The first step to combat cystic acne should be to find a good cleanser. “In some cases, cleansers can actually help treat acne,” says Dr. Josh Zeichner, Associate Professor of Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “Ingredients like salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide are effective in treating acne when they are included in cleanser formulations.” Salicylic acid is a form of beta-hydroxy acid that clears oil and dries acne, while benzoyl peroxide helps calm inflammation and reduce levels of acne-causing bacteria on the skin.
According to Renée Rouleau, Celebrity Esthetician and Skin Care Expert, you should also look for a pH-balanced cleanser that will keep your skin barrier intact (skin is naturally slightly acidic, for reference). She also recommends looking for ingredients like tea tree oil for its antibacterial properties, glycerin for soothing, lactic acid for exfoliating, and kaolin, “a mineral clay to reduce oiliness on skin’s surface.”
When you’re using a cleanser to treat acne, Zeichner says you should take special care while washing your face. “Rather than using it as a traditional cleanser, think of it instead as a short contact therapy,” he says. “It needs enough time on the skin for the active ingredient to penetrate and do its job. I tell my patients to lather the product onto the skin and let it sit while you sing the alphabet before rinsing off.”