Cystic acne is a severe form of acne characterized by the formation of inflamed breakouts. People who suffer from this type of acne may have nodules -- hard, painful lumps -- as well as papules and pustules. Proper exfoliation may be able to reduce cystic acne and prevent the formation of new lesions. However, you must choose a product containing the right types of exfoliators. Choosing the wrong product may make cystic acne worse and cause scars.
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Types of Exfoliating Scrubs
Face and body scrubs contain different exfoliating materials. Body scrubs are generally stronger than facial scrubs and should not be used on the face without a dermatologist's approval. Exfoliating scrubs typically contain chemical or physical exfoliating agents, or a combination of the two. Scrubs containing chemical exfoliators are more suitable for cystic acne. Harsh physical exfoliating agents, such as sea salt, are not suitable for cystic acne, since these agents can irritate and damage the skin. Products containing very fine, gentle physical exfoliators, such as microbeads, are suitable. Also look for products that are labeled noncomedogenic, since they are less likely to clog your pores.
Alpha-hydroxy acids, such as glycolic and lactic acid, peel off the top layer of the skin. This removes dead skin cells and other pore-clogging debris. Scrubs containing alpha-hydroxy acids can reduce cystic acne and prevent new lesions from forming. Over time, alpha-hydroxy acids may also reduce the appearance of scars. However, the use of alpha-hydroxy acids may cause side effects such as skin peeling, dryness and an increased sensitivity to UV light. If you use a product containing alpha-hydroxy acids, wear a sunscreen during the day. Contact a dermatologist to find the right concentration for you.
Beta-hydroxy acid, also called salicylic acid, is derived from plants. Like alpha-hydroxy acids, it peels the top layer of the skin, removing dead skin cells and other pore-clogging debris. During a two-month study, researchers at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine found that a peel containing 30-percent salicylic acid reduced papules and pustules, while also inhibiting the formation of new lesions. Over-the-counter scrubs can contain up to 2-percent salicylic acid. A prescription is required for higher concentrations.
How to Use an Exfoliating Scrub
Wash your face or body with lukewarm water. Put a small amount of scrub on your fingertips or in your palms. If the product contains physical exfoliating agents, rub the product in your hands to distribute the exfoliators. Gently rub the product over your skin, going from top to bottom. Do not apply pressure as you scrub, since this can irritate the skin. Wash the scrub off with lukewarm water. Do not use a washcloth, sponge or other abrasive materials when scrubbing or washing. Use a scrub once or twice a week, or according to your dermatologist's recommendations. It can take up to six to eight weeks to notice a significant improvement.