The difference between acne boils & cysts

teenage girl with acne 2 image by Kathy Burns from

Although it is more common during adolescence or menopause due to hormonal changes, anyone can be affected by acne. It is a skin disorder that is the result of inflammation occurring on the face, back, chest and shoulders, according to the Mayo Clinic. There are several types: acne vulgaris, cystic, tropical, infantile, chemical and chloracne (caused by chlorine exposure). To treat it effectively, you must understand which type of acne you have.


Acne in all forms is caused by hair or skin follicle blockage. Sebum (oil secreted by sebaceous glands) can obstruct a follicle and lead to an outbreak. Hormones contribute to acne occurrence, and other substances such as drugs or chemicals can also trigger it. Overproduction of oil and sebum are factors too. Improper or infrequent skin care plays a role. According to, you may have inherited a propensity for cystic acne as well.


A boil by definition is a skin abscess. An acne boil forms when a skin or hair follicle is infected by bacteria that gets in through a cut or hair follicle, according to "The Pocket A - Z of Medical Terms and Symptoms." Acne nodules are large bumps under the skin that are not filled with any infection, but can be painful, states the Mayo Clinic. Boils may or may not contain pus. The bacteria inside a boil can be quite dangerous, according to, and could lead to blood poisoning if it travels to the bloodstream.


A cyst (carbuncle) can form anywhere in the body. When it forms on the skin, it is an acne cyst or a rarer form, epidermoid cyst. Cysts are enclosed pouches that contain liquid or solid substances. According to, cystic acne is the most painful and stubborn type. It affects deeper layers of skin, especially on the face and takes longer to heal. If you scratch or squeeze the cysts, you take the chance of spreading the infection.


According to, a cyst is 5mm wide or larger, whereas a boil will usually be smaller. A boil may be red and raised, but not have a "head." Cysts may appear "boil" like but not be boils. Diabetics are more prone to boils in general, states Boils may resolve themselves whereas cystic acne is much more difficult to treat and most likely will not heal without help. Boils may be accompanied by fever or fatigue. It is best to have a dermatologist diagnose your type of acne and recommend treatment.


To treat cystic acne, you must keep skin free of make-up or oils or lotions. These can only worsen the situation. Additionally, medications you take internally can help combat the infection. Isotretinoin is often prescribed to limit oil production. Women can use birth control pills (synthetic steroids) as well. Natural remedies include eating a healthy diet that includes fruits including kiwi and tomatoes.

Boils may be treated with antibiotics. An at-home remedy is to place a warm compress over the boil. The heat may cause the boil to either erupt or subside naturally. Sometimes, boils can be surgically removed.

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