Cystic-acne sufferers know that a cyst is not the same beast as a standard pimple. While whitehead pimples sit on the surface of the skin (which, though unsightly, means they’re easier to treat and conceal), cysts can linger under the surface of the skin like oil-filled balloons, growing bigger and more inflamed over time. The scarring can be severe, too, making skin appear pockmarked and fissured, which is why dermatologists approach it with a powerful combination of topical treatments and antibiotics, moving on to scorched-earth methods like Accutane or a hormonal drug like Spironolactone if those fail.
“Sometimes I see people try over-the-counter products just for a couple of weeks, they get frustrated, they say it’s not working, and they discontinue them,” Arthur says. “But it really does take a while to see the effectiveness. So unless you’re having a problem with the medication, like it’s causing severe irritation or dryness, it’s recommended to give it at least 2-3 months before switching to something else.”
A 2013 study on acne vulgaris in The Nurse Practitioner concurred that a multidimensional approach to acne is usually necessary because most people have a combination of symptoms. Based on the advice of dermatologists and aestheticians, we turned our focus to regimen sets, analyzing the ingredients of more than 40 kits before finding our top picks.

Risk factors for the development of acne, other than genetics, have not been conclusively identified. Possible secondary contributors include hormones, infections, diet and stress. Studies investigating the impact of smoking on the incidence and severity of acne have been inconclusive.[2][38][39] Sunlight and cleanliness are not associated with acne.[14]
Isotretinoin (previously known as Accutane) is the most effective form of acne therapy and the only one that can actually result in a cure for your acne. After finishing a course 80 percent of people never see acne again. It works so well because it unclogs pores, kills bacteria, reduces oil production and reduces inflammation. It's taken as a daily pill. Isotretinoin has numerous rare and potential side effects that has made it a controversial choice, but for patients with severe acne there is often no other option. Patients taking isotretinoin must also be on highly effective birth control as the drug can cause birth defects. Isotretinoin can only be taken under close medical supervision.
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While you can certainly benefit from a great skin-care regimen, "in cystic acne, usually you need internal treatment," he says. "Topical medications usually don't work. Accutane is a great miracle cure for really bad cystic acne, but most people with cystic acne will improve with oral antibiotics — sometimes for two weeks, sometimes for three weeks."
There are packaged products that contain some combination of the aforementioned ingredients, too. Zeichner likes Clean & Clear’s Acne Triple Clear face wash with salicylic acid in it, but says to sit with it for a bit to let it sink into skin. “Allow salicylic acid to sit on the skin while you sing the alphabet before rinsing, to ensure enough contact time for it to do its job.”
Antibiotics are frequently applied to the skin or taken orally to treat acne and are thought to work due to their antimicrobial activity against C. acnes and their ability to reduce inflammation.[20][80][86] With the widespread use of antibiotics for acne and an increased frequency of antibiotic-resistant C. acnes worldwide, antibiotics are becoming less effective,[80] especially macrolide antibiotics such as topical erythromycin.[16][86] Therefore, they are not recommended for use alone but are preferred as part of combination therapy.[15] Commonly used antibiotics, either applied to the skin or taken orally, include clindamycin, erythromycin, metronidazole, sulfacetamide, and tetracyclines such as doxycycline and minocycline.[47] Doxycycline 40 milligrams daily (low-dose) appears to have similar efficacy to doxycycline 100 milligrams daily and has fewer gastrointestinal side effects.[15] When antibiotics are applied to the skin, they are typically used for mild to moderately severe acne.[20] Antibiotics taken orally are generally considered to be more effective than topical antibiotics, and produce faster resolution of inflammatory acne lesions than topical applications.[1] Topical and oral antibiotics are not recommended for use together.[86]
Acne medications work by reducing oil production, speeding up skin cell turnover, fighting bacterial infection or reducing inflammation — which helps prevent scarring. With most prescription acne drugs, you may not see results for four to eight weeks, and your skin may get worse before it gets better. It can take many months or years for your acne to clear up completely.
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