When it finally sinks in just how much those big, sore pus-filled pimples are affecting your daily life, getting rid of cystic acne becomes an urgent priority. It certainly did for me. But what I found was that many of the products and techniques to control breakouts are at best no match for cystic acne and at worst, aggravate it.
If youâre like me you probably developed acne in your early teens and hoped and prayed youâd just grow out of itâ¦but you didnât. However, even if you were pimple-free in your teens, acne â especially cystic acne â can still pop up in your adult years, influenced in part by factors such as hormonal changes, stress, genetics and conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome and those that are treated by steroids. Some nutrition-focussed dermatologists also believe that diet plays a role â as do many acne sufferers â despite the denial of many conventional dermatologists over the last three decades.
If youâre going to create an effective treatment plan for getting rid of cystic acne, youâve got to tackle as many of the causes as possible. According to the Mayo Clinic, the three main culprits in acne are excessive oil or sebum production in your skin, irregular shedding of dead skin cells â both of which plug and irritate hair follicles or pores â and resulting bacterial buildup and activity in plugged pores. However, another key factor is inflammation, which is present in all pimples but especially those found in cystic acne, according to dermatologist, author and former acne sufferer Nicholas Perricone.
Many oral and topical acne medications do not tackle all of the causes, which is why treating cystic acne can be so challenging and frustrating. While itâs always a good idea to consult a dermatologist to discuss treating your acne, more and more people are trying to treat it on their own, especially those without medical coverage. Here are a few ways you can create an effective treatment plan based on recommendations from dermatologists and naturopathic doctors, scientific research and my own personal acne battle.
1. Treat Your Skin Gently. Myths about dirt causing acne and frustration may cause you to use harsh products such as facial scrubs and coarse pads to cleanse your face. But all authoritative sources on acne agree that these products do much more harm than good. Also, one of the downfalls of popular acne remedies such as common over-the-counter medications is that they irritate the skin too much, notes Perricone. And simply put, too much irritation is too bad for acne.
2. Try AcneFree. One of the most popular topical acne treatments today is Proactiv. However, there is another product that users say is even more effective and, very important, not as irritating as its competitor. Itâs the AcneFree Severe Acne Treatment System, a product created by University Medical. This product contains benzoyl peroxide and retinol, common ingredients in acne medications. But, unlike in-store acne treatments with these ingredients, the AcneFree Severe Acne Treatment System is a prescription-quality, intensive acne medication.
AcneFree products aid in getting rid of cystic acne by attacking the three root causes of acne. They come in different formulas to cater to various skin types and severity of acne. Many users report that after the first few days, this acne treatment isnât as irritating as other topical meds. The 4-step kit includes an antibacterial cleansing wash, a corrective toner, a repair lotion and retinol renewal complex. University Medical also provides other products for cystic acne, but this kit is good value for money and a good starting point.
3. Consume an Anti-Acne Diet. If youâve noticed that eating certain types of food make your acne worse then avoid them. Some of the likely culprits according to naturopathic doctor Mark Stengler and his physician co-authors in Prescription for Natural Remedies, include refined carbohydrates, dairy products and meat from animals fed hormones, and foods that cause you allergies.
For getting rid of cystic acne, eat foods vitamin-A rich foods such as carrot, cantaloupe and spinach, and omega-3-rich foods that fight inflammation such as walnuts and fatty fish like salmon, herring and mackerel. Other foods that should be part of an acne diet include those high in vitamin C, such as lemon, kiwi and cranberry, and foods rich in other antioxidants â which also lower inflammation â such as brightly coloured vegetables, cherries, blueberries, and green tea.
You can learn more about creating a successful anti-acne diet by picking up a copy of one of Perriconeâs groundbreaking books, The Acne Prescription or The Clear Skin Prescription from your local library or on sale at Amazon. Other good sources on the subject include The Acne Cure and The Clear Skin Diet.
4. Take Gugulipid, or Guggul. One of the most effective treatments for getting rid of cystic acne is isotretinoin, which is a high dose of vitamin A taken orally. However, this medication is notorious for its potential severe side effects, including liver problems, extreme dryness (including in the mouth and vagina), tender joints, sore, cracked lips and mood disturbance. It can also harm an unborn child. I had to cut my treatment short mainly because I developed severe menstrual symptoms and had a constant feeling of pressure in my head.
An alternative to isotretinoin you might try is the herb known as gugulipid, or guggul. Itâs long been used in India, originally to control cholesterol. Doctors whose high-cholesterol patients had acne noticed that it also cleared up pimples. As far back as 1994, research in the Journal of Dermtology showed that guggul was as effective as tetracycline in getting rid of cystic acne, and was particularly effective for those who had the oiliest skin.
Guggul might cause side effects such as headaches, nausea or a rash in some people. If you have medical conditions such as cholesterol or thyroid problems â or youâre at risk for any medical problem â do not take guggul without consulting your doctor first. This herb may mimic estrogen when taken so if youâre at risk for an estrogenic cancer such as breast, ovarian or testicular, donât take it. Guggul might also interfere with medications such as birth control pills, quinidine, cyclosporine and anticoagulants or blood thinners such as warfarin.
5. Apply and Take Probiotics Daily. These friendly bacteria are better known for restoring a healthy balance of flora to your gut, but they can also help fight acne, according to a study published in Gut Pathogens in 2011. Taken orally or applied directed to acne-affected skin, probiotics help reduce inflammation that plays a role in acne. The researchers also found that probiotics help to kill bacteria cause acne, Proprionibacterium acnes.
When I used probiotics for getting rid of cystic acne, I added crushed garlic, ginger and aspirin. I found it very effective in zapping zits fast. Garlic contains sulphur, which was used as far back as the 1940s to treat acne because it controls oiliness and kills bacteria. Aspirin is also known as salicylic acid, which is a common active ingredient in many popular topical acne medications. And ginger is one of natureâs great inflammation fighters. Obviously if youâre allergic to garlic, ginger or aspirin, give them a miss.
6. Manage Stress More Effectively. Stress doesnât cause acne, but it can certainly make it worse, which a few studies have concluded, including one published in the journal Acta Derma-Venereologica in 2007. There are no universal stress-relieving techniques that suit everyone so itâs up to you to find the one that you like and that suits your lifestyle. Some of the best, low-budget stress-management techniques that can help treat cystic acne include walking, yoga, deep breathing, meditation, listening to ambient music and better time management. But if you can afford it, weekly or biweekly spa or massage treatments are also great stress busters.
Getting enough restful sleep each night also helps relieve stress and helps your body to recover from its effects, including hormonal changes that may directly affect acne, or indirectly as in the case of appetite changes that make you crave the foods that make acne worse.
7. Do Laundry Often. Wash your bedding, clothes and accessories such as hats, scarves and do-rags at least once a week to wash away oil, dead skin cells and bacteria that build up in them and make your cystic acne worse. Itâs best to use a mild or organic detergent so you donât irritate your skin and your acne.
If youâre not satisfied with the results after trying these remedies, consult a dermatologist about taking isotretinoin, which is still considered one of the best medical treatments for getting rid of cystic acne. But keep in mind, not even isotretinoin works for everyone with acne. So you should still make your acne battle plan as multipronged as possible for the best results â in other words, stick with some of the strategies mentioned above.
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Prescription for Natural Drug Alternatives, Mark Stengler, N.D., et al.
The Acne Prescription, Nicholas Perricone, M.D., 2003
The Acne Cure, Terry J. Dubrow and Brenda D. Adderly
Gut Pathogens, Published online January 31, 2011; âAcne Vulgaris, Probiotics and the Gut-Brain-Skin Axis â Back to the Future?;â Whitney P Bowe and Alan C. Loga
The Journal of Dermatology, October 1994; âNodulocystic Acne: Oral Gugulipid Versus Tetracycline;â D.M. Thappa and J. Dogra
Acta Derma-Venereologica, 2007; âStudy of Psychological Stress, Sebum Production and Acne Vulgaris in Adolescents;â G. Yosipovitch et al.