Profile view of a male teenager's face with acne

Cystic Acne Treatment in Phoenix, AZ

Cystic acne is one of the most serious forms of acne. Acne is a complex disease characterized by inflammation and clogged pores on skin with lots of oil glands. Most of these pores are clogged with skin that is not shedding properly. While poor hygiene may contribute, it is not often a major factor in acne severity. If you have severe acne, it is very unlikely to be your fault and you should make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist. The main factors in acne severity include genetics, inflammation, bacteria in your pores, hormones, oil production, medications, and other health factors. When acne gets inflamed a cyst can develop inside your skin. Inflammation of these cysts may cause pain and scarring. Cystic acne can develop on the face, chest, neck, back, and arms.

What does cystic acne look like?

Unlike other types of acne which appear on the surface of your skin, cystic acne develops deeper in your skin. The cysts feel like fluid-filled lumps, more like a boil under the skin surface. Due to the accumulation of debris inside the cyst, it’s usually larger than a regular pimple and could be painful to touch. Usually, redness is associated with acne cysts, but sometimes they can also appear as large white bumps.

Where do acne cysts develop?

Acne cysts can develop anywhere on the face and upper body, including the chest, back, and arms. The most common areas to develop cystic acne are the chin, along the jawline, and on the neck. Occasionally acne cysts can develop behind the ears and on the shoulders as well.

What causes cystic acne?

Anyone can develop acne, but cystic acne tends to be more common in individuals with oily skin. Cystic acne is common in teens and young adults in their early twenties. Hormones play a major role in developing acne. The natural increase in androgen hormones during puberty (especially in males) can change the condition of the skin, causing clogged pores and acne. In women, hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle, progestin-only birth control pills, pregnancy, and menopause can lead to the development of cystic acne. Also, certain medications containing steroids such as steroids could increase the development of acne. Genetics could play a role in developing cystic acne, so if one of your parents had cystic acne, you have a higher chance of getting it.

Depending on the severity of the infection, cystic acne can be classified as severe or mild cystic acne. Your dermatologist will also note the presence or absence of scarring.
Popping or picking an acne cyst might temporarily alleviate pain from swelling, but can also lead to more stubborn spots and scarring. It is unusual for acne to spread like some skin infections.

How can I prevent cystic acne?

While there is no reliable way to prevent cystic acne, you can take several steps to try to prevent worsening before your dermatology appointment.

  • Use a mild cleanser to wash away dirt, excess oil, and sweat from your face.
  • When choosing skin products such as makeup and lotion, try to look for the ones that are labeled non-comedogenic or non-acnegenic. These products will not clog your pores and will reduce the development of cystic acne.
  • Remove makeup before you go to bed. Makeup can clog the pores and can lead to the development of cystic acne.
If you think you have cystic acne, see a board certified dermatologist. Get professional treatment rather than trying home remedies. Since cystic acne is one of the most severe forms of acne, it’s hard to get rid of without proper treatment. Waiting and trying home remedies will only make it harder to treat and will prolong the time it takes to control it when you start proper treatment. Seeking treatment from a board-certified dermatologist who has years of training, like the expert dermatologists here at Saguaro Dermatology in Phoenix and Mesa Arizona, is the best option. Click here to book an appointment.
If you suspect you have cystic acne, dermatologists generally recommend against popping them at home. Not only can it leave a scar, but it can also cause the cyst to burst “down” instead of “up.” This can affect a larger area of your skin, causing more breakouts.

Types of treatments in Phoenix and Mesa, Arizona

Over-the-counter acne medications usually don’t work for cystic acne. But not to worry, there are multiple treatment options available for cystic acne. Common treatment options include isotretinoin, oral antibiotics, oral contraceptives (only for women), and topical retinoids.

  • Isotretinoin: Isotretinoin (Accutane) is a synthetic form of vitamin A, which can be taken orally once or twice a day to treat cystic acne. Isotretinoin reduces skin oil production by shrinking the oil-producing (sebaceous) glands. This is considered the most effective treatment for cystic acne. It’s not advised to take isotretinoin if you are pregnant
  • Oral antibiotics: Topical antibiotics may be effective for the treatment of cystic acne or some patients. Oral antibiotics help by “resetting” the skin bacteria and decreasing inflammation. Since antibiotics cannot control excess oil formation, oral antibiotics are often used in combination with other treatments.
  • Oral contraceptives: Combination oral contraceptives can be used to regulate hormones in some women to treat cystic acne (2). These pills contain both estrogen and progestin, which can help regulate overall hormone levels and reduce acne.
  • Topical retinoids: These are vitamin A derivatives and can help to unplug skin pores. But none of the topical retinoids are as strong as isotretinoin. In most cases, currently available over-the-counter retinoids will not be effective against cystic acne.

Procedures: steroid shots and small acne surgeries may also be a part of a comprehensive cystic acne treatment plan.
Other medicines: there are a number of other medicines that are used for cystic acne depending on a patient’s age, gender, and other medical problems.

Since cystic acne is a chronic inflammatory condition, it may take weeks to months before you see improvement in the affected area. The strongest medicines may help quickly but may have more risks. Discuss your options with a board-certified Dermatologist.
Sometimes cystic acne in younger individuals can improve with age. However, cystic acne is often a chronic disease. It probably won’t completely go away on its own quickly. If you suspect you have cystic acne, it is better to consult an experienced dermatologist to choose the best treatment option for you.

Final Word on Cystic Acne

Cystic acne can be a chronic painful skin condition. In addition, severe or untreated cystic acne can affect the way you feel about your appearance, which can even lead to anxiety and depression, especially in young individuals. At Saguaro Dermatology, we consider the whole health of the individual. Our expert staff will listen to all of your concerns and then work with you to develop a treatment plan that works for your lifestyle and budget. Our board-certified dermatologists and our caring and experienced staff are always ready to help you at Saguaro Dermatology, with three convenient locations in Ahwatukee, Central Phoenix and Mesa.

Anabolic steroids:
Isotretinoin for acne:
Oral antibiotics:
Oral Contraceptives:
Topical retinoids:

Articles Cited

1. Bagatin E, Costa CS. The use of isotretinoin for acne – an update on optimal dosing, surveillance, and adverse effects. Expert Rev Clin Pharmacol. 2020;13(8):885-897.

2. Arowojolu AO, Gallo MF, Lopez LM, Grimes DA. Combined oral contraceptive pills for treatment of acne. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;(7):CD004425. Published 2012 Jul 11. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD004425.pub6

Saguaro Dermatology Reviews

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I had an awesome experience with Dr Hamann and staff. I was very comfortable and i was able to have all my questions answered without feeling rushed. The staff was courteous and welcoming.

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Staff was friendly, & on time. office is super clean!! Doctor was awesome, felt like a family member taking care of me.

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Great doctor and friendly, professional staff. The doctor spends time listening and answering questions, something rare to find anymore. The office is beautiful and very clean. I love all the artwork with saguaros.


Dr. Hamann is very knowledgeable, nice, and professional. You can tell that he truly cares about his patients by the way he operates. He took the time to listen to all of my concerns then address them with good, well-informed answers.

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“The office was recently renovated–it is a beautiful, clean, and calm environment. I would highly recommend this practice for anyone who is looking for a general dermatologist.”
Saguaro Dermatology | Phoenix Dermatology

About Saguaro Dermatology

Our comprehensive dermatology clinic is dedicated to providing you with the highest quality of care, innovative practices, helpful resources and state-of-the-art technology to prevent and treat a multitude of skin disorders. Led by Carsten R. Hamann, MD, PhD, Dathan Hamann, MD, FAAD, Michael McBride, DO, Millard Thaler, MD, Mohs Surgeon and Jenna Wald, MD, Mohs Surgeon, our passionate team looks forward to serving you with respect and compassion.

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