Maryland-based board-certified dermatologist Ife Rodney, M.D., says they not only can’t be popped, but that an attempt to can cause damage. “Unlike pustules — little pus-filled pimples — and blackheads, under-the-skin pimples usually do not contain a core of dead skin or pus,” she tells Allure. “When you try to squeeze a cystic pimple, the result is trauma and more inflammation, leading to scarring and skin discoloration.”
When you feel it coming on, ice it like a sprained ankle to reduce swelling
Whether the cystic acne is on your forehead or on your nose, the type of pimples we’re talking about here are rooted deep beneath the skin, so you will usually be able to feel it starting to form. When you do, don’t panic. Instead, grab an ice cube and apply it to the area for several seconds.
“Applying an ice cube directly to your pimple will constrict the small blood vessels that are feeding the cyst and will immediately decrease the redness and size,” Dr. Nazarian says.
Dr. Zeichner echoes the advice: “Ice-cold temperatures help constrict blood vessels, so wrap an ice cube in a paper towel and hold it against the bump to reduce pimple redness and bring down the swelling a bit,” he says. He recommends icing three times an hour in 10-minute intervals (10 minutes on, 10 minutes off). You want to do this after you wash your face since washing after icing would warm the skin right back up.
This trick is especially helpful if you aren’t able to follow the next steps right away and you need something that will calm the oncoming redness and swelling before you cover it up with concealer and get on with your day.
Use a two- or three-pronged ingredient approach
“The best way to treat acne is to use different ingredients that work differently and complement each other,” Dr. Zeichner says. “That’s why I typically advise my patients to use both salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide.” To prevent irritation when using the latter, make sure you prime the skin with a light moisturizer first, he says, then spot-treat the cyst with a super-thin layer of the lowest percentage of benzoyl peroxide.
To maximize the efficacy of both of these active ingredients for cystic acne removal, Dr. Zeichner recommends a salicylic acid cleanser, followed by an oil-free moisturizer, topped off with a benzoyl peroxide spot treatment.
Start with a cleanser that contains salicylic acid
“Think of your cleanser not as a true wash, but rather as a short-contact therapy,” Dr. Zeichner suggests. For this reason, he typically recommends that patients with cystic acne use cleansers that contain high concentrations of salicylic acid, a beta hydroxy acid (BHAs) that helps shrink cystic pimples by removing excess oil, sloughing off dead skin cells, and drying them out.