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Acne Papules Vs. Cysts

By Tracii Hanes ; Updated July 18, 2017

Acne can manifest in a number of ways, causing extreme discomfort and anguish for those who have it. Papules and cysts are two types of inflammatory acne that can cause pain and infection when treated improperly. Understanding the difference between acne papules and cysts can help you find the most effective treatment for your particular condition.

Causes

Acne occurs when dead skin cells and sebum build up on the skin. While it is not known exactly what causes all cases of acne, the University of Maryland Medical Center lists family history, hormonal fluctuations and use of oily cosmetics as possible contributing factors. Certain medications -- such as lithium, oral contraceptives and corticosteroids -- may also aggravate acne. Teenagers and premenstrual women may be more prone to acne due to hormonal changes that increase the amount of oil on the skin.

Papule Features

Papules are inflamed and often painful bumps with no head. According to Acne.org, squeezing papules does no good and can lead to scarring. Since they are the result of inflammation as opposed to sebum buildup, papules cannot be popped without causing pain and worsening inflammation. Acne.org suggests applying a warm washcloth or compress to the affected area to reduce inflammation. Papules may range in size from 1 centimeter in diameter to the size of a pinhead.

Cyst Features

Cysts are another form of severe inflammatory acne. They often appear as a pus-filled nodule and can be quite painful. This type of acne lesion can grow up to 5 millimeters in diameter when infection is severe. When multiple acne cysts are present at one time, you may be diagnosed with cystic acne and treated with cortisone shots or another systemic treatment. As with papules, cysts should not be squeezed due to the possibility of spreading infection and causing scarring.

Prevention/Solution

While occasional acne outbreaks are normal, frequent or ongoing acne may be harder to treat. Basic hygiene measures like regular face-washing often fail to help inflammatory acne. If you have acne cysts or papules on a regular basis, talk to a dermatologist. For occasional breakouts, astringents like benzoyl peroxide or salicylic acid may be helpful. When dealing with papules or cysts, avoid touching the area or attempting to squeeze the blemish, as this will likely lead to worsening irritation. In some cases, hormone therapy or systemic antibiotics like erythromycin may be required to treat severe or recurrent acne.

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