Cystic acne is a severe type of acne in which the pores in the skin become blocked, leading to infection and inflammation. The skin condition mainly affects the face, but also often affects the upper trunk and upper arms.
Acne most often affects adolescents and young adults, with an estimated 80 percent of people between 11 and 30 years of age experiencing acne at some point. Cystic acne is the most severe form and affects far fewer people.
In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that acne was the top reason people gave for visiting a dermatologist.
The treatment of severe, cystic acne requires the help of a specialist doctor and some self-care measures. Drug treatment can be effective at preventing cysts and scarring. Mild or moderate acne can be managed with the help of a doctor. However, severe acne characterized by nodules and cysts may need referral to a specialist, as it might leave scars or already show signs of scarring. This is partly because the main drugs used to treat cystic acne are tightly controlled.
Benzoyl peroxide is a treatment available to people with acne of any severity. It is also a treatment option for people with severe acne who are awaiting specialist treatment. Benzoyl peroxide is available directly from pharmacies over the counter in a number of formulations that may be applied to the skin. It has been a mainstay in the treatment of acne for over 50 years, and works by killing bacteria, particularly Propionibacterium acnes (P. acnes). It also breaks up comedones. These include whiteheads and blackheads. Water-based and alcohol-based formulations of benzoyl peroxide are available, and the most appropriate form depends on skin type. Alcohol-based preparations have a drying effect, making these more suitable for people with oily skin. Benzoyl peroxide products, which include cleansing liquids and bars, lotions, creams, and gels, are used once or twice a day. The most common side-effect is skin irritation. Allergies do not commonly occur.