There are few things in life more frustrating or confidence-zapping than waking up with a face full of pus-filled bumps on your face - the kind that is swollen, red, sore and never comes to a head... or in two words: cystic acne. While most of us are over that awkward spotty rite of passage by now, there are still a few unfortunate ones among us who struggle to get a handle on it even in adulthood.
Cystic acne is one of the most serious types of acne. A combination of bacteria, oil and dry skin cells get trapped in your pores and form cysts deep underneath the skin.
Cystic Acne differs from other types of Acne in that this infection goes deep into the skin, creating a bump that is full of pus. They cover more surface area, and also feel buried deep within the skin, sometimes not even ever coming to a head. Major ouchies.
If you burst it, the infection spreads, causing even more breakouts!
But why do cystic acne happen in the first place? Many people have the misconception that cystic acne results from the lack of hygiene but in actual fact, the number 1 cause of cystic acne is actually HORMONAL IMBALANCE.
A few things happen when your hormones go out of whack. In many cases of cystic acne, doctors who test their patients for hormonal levels find an increase in testosterone or androgen. Excessive amounts of these hormones increase sebum production beyond what is normal. While these oils help to protect and lubricate the skin, excessive amounts cause the hair follicles to become blocked, forming comedones and clogged pores. The hormones may also thicken the lining of your pores and hair follicles, worsening the blockages. Over time, these comedones become fertile ground for bacterial infection to multiply. As white blood cells rush in to fight the infection, the skin becomes inflamed, creating the pus-filled bumps we call cystic acne.
If it was something as simple as hygiene, we can at least improve the condition with better hygiene practices.. but with hormones, does it mean that there isn't anything we can do?
Before you start panicking, all we want to tell you is RELAX. There are tried and tested ways of improving your skin condition so be patient and read on to find out.
Since hormones is the root of the acne problems, why don't we just take several pills to get those hormones under control? That's exactly what many dermatologists recommend. For ladies, this will often take the form of birth control such as Yaz which contain drospirenone or progesterone that will alleviate the skin condition. Alternatively, oral antibiotics may be prescribed to decrease bacteria and inflammation and topical retinoids to clearing clogged hair follicles.
However, such medications come with side effects. On top of not allowing you to get pregnant during the period of use (making this not recommended for ladies intending to get pregnant), contraceptives can cause headaches, nausea, breast tenderness, vaginal bleeding between periods and menstrual irregularities. For others, it can even lead to increased risks of life-threatening blood clots, high blood pressure, gallbladder problems, liver tumors and breast cancer.
Our Chief Editor Agent G was prescribed Yasmin or Yaz when she was a teenager to alleviate her acne. While she saw a slight improvement in her skin condition, there is a general "weirdness" characterised by nausea and irregularities in her menstrual cycle, leading her to eventually stop the medication after 6 months. And guess what, the acne returned in full force once the medication is halted, a characteristic of such acne-hormone pills.
The same goes for oral antibiotics and topical retinoids. Oral antibiotics are just a short term solution as frequent long term use can lead to bacterial resistance. Topical retinoids on the other hand can make one's skin more sensitive and even cause it to peel. Those who've been prescribed retinoid will also know that it is not suitable for people intending to get pregnant as it can lead to fetal retinoid syndrome.
So what can you do if you're not keen to resort to these "unnatural" ways of subduing your acne?
Instead of trying to forcefully eliminate acne with even more meds, why not see your acne as a signalling mechanism for change?
Acne could be your body's way of warning you about the unsustainable ways you could have be over-working your body so this may be a chance for you to examine your lifestyle and correct the practices that may lead to hormonal imbalance.
Here are some of them:
1) High Stress Levels
When you face too much stress (whether at work or at home), your oil production goes through the roof, causing cystic acne to explode all over your chin. Excessive levels of it can also destabilize your immune system, making it harder for acne to heal on its own.
As difficult as it sounds, you can actually reduce stress in a few easy ways. For some, meditation or yoga can do wonders in slowing your heartbeat and getting your stress levels down and for others, exercise. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce stress levels effectively and may even help you sleep better.
2) Insufficient Sleep
This brings us to the second factor: sleep!
Insufficient sleep once again increases cortisol level, making cystic acne all the more prevalent. You may not realize but during sleep, your body produces collagen proteins – you know, the fabulous stuff that gives you plump skin, shiny hair and the like – So don’t skimp on the hours!
Lack of sleep and continuous staying up all night causes the skin's metabolism to be disturbed. Ensure 8-10 hours of sleep a day, refuse to stay up late, clean and reduce inflammation in time after acne occurs, to prevent deterioration.- Apple from Apple Queen Beauty
If you have trouble sleeping, try to keep your electronic devices away from you and cultivate a night-time ritual to make sleep more conducive at night.
3) Eating Wrong Foods
You are what you eat. Fruits & vegetables, no need to wax lyrical, we all know of the goodness of these foods, from vitamins to antioxidants, the first thing – and easiest thing – you can do in your war against acne is to up the portions of fruits and veggies you are getting a day. And don’t forget to hydrate too! At least 8 glasses of water a day at least!
Most importantly though, there are certain food items that are known to be inflammatory. Unfortunately for the cheese lovers out there (myself included), dairy is a big one. According to a 2018 study, intake of any dairy regardless of amount of frequency was linked to higher odds for acne occurrences in individuals 7 to 30 years old when compared to individuals who did not consume dairy at all. Milk (which comes from pregnant cows induced to produce more milk with insulin-like growth factors) contains a large number of hormones that trigger inflammation and ignite the acne process. This is especially the case for whey and casein, which are commonly found in protein powders and healthy bars high in protein. This is the reason why so many body-builders break out after taking in so much protein!
Other processed foods like pasta, bread, white rice and such high-glycemic-index foods, if taken in large quantities, could also trigger an insulin spike that would magnify any inflammations already found on the skin.
Although it takes time to see the immediate impact on your skin, you'll be glad to note that these changes will have far-reaching positive impacts that goes beyond elimination of acne. Whether it is starting a new exercise routine or cutting out unhealthy foods in your diet, you are very likely to find yourself waking up with higher energy levels, having more regular bowel movements and even feeling happier each day as you feel more in control.
Heck, you may even find your acne a blessing in disguise if you manage to make the change!
It can be so tempting to just pop that nasty looking bump, especially when you see the whiteheads that you know will just explode in a nice, satisfying, juicy… what was I talking about again?
Bad news for all you Dr. Pimple Popper fans out there; despite how itchy your finger gets, pimple popping has unanimously been agreed to be one of the worst things you can do for your acne. As blemishes are essentially bacteria trapped in a pore, the act of squeezing pimples actually leads to even more cystic buildups given how much bacteria there is on your finger.
Never squeeze pimples on your own. Popping pimples basically introduces more bacteria onto the skin as it takes a sterile site and creates new wounds for more bacteria to enter. This causes bacteria to multiple even more, leading to larger and more serious cystic acne. - Apple from Apple Queen Beauty
In fact, try to prevent unnecessary bacteria from making its way onto the skin by not resting our face on your hands, mindlessly picking at the skin and keeping your mobile clean. Hands aside, the mobile phone is possibly the item that comes into contact with our face the most; making sure you keep it clean will help to reduce the bacteria from getting onto your skin.
Objects in contact with the face, similar to bedding, mattress sheets, pillows, facial soap, etc., should also be kept clean frequently. The best way to maintain cleanliness is to wash, replace and expose them frequently.- Apple from Apple Queen Beauty
When dealing with acne, the instinctive thing to do may be to use the strongest treatments to dry up the acne. Truth is that using such treatments, especially OTC facial wash on a daily basis could actually over-strip the skin, causing the skin to produce even more oil and more breakouts.
I would also recommend customers to avoid going for machine-based treatments. It is unclear how deep the infection was in the skin and how the infection will react to the machine treatment. I've personally seen cases where use of machine based treatments actually caused infections to spread and condition to worsen, so I would be particularly cautious with that. - Apple from Apple Queen Beauty
It takes time to effect a change in your hormonal balance but one immediate thing you can do is to go to a trusted beautician. Beauticians help as they are able to help you remove surface dry cells through exfoliation and remove whiteheads and blackheads through extraction. As bacteria requires clogged pores as sites to multiple, removing these surface dry cells and whiteheads / blackheads hijacks the acne formation process, eventually leading to the disappearance of acne altogether.
This is the case for Agent HG, Agent N and Agent L, all of whom saw their acne problem alleviated after going to well-known acne specialist Apple Queen Beauty. But can she deal with a problem as serious as cystic acne?
We follow Agent TH on his journey to clearer skin.
Hello, I'm Agent TH and am now serving my National Service (NS).
My skin hasn't been clear for a long time, to be honest. I've been having pimples since I was in secondary school. When I'm bored at home, I would just pick at it and squeeze out the pimples. Instead of getting better, the acne seem to grow larger and larger over time, even turning reddish and purple as blood seemed to be stuck in the pimple somehow. Seeing how bad it got, I made the effort to actually get a facial wash specifically for acne skin... but as you can see, it doesn't seem to have an effect.
If it was even possible, my skin actually got worse after going for National Service, possibly because I was under the sun so much.
It got so bad that even my mom nagged me to do something about it. I googled and came across Agent BW's experience at Apple Queen Beauty.
Seeing how Apple was able to help Agent BW as well as Agent HG gave me hope.
Could she get rid of my pimples for me?
Although Apple Queen Beauty is in the CBD area, it is located at the more run-down International Plaza.
Though the place isn't exactly luxurious, I like it that it is easy to get to while still remaining somewhat secluded and private. Apple herself was very nice. During the consult she helped diagnose that my skin type was “dry”. I was surprised as I always thought that my skin was too oily. She identified however that my skin was actually dry within. To overcome the dryness, my skin overcompensated on oil production, leading to the cystic acne problem.
To boost my skin immunity and get rid of the existing cystic acne, Apple recommended me to do a series of Wheatgrass facials. Having read all about how she managed to save all her previous customers, I decided to trust her. I went for 6 times of facials and also to use her recommended products: Toner Boost and Aloe Vera Gel Mask back at home. While extractions were painful, all the pain and effort were vindicated when I saw my own skin:
Jul 2020 vs Feb 2020
While the pimples are not completely gone, the change is HUGE.
Finally, I don't see the red blood clots that make my face look so jialat!
The results are so encouraging that I decided to persevere and continue going to Apple regularly.
Keen to see how my usual facial is like?
Read on below for my 7th visit to Apple Queen Beauty.
The facial process always starts with a round of cleansing to remove any external dirt and sweat accumulated from being outdoors and from wearing a mask all day.
Apple would then take a good 30-40 mins to do the extractions.
It used to be even longer... taking almost an hour and a half the first time.
The fact that the time has shortened is also testament of the improvement in my skin.
I’m not going to lie though – the extractions are painful!
Still, I believe that Apple's thorough extractions is the reason behind why my acne improved so drastically, so fast.
Apple is so thorough, she will even use sterilized needles in the process to remove even the deepest of bumps.
At this point, Apple mentioned that she would usually use a machine to disinfect the skin.
However my skin is so sensitive that she chose instead to apply a Refreshing Toner for the same effect. The toner is specially chosen to cleanse and clarify the pores while at the same time, exerting an anti-bacterial effect.
Next, she applied the Cold Compress Silk Mask which contains EGF, growth factors and Vitamin C to replenish skin moisture as well as Vitamin C to accelerate skin repair.
After about 10 minutes, she removed the previous mask and applied yet another one. This time a soft fragrant mask made of Oatmeal and her new signature Wheatgrass. Wheatgrass is very powerful as it contains lots of chlorophyll that helps to suppress the growth of bacteria while at the same time accelerate repair of my skin for the healing of my acne scars.
It smells so good, I actually feel like eating oats afterwards.
This is how my face looks like afterwards.
What a big difference especially when I compare to myself just half a year ago.
Aug 2020 vs Feb 2020
I don't have to say much because I think the results speak for itself. My skin has become so much better that I can now focus more on reducing my acne scars rather than the terrible blood clotting issues!
For anyone looking for real results, I would definitely recommend Apple.
Keen to give Apple Queen Beauty a try?
Go for the same facial Agent TH went for at the following promotional price:
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Looking to try out some beauty services for your acne issues too? Share your experience on BU.sg