougeurs et gonflement de la peau (prise de médicaments possible). Au bout du 3e jour, la peau craque et pèle et c’est ainsi jusqu’au 6e jour. Le septième jour, votre peau neuve apparaît; elle est rosée, mais les vilains boutons et cicatrices auront disparus.; elle continuera de s’améliorer au fil du temps… Toutefois, selon la gravité de votre problème de peau, vous aurez peut-être besoin d’autres traitements. C’est aussi assez coûteux, surtout si vous achetez les produits qui vous sont proposés. Mais je crois que cela vaut le coût. Ne dit-on pas ”vous le valez bien”. Bonne chance, en espérant vous avoir aidé un peu! Surtout, surtout, confiez votre peau aux experts…


  • MagpieDV November, 1 2017, 3:45 / Reply

    As the daughter of an acupuncturist, as well as occasional cyst-suffer: most of this advice is great, so kudos for getting your facts right. But the thing you need to do above and beyond all that is go see someone (doesn’t -have- to be an acupuncturist, though of course I’m partial–but any really good holistic medicine practitioner will do) to put your body back in balance. Especially if you are getting the same cysts over and over again in the same place: that’s not just a hormonal fluctuation, that’s a pattern and a very precise expression of weakness/bodily cri de couer. You need someone who can interpret that and -solve- it.

    Nowadays as acupuncture, reflexology and so on enter the mainstream, I’ve seen some charts floating around the internet that are a good initial guide to what breakouts mean based on where they occur. But the specifics are much much more complicated than a “face map” can give, and have everything to do with your diet, activity levels, and psychological state/genetic predispositions. A basic acupuncturist can hopefully pick up on some of that. A really great acupuncturist can -fix it all-, yes that. In the meantime, keep getting steroid shots. Eastern and western medicine should always work in synchrony via a thoughtful and considered regimen; and anyone who tells you otherwise is a quack.

  • Veronica McCarthy November, 1 2017, 4:51

    acupuncture is on my to-do list! (to be honest it’s been there for awhile and i’ve just been a big baby about it). but your description of its methodolgy and benefits is making it a necessity in my life. and i LOVE your last sentiment re: eastern and western medicine working together! xx

  • Jennifer November, 1 2017, 4:28 / Reply

    Great ideas, thanks for sharing. Skin issues can be horrible and hurt far more than your face. The only caution I have is with the aquaphor, My Dermatologist swore by it for my eczema and turns out I’m allergic to it and all these years it was most likely making my eczema worse. Obviously it only affects those with the allergy but certainly look into the products you use because they can work again you.
    Hope you find more relief, so not fun.

  • Mamavalveeta03 November, 11 2017, 12:07

    I was going to ask if Aquaphor or Vasoline were actually recommended by the dermatologist because it doesn’t sound like a very good idea…more clogging, if anything!

  • Racheljoy November, 1 2017, 6:07 / Reply

    I think it’s great to share these kinds of stories. It’s a reminder of how painful Skin problems can be! I don’t think many people realise, and I’ve had the horrid xperience of someone even saying to me “look, stop worrying about problems that are only just about your vanity”. Drove. me. mad.
    I don’t have cystic acne. I’m lucky in that my skin is actually very good. However, almost a year ago, I caught a horrid virus that led me to having a cyst each month until they found out what was causing it in April this year. Even worse, the cysts were on my face, and turned into Boils. 3 out 6 I had to have surgically removed and the first surgery for just one cyst/boil saw THREE cysts come out of my lip ? yes, my lip was huge. Each cyst was extremely painful and huge. After the 2nd and 3rd cysts, which were on the lip and one in the corner, I gave up caring about what I looked like with them. I even proudly stuck pretty band aids on them whilst travelling on the underground.
    I’m happy you have found treatment you are happy with and I hope one day your relationship with cystic acne will end!

    At least you and whomever you live didn’t have to use some kind of surgical wash for 7 days changing all clothes and bed sheets everyday ? I had to do that twice this year!

  • “And if anyone tells you that you just need to eat healthier and wash your face more please ignore them and go cry in the safe space of a dermatologist’s office”

    OMG thank you. And thank you for acknowledging how debilitating acne can be.

    The only thing that helped me was spironolactone. I only wish I had sucked it up and gone to the derm sooner, instead of spending all of my money on Sephora’s skincare selection.

  • Estrogen levels fall before and during menstruation, they don’t rise (check out any menstrual cycle graph on google). This drop is the reason for premenstrual acne in women.

    Not trying to be a pain, but women are not taught enough about their bodies and I hate to see misinformation spread.

  • La pistache November, 1 2017, 10:07 / Reply

    I love your writing! Very funny! :)

  • About 15 months ago when I was in Berlin, I met a person very passionate about her job in healthcare, and she told me about this Holland start up Gladskin, they use probiotic method also for acne treatment. I could not resist and i ordered the acne gel online, they delivered my order very quickly (i saw it worked so i ordered other 3 times), now i can say my skin do not suffer acne (i had it also on my back and shoulders), i only have some red spot when i do not have the possibility to treat my skin in a proper way, like during my travels. I highly recommend this product, after many years of acne I was not sure anymore somerhing could really help. i am 35 now and had acne since i was 17, i hope i can say the issue is solved ?

  • Aurélie November, 2 2017, 9:51 / Reply

    Je suis passée par là. C’était invivable. Je suis allée voir un dermatologue et j’ai suivi un traitement lourd de plusieurs mois (Curacné) comme pour les ados (j’ai 32 ans). C’est très difficile à vivre, une traversée du désert (cette sensation de dessèchement !) Mais au final, fini les kystes. Et je revis.

  • Nastassia November, 2 2017, 12:33 / Reply

    I fought/am fighting the same battle, and three things mde a major difference (apart from cutting sugars, gluten & dairies from my diet!!)
    1/ cleansing ONLY in the evening. First massaging my skin with pure jojoba oil -no water, straight onto makeup- for up to a few minutes, if I have time, and then cleaning with a cleansing gel for sensitive skin and tepid water (then I follow with the rest of my nightly routine).
    2/using Siam Seas product (a really great Thai/Amercian organic brand created by a woman who herself suffered from cystic acne, using her knowledge of Thai plants -she is Thai herself). There is a great anti-inflammatory serum called Twilight BeCalm, and a soothing, regenerating, non-comedogenic balm called SEAS Elements. The two together are my cosmetic holy grail (and skin saviours!).
    3/taking Chlorella as a food supplement. I started because I knew it supports the liver, but wasn’t expecting to notice such a difference. I break out much less when I take it.

  • Gluten was actually my cystic acne trigger. I almost never get facial cysts anymore since I had to cut it out of my diet. Back in my cystic acne suffering days, I found that Enessa Clove Acne Control oil was the only thing that really dissolved the cysts quickly and helped to fade the mark they left behind.

    I do have a good sized cyst on my back that’s been there for years that I’ve had drained by a dermatologist twice. When you have a long term cyst, you usually have to get the actual sac excised so that it doesn’t eventually fill back up (the only reason I haven’t done this yet is because when I was about to get it done, it suddenly flared up and became inflamed- they can’t excise it while it’s infected).
    So, I highly recommend getting that ear cyst sac excised!

  • Dear Ladies,
    After decades of the b****y things this is what I’ve done and it worked wonders – though my London skin is still pretty blocked!
    * go vegan – if you can
    *stop applying any foundation, powder, concealer. full stop. I used to use Dermalogica for years, then finally embraced the bare look, except date nights. It worked!
    *use jojoba oil as a moisturiser
    * if you still get the b***rd apply zinc oxide paste overnight and put a plaster on top. it may take up to two night to disappear.

    lots of cyst free love


  • I struggled for years with a cyst by my left ear! I eventually went to see a dermotologist and was referred to a plastic surgeon. It was removed with the smallest of scarring this way. It did come back once and they removed it again and I haven’t seen that cyst in about 7 years!! Consider talking to a dermatologist to see if this is an option for you? Either way, I feel your pain!

  • Merci pour cet article ! Et quelle écriture, j’ai beaucoup beaucoup beaucoup ri :) Keep going !
    Je rêve du laser… En début d’année j’ai testé un peeling (doux) Dermalogica, très efficace sur les cicatrices et la qualité de la peau. Malheureusement l’effet n’a pas survécu au soleil estival…

  • I had horrible cystic acne growing up. Nothing helped until I went to college and my roommate told me she used Retin-A. I asked my dad to get it for me (he’s a doctor) and the first 6 weeks my skin got much worse (you are warned about it getting worse at first, it truly gets worse). After 6 weeks to two months, it started to get better and my acne and scars slowly went away. Retin A changed my life.

    I’m 41 now and still use it (too scared to go off). That said, I only use it 3 times a week and apparently it’s good for wrinkles too (I should also note that I have very oily skin). To me, Retin A is the gold standard topical treatment for acne.

  • Elizabeth C. Meyer November, 4 2017, 1:25 / Reply

    Great suggestions. A gluten, dairy, sugar, coffee (!) and soy free diet has helped me conquer cystic acne. Weekly Epsom salt baths seem to help. Anything that reduces my cortisol levels, calms the adrenals and minimizes food-based hormones seems to help.

    Also, I recently I started mixing baking soda and some water to create a paste which I then leave on the cyst for 15 minutes. Downsides: It’s brittle when it dries and messy and potentially abrasive so you need to be careful when rinsing off. Upsides: A cheap solution which results in an immediate reduction in the swelling if inflammation is the primary issue. May not work for seriously stubborn infected and angry variety of cysts.

  • Astrid Kristin November, 4 2017, 8:29 / Reply

    I think u should try doing nothing.

    Read Lexie Smiths beauty minute here on this site.

    I also read about a woman, self-titled beauty addict… her skin had never looked as good as after being hospitalized for a long period and not having done anything to it at all.

    With nothing, I do rub some rosehip oil because it feels protective and leaves no grease on me (rather seems to take grease away). No water even. Only rosehip oil (pure rosehip, nothing fancy. No branded blends. I prefer the mosqueta version which is less orange and does not smell so much (there is another rosehip oil variant) for moisture and protection during harsher weather… Is what I need.

    I really recommend a no fuss regimen. Ie nothing basically :-). Just a little oil. I really believe our skin is meant to look pretty, like skin. Steve Bannon is probably not healthy and maybe washes his face with soap. A donut every now and then, i am sure it is not your living which causes it :).

    Give it a go!! ????

  • first of all i’m getting old and looking for this kind of great write up .. :P but it’s obvious and i can’t stop it… so i’m enthusiastic to try the suggestion and finger crossed that i’ll have significant result…. will update you on a week or two…. :)

    BTW thank’s for these excellent suggestions…

  • As someone who understands cystic acne all too well (and who currently interns in a dermatology office), I can vouch for the power of a good dermatologist and facialist mixed with using the right skincare products.

    I don’t think antibiotics or accutane are the long term solution and the best treatment should be one that can “pacify” all the things going on. For me it involved cutting out fried foods and anything too sugary, mixed with balancing my stress and getting my sleep on a more regular pattern.

    Skincare I was all over the place between hardcore scientific things and organic miracle oils. What worked for me was YULI skincare, which is organic but their founder actually studied under the women behind Proactiv and herself suffered from acne (read her story on their site if you have a chance), and the ingredients list holds up, it’s the real deal.

  • I’m one of the few men who read this blog regularly and often write comments. This topic is very close to me , I ‘m a mature person who has struggled with severe acne all my life . Here you mention a couple of different treatments I am willing to try !
    This stubborn problem is a real difficult one to solve ! The only upside is that my oily skin tends not to wrinkle!!
    Dress The Part

  • I cut out dairy- done and done after 2 decades of zits!!

  • J’aime votre blog, votre style d’écriture et vos articles sont super, bravo et bonne continuation !

  • I like your blog, your writing style and your articles are great, congratulations and good luck!

  • J’adore votre humour ! Bravo ! et bon courage :-))

  • Bravo ! et bon courage :-)

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