Severe Acne: Nodular Acne And Acne Cysts

Nodular acne is often an inherited skin condition.

Severe Acne: Nodular Acne And Acne Cysts

When it comes to acne, not all blemishes are created equal. While whiteheads, blackheads, and even garden-variety zits (you know, the ones you love to squeeze) generally fall under the umbrella of mild to moderate acne, there are also larger, more painful blemishes that seem to live under the surface of your skin. They’re huge, they’re red, they’re painful … and, unfortunately, they last for what probably feels like an eternity. Worst of all, they’re not so easy to get rid of.

Below, we’ve outlined 10 things you should know about severe acne—specifically, nodular acne and acne cysts. If the information sounds familiar to you, it’s highly advisable you see a dermatologist, who can help determine a customized treatment plan and (hopefully!) help you keep them in check.

  1.  Nodular acne appears in large areas of your skin (like your chest and your back) and is usually very painful (not that you needed a reminder).
  2. Nodules are hard acne lesions lodged deep within the skin. And while they’re similar to cysts, they’re not technically one and the same. With that in mind …
  3. Much like nodules, cysts also reside deep underneath the skin’s surface. But because they’re filled with pus, cysts are softer.
  4. Acne cysts develop when the contents of your comedones (that’s a medical term for blackheads or whiteheads; blackheads are open comedones, while whiteheads are closed comedones) “spill” into surrounding areas of your skin. In an effort to fix the situation, which your body perceives as an attack, the local immune system responds by producing pus.
  5. Unlike other, less severe forms of acne, nodules may persist for weeks or even months, with the result of their contents hardening into deep (and stubborn) cysts.
  6. Both cysts and nodules, although similar, can exist independently as either nodular or cystic acne. They occur together, too, as nodularcystic (or nodulocystic) acne.
  7. Like any type of acne, nodular and cystic outbreaks can affect anyone. But because hormones called androgens may play a role in their development, they’re more common in teenage boys and young men.
  8. When women get cystic acne, it tends to live on the lower part of their face. Hormonal changes brought on by events like pregnancy, menstruation and menopause may be the culprit.
  9. These severe types of acne are often a matter of genetics—meaning that if one or both of your parents had such outbreaks, there is a good chance you’ll have them, too.
  10. Left untreated, nodules and cysts are likely to cause scarring.

The bottom line? Severe acne characterized by the nodules and cysts described above isn’t likely to clear on its own, and over-the-counter treatments probably aren’t going to eradicate the issue as quickly or effectively as you’d like. Therefore, if you think you have cystic or nodular acne (or a combination of the two) you’re urged to see a dermatologist for a customized treatment plan.

Click here to learn about acne conglobata, an uncommon form of severe acne.

For more information on types of acne, visit

Types of Acne