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What Causes Cystic Acne?

Getting a pimple is terrible. But getting cystic acne? That’s even worse. Typically the largest, deepest, and most severe form of acne, cystic acne appears as a painful lump trapped beneath your skin. This lump is a cyst, a cavity within your skin filled with pus or other fluids. A cyst can be maddening, but trust us — no amount of ill-advised squeezing will drain it. (Seriously, don’t. The thing won’t pop, you’ll just slow healing and raise your risk of scarring!)Nope, this blemish doesn’t come to a head like normal acne. If you get an attack of cystic acne, it’s going to lurk under the surface and torment you for days or even weeks. Forget surface-level acne cleansers. You’re going to need deep-reaching products that treat your cystic breakouts at the root. But what could have caused this disaster in the first place?

acne causes conspiracy board


The answer is almost anti-climactic. Current research into the causes of cystic acne points to the usual suspects. We’re talking about the same factors that also cause your milder, surface-level breakouts, like...

1. Excess Oil

Judging by the blotting papers at the bottom of your purse, oiliness is a familiar problem. This overabundance of skin oil (sebum) can be the root of many skin issues, cystic acne included. Sebum is the oil naturally produced by your sebaceous glands to keep your skin healthy and moisturized. In moderation, it hydrates and protects your skin, but some triggers can throw your oil production into overdrive. 


  • Adolescence the dreaded teenage acne years!
  • Stress thanks to stress-induced cortisol
  • Climate and season oil tends to worsen in heat and humidity
  • Overly oily or overly drying cosmetics strike the right balance
  • Genetics Sorry, you may have lost acne’s genetic lottery
  • Hormones more info on that below!

Many people accidentally make the problem worse by skipping moisturizer. It seems natural to assume that moisturizer will only add to your oiliness, but it can help regulate your skin’s sebum production. When your face receives quality hydration from a product like our botanical-infused Flawless Nourishment Cream, it adjusts by putting out less oil. Voila! A healthier, dewier complexion.

Averr Aglow Flawless Nourishment Cream


In the meantime, though, excess sebum will continue to wreak havoc. If your skin has gone oil-crazy for any of the above reasons, it can contribute to your acne — whether it’s a mild case or a severe cystic breakout. Of course, sebum isn’t doing all this damage by itself. Meet its partner in crime...

2. Dead Skin Cells

Under normal conditions, your skin happily rejuvenates itself, shedding old skin cells to keep your complexion looking fresh and new. If you have acne-prone skin, though, those normal conditions go out the window. Those of us plagued with acne may produce four or five times the usual amount of skin cells, and our bodies just can’t shed them fast enough. Don’t let dull skin hide your natural glow. Our Illuminating Essence Exfoliating Mask gently clears away dry skin and impurities with the clarifying power of volcanic ash. Remember all that excess oil? When it mixes with this traffic jam of dry old skin cells, the whole mass congeals into a dense plug, clogging up your pores. The plug blocks access to the surface of your skin and turns your pores into an airless, oxygen-free zone. Which makes your poor pores the perfect living space for…

3. Bad Bacteria

In particular, bacteria called C. acnes (formerly known as P. acnes). These guys already live on your skin and usually don’t cause any trouble. But when you get a nice oily skin clog, it’s like ringing the dinner bell C. acnes bacteria multiply inside your plugged pores and feed on the combination of dead skin and sebum stuck inside. And as they consume the sebum, they produce inflammatory fatty acids, irritating the surrounding skin. Tada! Your pore is now inflamed, and you’re officially having an acne breakout.

4. Hormone Shifts

Any hormonal changes that lead to low estrogen or high testosterone can potentially lead to acne. This is because imbalanced androgen hormones — like testosterone — increase our two biggest acne triggers: oil production and skin cell turnover. Hormones may also thicken the lining of your pores, which can worsen blockages. 

5. Hormones and Adolescence

We mentioned that adolescence is one cause of oily skin and acne. It’s not because teenagers are living on a diet of pizza and tacos, or because they are fundamentally incapable of washing their face. (Hey, what's wrong with pizza?)

author enjoys a big slice of pizza


(Actually me, actually eating pizza) No, that extra oil is all thanks to the dizzying cocktail of hormones that strikes during our transition from childhood to adulthood. Hormonal changes, especially during puberty, are one of the main factors behind cystic acne.

6. Hormone Shifts in Adulthood

Of course, puberty isn’t the only hormonal fluctuation that can lead to cystic acne. Earlier, we singled out stress as a culprit for excess oil production. This comes back to increased levels of the hormone cortisol, which can kickstart a breakout. Women may also develop cystic acne in response to pregnancy, birth control, hormone therapy, or the menstrual cycle. (Because we needed one more downside to having a period.)And we aren’t just talking about the eternally acne-prone. These hormonal changes can cause cystic acne even in people with generally clear skin.

7. Depth

The severity of your breakout — and whether it turns nasty and cystic — may all hinge on the depth of your obstruction and infection. If your pore is plugged deep within the skin, all that bacterial inflammation won’t even reach the surface. Cue the enclosed cysts, now playing a painful game of hide-and-seek beneath your skin. Depth is also what makes cystic acne so difficult to treat. Most topical acne treatments can’t penetrate far enough to treat your cysts effectively. Our Clear Skin Elixir is designed to do what other products can’t, reaching deep within your skin to pull out impurities. This mask is worn overnight, giving clarifying ingredients like French pink clay plenty of time to sink in and work their magic. And unlike other clay masks that can be overly drying, ours is safe and effective for long wear on every skin type.

Averr Aglow Clear Skin Elixir


If you’re serious about kicking cystic acne to the curb, we’re happy to inform you that the Elixir is also available with three of its best acne-fighting friends in our all-in-one Clear Skin Kit. This kit pairs the deeply purifying Elixir with a face mist to help calm inflammation, a cleanser to help remove dirt and impurities, and a moisturizing cream to seal in healthy hydration and help balance your skin oil. It’s the perfect combination to help you reach a bright, fresh complexion ASAP!

Averr Aglow Clear Skin Kit


In the end, no matter which products you decide to use or how long your clear skin journey takes, it’s important to have perspective. Cystic acne can be painful, embarrassing, and destructive to your self-esteem. But repeat after us: YOUR WORTH IS NOT DEFINED BY YOUR SKIN! Acne or no acne, you’re awesome, and we’re proud of you!


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