Considered to be the most severe type of acne, cystic acne is characterized by large, red, boil-like lumps that rise up just underneath the surface of the skin. It’s more inflamed than other forms of acne, and therefore also more likely to leave behind a scar. However, chances are that you’re already all-too-familiar with this – you may even be sporting some of those painful cystic pimples right now.
We know how frustrating it can be to try to find the best cystic acne treatment among the hundreds of options out there, which is why we’re here to help. We tried and tested a vast array of different formulas, enabling us to narrow down the many options and create a genuine list of the most effective cystic acne treatments available.
Take your pick from the featured products – they’ll not only give your skin some instant relief, but they’ll also help to treat active breakouts and prevent future breakouts from forming. What more could you want?!
|Editor's Choice||#2nd Best Choice||#3rd Best Choice|
Differin Adapalene Gel
#2nd Best Choice
Murad Acne Control Outsmart Acne Clarifying Treatment
#3rd Best Choice
Aveeno Maximum Strength 1% Hydrocortisone Cream
Table of Contents
- Differin Adapalene Gel
- Murad Acne Control Outsmart Acne Clarifying Treatment
- Aveeno Maximum Strength 1% Hydrocortisone Cream
- The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%
- La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Acne Treatment
- Paula’s Choice Clear Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment
- Clean & Clear Persa-Gel 10
- VMV Hypoallergenics ID Monolaurin Gel
- ZitSticka Killa Kit
- Skyn Iceland Blemish Dots
- The Inkey List C-50 Blemish Night Treatment
- Sunday Riley Saturn Sulfur Acne Treatment Mask
- Neutrogena Hydro Boost
- PanOxyl Acne Creamy Wash
Differin Adapalene Gel
Dermatologists often prescribe retinoids for cystic breakouts, which is why it was revolutionary for many when Differin’s Adapalene Gel became available over-the-counter. Many would say that it’s the best cystic acne treatment around because it’s the only OTC formula that contains a prescription-strength retinoid.
Known as adapalene, this powerful form of vitamin A will speed up skin cell turnover and encourage your pores to purge their impurities. As a result, cystic pimples quickly reduce in size and severity before eventually disappearing altogether. However, make sure that you continue to use your Differin Gel even once your skin has cleared to prevent new breakouts from developing.
Murad Acne Control Outsmart Acne Clarifying Treatment
Whether you’ve just spotted your first cystic pimple or you’re dealing with severe cystic acne, the key to treating your acne breakouts is to use a combination of proven ingredients. That’s exactly what the Murad Acne Control Outsmart Acne Clarifying Treatment does, making it no surprise that this formula has been clinically proven to reduce the size of pimples in just one week.
Its efficacy is all thanks to the five acids within its formula, a blend that includes salicylic acid and glycolic acid, two acne-fighting faves. It’ll unclog pores, reduce inflammation, and provide a gentle chemical exfoliation to give you a smoother skin texture.
In addition to being a strong contender for the best cystic acne treatment, this formula, which is designed for sensitive and oily skin types, can also be used to target blackheads and whiteheads.
Aveeno Maximum Strength 1% Hydrocortisone Cream
Good spot treatments don’t have to cost a fortune. Drugstore brand Aveeno has proven that with their Maximum Strength 1% Hydrocortisone Cream – it’s effective and affordable at the same time. In addition to containing a triple oat complex, aloe vera extract, and vitamin E, this formula is also infused with 1% hydrocortisone, which is why so many claim that this is the best cystic acne treatment out there.
Hydrocortisone is a corticosteroid, a group of ingredients famed for their anti-inflammatory properties, making them better at dealing with cystic, inflammatory acne than whiteheads or blackheads. As a result, this spot treatment will provide immediate relief to irritated and itchy skin by reducing the inflammation that lies beneath.
Keep in mind that hydrocortisone doesn’t eliminate acne-causing bacteria or absorb excess oil. Studies have shown that, for best results, the ingredient should be combined with other acne-fighting topical treatments – it’ll make them so much more effective !
The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%
Cult-favorite brand The Ordinary is loved for its formulas containing high concentrations of pure active ingredients, and their Azelaic Acid Suspension 10% doesn’t disappoint.
A natural acid produced by yeast, azelaic acid has proven to be extremely effective at treating cystic acne. Not only is it a powerful antibacterial, meaning that it will kill acne-causing bacteria on the skin, but it’ll also reduce inflammation.
It may not be quite as fast-acting as benzoyl peroxide (more on that later), but studies have found that, over an eight-month period, azelaic acid is just as effective as both benzoyl peroxide and retinoic acid, yet it didn’t produce the side effects that both of those other ingredients are associated with .
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Duo Dual Acne Treatment
La Roche-Posay’s Effaclar Duo Dual Acne Treatment is quite the multi-tasker, which is why we had to include it in this list. It’s one of the best cystic acne treatments for reducing the size of blemishes, and it’ll also work well on blackheads too. Even better, it’ll reduce excess sebum and shine, prevent acne marks and scars, and keep your skin hydrated.
It’s able to do all of these things because it contains a number of intriguing active ingredients. From lipo hydroxy acid and salicylic acid, both of which will clear clogged pores, to zinc PCA, which will mattify the skin, to niacinamide for its pimple-reducing effects, this potent blend promises to bring you clearer skin in just four weeks, even if you’re dealing with severe acne.
Paula’s Choice Clear Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment
Now to move on to benzoyl peroxide treatments, an ingredient that some love and others hate. Why the controversy? Because although cosmetic and clinical research has proven countless times that benzoyl peroxide can clear cystic breakouts, there’s no hiding from its side effects; extreme dryness, redness, and peeling skin are just a few to expect.
That said, not everyone experiences these, especially when the ingredient is used at a lower concentration, which is why the Clear Regular Strength Daily Skin Clearing Treatment from Paula’s Choice is in the running for the best cystic acne treatment.
Combining 2.5% benzoyl peroxide with skin-soothing allantoin and bisabolol means that this spot treatment will not only calm inflamed pimples, but it’ll also prevent cystic acne breakouts in the future. Designed for mild to moderate acne, this light lotion should be used twice a day for best results.
Clean & Clear Persa-Gel 10
If benzoyl peroxide has been working for you but you’re looking for something a little stronger, then consider the Clean & Clear Persa-Gel 10. This formula contains 10% benzoyl peroxide, which is the maximum that you can buy without a prescription.
The higher concentration of benzoyl peroxide makes it a quick and effective way to treat acne of all types. However, don’t forget what we’ve told you about benzoyl peroxide’s side effects. This formula doesn’t contain any skin-soothing ingredients either, making it even more likely to irritate your skin barrier.
So, go slow with this spot treatment – use it once every two days to begin with, before gradually increasing this if your skin health doesn’t seem to be suffering.
VMV Hypoallergenics ID Monolaurin Gel
The majority of people will be familiar with most of the brands that we’ve listed so far, but VMV Hypoallergenics is a little lesser-known. That said, it’s a brand worth getting acquainted with – they’ve published 75 skincare-related studies and they’re also the only brand out there to rate exactly how hypoallergenic their products are.
When it comes to their ID Monolaurin Gel, this scores 109/109, meaning that it’s free of all the 109 recognized allergens in the industry and therefore suitable for even the most sensitive skin.
What this formula does contain is monolaurin, a clarifying ingredient derived from coconuts. It boasts antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral effects, meaning that it targets acne-causing bacteria to leave the skin clear and healthy. Designed to be used on both the face and the body, this is a product that’s definitely worth including in your cystic acne arsenal.
ZitSticka Killa Kit
Pimple patches that target early-stage cystic acne to prevent a full-blown breakout? Yes, please!
Introducing ZipSticka’s Killa Kit, featuring the brand’s signature micro-dart technology. Each patch contains tiny micro-darts that dissolve in the skin, releasing the potent ingredients within them. These include salicylic acid, niacinamide, peptides, and hyaluronic acid.
Together, they’re able to calm a potential breakout, or, if your zits have fully emerged, they’ll accelerate the healing process to clear your skin in just 12 hours.
Skyn Iceland Blemish Dots
Here’s another pimple patch to consider – the Skyn Iceland Blemish Dots. These gel patches are infused with a number of zit-busting ingredients, making it no surprise that they’re in the running for the best cystic acne treatment.
What’s in them? You’ll find salicylic acid to clear your pores, volcanic ash to absorb impurities, phytosphingosine, which is a fatty acid that hydrates and regulates oil production, Canadian willowherb to eliminate bacteria, bakuchiol to reduce blemish and pore size, and so much more!
This spot treatment targets cystic acne from every angle possible – it’s one of those products that you need to have at home if you regularly deal with breakouts. Wear them at night and you’ll wake up to a clear and bright skin tone!
The Inkey List C-50 Blemish Night Treatment
We’ve already mentioned a few spot treatments featuring salicylic acid, but here’s another one we love – the C-50 Blemish Night Treatment from the Inkey List.
In addition to 2% salicylic acid, this overnight gel also contains vitamins C and E, plus a few other extras that are great for reducing inflammation, clearing dead skin cells, and strengthening the skin barrier. Designed for all skin types, this formula not only works well as a treatment, but can be used as a preventative too.
Sunday Riley Saturn Sulfur Acne Treatment Mask
Have you tried using sulfur on your cystic acne yet? If not, you’re missing out. Products containing sulfur are able to dry out excess oil on the skin’s surface while also unclogging the pores. Combine the ingredient with other acne-fighting compounds and you’ll have yourself a winner.
That’s what makes the Saturn Sulfur Spot Treatment Mask stand out. Not only does it contain 10% sulfur, but it’s also packed with zinc PCA, bentonite clay, tea tree oil, and niacinamide. By all means, use it as directed as a face mask, but we would also recommend trying it off-label as a spot treatment on any stubborn cystic pimples.
Neutrogena Hydro Boost
Anyone that deals with cystic acne needs a good oil-free moisturizer, which is where Neutrogena’s Hydro Boost comes in. This formula is more like a gel than a cream – it’s lightweight, absorbs quickly, and instantly hydrates thanks to its featured ingredient; hyaluronic acid.
While we aren’t a fan of some of the filler ingredients found in this formula, there’s no denying how well it works. It’s non-comedogenic, so you won’t need to worry about it clogging your pores, and it’s also free of alcohol, so won’t leave your skin overly dry. Plus, for what it costs, it’s a steal.
PanOxyl Acne Creamy Wash
While cystic acne most commonly occurs on the face, your body is vulnerable too. Whether it may be your chest, your back, or anywhere else, body acne is very real, making it worth having a go-to treatment that can deal with this.
We love the PanOxyl Acne Creamy Wash. It contains 4% benzoyl peroxide along with a number of humectants and anti-inflammatory emollients to hydrate and moisturize. This formula encourages the skin to shed its dead skin cells at a faster rate, which helps to prevent further cystic acne cases in the future.
What are the best cystic acne treatments?
All of the products that we’ve featured on this list can be considered the best cystic acne treatments, so take your pick!
What can a dermatologist do to treat cystic acne?
A dermatologist can treat cystic acne in a number of ways. They can give you a cortisone shot directly into each pimple, or prescribe oral antibiotics and other oral medications (such as birth control pills).
Hopefully, this list will help you in your search for the best acne treatment to target cystic pimples. We’ll admit, it isn’t always easy to find a product that works, but stick with it – all of these 14 treatments have been tried, tested, and proven successful, so start with a couple of these and you’ll be on the right track to clear and pimple-free skin.