They're unsightly, painful, and downright hard to get rid of—if you guessed we're referring to cystic acne, you're right. But fear not: We've got our derms on speed dial to help clear things up, literally.
The struggle is so real when one of these little buggers crops up. These deep, under-the-skin pimples can be extremely painful, not to mention tough to treat. To save you a trip to the derm when you're in a pinch, we rounded up their favorite over-the-counter cleansers, serums, and spot treatments to help banish cystic acne fast.
Neutrogena Oil-Free Acne Wash
"It's important to be in the practice of cleansing skin regularly to prevent oil and dirt buildup. This cleanser is a great one for those prone to breakouts because it has salicylic acid (which helps open up clogged pores) and is also anti-inflammatory."
—William Kwan, MD, a San Francisco-based dermatologist specializing in ethnic skin
iS Clinical Pro-Heal Serum Advance+
"We see many forms of acne in our dermatology practice. The most disfiguring and challenging to treat is cystic acne. Left alone, cystic acne can not only destroy one's self-esteem, but it can lead to long-term scarring. Although we have an array of prescription medications available and OTC options, many can be drying and cause more irritation before seeing noticeable improvement. Therefore, I often think 'outside of the box' to give my patients the best outcome. This [serum] has the added advantage of an anti-inflammatory effect, which is crucial in this type of acne breakout. It is also a potent agent that decreases the redness often associated with this type of acne."
—Amy Lewis, MD, a dermatologist and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine in Connecticut
Differin Gel Acne Treatment
"My feeling is that everyone and their mother should be on a retinoid. This first-line medication can be difficult to get covered, [but] fortunately there is an over-the-counter form available—and this is it."
—Adam Friedman, MD, a dermatologist and associate professor of dermatology and residency program director at George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C.
"The FDA-approved Differin Gel containing the retinoid adapalene is now readily available over the counter. To complement that, if there is no irritation on Differin Gel, I also like the Differin Daily Deep Cleanser ($8; amazon.com), which contains 5% benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide effectively treats inflammatory acne because it reduces a few factors that cause acne: oil production and the P. acnes bacteria."
—Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, MD, a dermatoligist in New York City and clinical attending at NYU Langone and Mount Sinai Hospital
REN Vita Mineral Moisturizing Cream
"Hydration is very important when using acne medications because if the skin gets too dry, it will over-produce more oil. This is a nourishing skin hydrator that won't clog pores and worsen acne."
—Lily Talakoub, MD, a Virginia-based dermatologist at McLean Dermatology and Skincare Center
Neutrogena Stubborn Acne Rapid Clear Face Mask
"It packs benzoyl peroxide, which is a powerful acne fighter that kills bacteria and subsequently reduces inflammation in the skin. It also has keratolytic properties, meaning that it may help open up the pore. While you can spot treat an individual pimple, we cannot predict where your next one will pop up, so I recommend treating the entire face on a regular basis to keep the complexion clear."
—Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City
Visine Redness Reliever Eye Drops
"If you have an event coming up and notice the first signs of a painful cyst making its way to the surface, this works like a charm to bring down redness so it's not as easy to spot. Of course, this won't treat the pimple, but it's a great last-minute option."
—Mona Gohara, MD, associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine in Connecticut.
Indie Lee Blemish Lotion
While prevention is best when it comes to cystic pimples, are a few spot treatments that can help reduce the size of the breakout. "For individual spots try the Indie Lee blemish spot corrector," says Dr. Talakoub.