What Causes Cystic Acne?

Cystic acne, also known as nodulocystic acne, is a severe form of acne characterized by large, inflamed, and painful cysts or nodules beneath the skin’s surface. It typically occurs when hair follicles become clogged with excess oil, dead skin cells, and bacteria. Several factors contribute to the development of cystic acne:

  • Excess Sebum Production: Sebum is an oily substance produced by the skin’s sebaceous glands. Excess sebum production can lead to clogged pores and contribute to the formation of acne lesions.
  • Blockage of Hair Follicles: When the opening of a hair follicle becomes blocked by a combination of sebum and dead skin cells, it can create an environment where bacteria thrive. This can result in inflammation and the formation of cystic acne.
  • Bacterial Infection: Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes) is a type of bacteria that lives on the skin and can become trapped within blocked hair follicles. This can lead to infection and inflammation, causing the formation of cystic acne.
  • Hormonal Fluctuations: Hormonal changes, such as those that occur during puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and certain medical conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), can trigger increased sebum production and contribute to the development of cystic acne.
  • Genetic Factors: A family history of acne can increase the likelihood of developing severe forms of acne, including cystic acne. Genetic factors can influence how the skin responds to hormonal changes and inflammation.
  • Inflammation: Inflammatory factors play a significant role in the formation of cystic acne. The body’s immune response to the bacteria trapped within the blocked follicles leads to redness, swelling, and pain.
  • Dietary Factors: Although the relationship between diet and acne is complex and varies among individuals, some studies suggest that certain dietary choices, such as consuming high-glycemic foods (e.g., sugary foods and refined carbohydrates), might exacerbate acne.
  • Skin Care Products and Cosmetics: Some skin care products, cosmetics, and hair products contain ingredients that can clog pores and worsen acne. It’s important to choose non-comedogenic (non-pore-clogging) products.
  • Friction and Pressure: Constant friction or pressure on the skin, such as from wearing tight clothing or using helmets, can contribute to the development of acne lesions, including cysts.
  • Stress: While stress itself might not directly cause cystic acne, it can exacerbate existing acne due to its impact on hormone levels and immune function.

Cystic acne can be particularly stubborn and challenging to treat, often requiring specialized treatment approaches. It’s important to consult a dermatologist if you’re dealing with severe acne, especially if it’s causing pain, scarring, or emotional distress. A dermatologist can provide personalized recommendations for managing cystic acne, which may include prescription medications, topical treatments, oral antibiotics, hormonal therapy, or other interventions based on the individual’s specific needs.