How I Got Rid of Cystic Acne

The Post Where I Don't Try to Sell You Anything - I Just Tell You About My Skin I've had problems with acne since I was 10. It has been a constant battle and a major source of problems with self-confidence.

Specifically, I've had problems with cystic acne. If you don't know about it you are one of the lucky ones! The best way to explain cystic acne is that it is a zit that grows under the skin. It forms under the surface and doesn't come to a head. Therefore, you can't pop it (that's not advised anyway) and medication doesn't get rid of it. (Trust me, I've tried everything.) It's also very, very painful. When I was younger these types of bumps were embarrassing and irritating, but not especially uncomfortable. Over the years, though, the cysts have become more and more intense.

And, nothing made a difference. There wasn't a rhyme or reason why these suckers would pop up. I would clean my skin constantly and it would STILL surface. I went to dermatologists and nothing made a difference.

In college I went on Accutane. If you've ever had acne, or went through your teen years after 1982, you are aware of the drug. It's no walk in the park. It was difficult on my body, but it resulted in gorgeous, gorgeous skin.

For five years.

And then everything went back to how it was before Accutane.

I was not a happy camper.

Life went on this way for another decade. I would wake up in the morning to a whole new set of problems in the form of bumps. There was no explaining it and no combination of products that made a difference. The cysts always, always came back. And they hurt.

Last January I read an article on xoJane called, "I Gave Up Dairy and All I Got Was the Best Skin of My Life." The author, Annie Tomlin, stumbled upon a possible connection between her acne and a specialty cheese she was consuming. She stopped eating dairy and her acne slowly started to heal.

The article convinced me to put a pause on eating dairy, I figured I would try it out for two weeks. If it didn't work I would celebrate by eating a bunch of brie.

By the end of the second week my skin looked like this:

How I Got Rid of Cystic Acne

It. Was. Incredible.

I wish I had a "before" photo so you could do a bit of comparison, but I managed to get rid of most pictures that showcased my acne. I'm sure they exist, but I honestly can't find one on hand.

The culprit the ENTIRE time was dairy products. ARE YOU KIDDING ME???! This answer was both bewildering and a total relief. Turns out my cystic acne wasn't completely random. The more dairy I consumed, the more cystic acne appeared on my face. I just never put two and two together.

Now, there is a caveat to all of this. Getting rid of cystic acne doesn't mean I'm completely without blemishes. I still get acne, but it's not of the cystic variety. It's more run-of-the-mill pimples, and it's much, much easier to control, treat, and live with.

The Cheesy Problem

I've also discovered what different types of dairy do to my body. I can consume about 1 tablespoon of milk / creamer each day without huge consequences. Which means I can take a little cream in my coffee. (Although, my face does look healthier if I go completely without.)

Cheese is my #1 problem food, which was a huge bummer to discover. Who wants to go without cheese? Cheese makes everything better! I've learned that cystic acne will show up immediately after I eat any cheese.

About two months after I made this cheese / acne connection I decided to test it. I mean, what if it was all in my head? What if I made it all up? What if it was a coincidence? One night I decided to have a piece of pizza (which, of course, had cheese on it). Here's what happened:

How I Got Rid of Cystic Acne

Not only did it give me acne, it showed up ALL over the top part of my chest. That had never, ever happened before. I've eaten cheese a few times since, and the results are the same. I get cystic acne on my face and this rash of painful pimples on the top part of my chest.

Isn't that crazy?

I also quickly learned that cheese. is. on. everything. Everything. My apologies to the vegans out there because you have known this information for ages. (I'm sure you are reading this saying, "DUH, GIRL.") Did you know that so many dishes come with cheese that sometimes they don't mention it in restaurants? The menu will contain divine explanations of the food - and kinda forget that it also has parmesan on top. Or in it. Or both. Happens all of the time.

Other random things I've discovered:

  • I can ask for a dish to come without cheese, but there really is no controlling butter when you go out to eat. I just make the best choice I can and let the rest go.
  • Even powdered cheese makes a difference. Most snack foods contain cheese products. It's powdered (think Cheetos, baked crackers, etc.) which makes people think it really isn't cheese. I'm not exactly sure what it is, but I know it contains enough of the stuff to make a difference with my skin.
  • If you have any interest in the connection between what we consume and our bodies I would encourage you to watch the documentary Fed Up. It is currently on Netflix and you can check out the movie's website here. The film centers on sugar consumption, but it has some VERY interesting facts about the dairy industry, too. To sum up - there was a huge uptick in people drinking skim milk, so lots of curds were left over. Curds make cheese. So, the dairy industry started introducing cheese into products so we would consume the leftover curds. We suddenly became a country that consumes enormous amounts of cheese. I don't know how much I buy into all of that - I'm taking it with a grain of salt. But, after you stop eating dairy you suddenly realize how hard it is to get away from it.


When it comes to consuming dairy I take it day by day. It's not going to kill me if I eat it, it's just going to show up on my body in the form of acne. Sometimes it is freaking worth it. Have you ever seen a dessert so delectable you wish you could live in it for a little while? Yup, me too.

The good thing about understanding the source is that I can make conscious decisions about what to consume. I feel much more in control. Washing my face and just living daily life is less painful. Thank goodness.

However, I don't know if I'm technically dealing with a food allergy. Dermatologists state that cystic acne is caused by hormones or a hormone imbalance. And, guess what? Hormones in milk and other dairy products are being debated now more than ever before.

Thus, I'm not sure if this is a "my body is weird" problem or a "crazy ish is in our food," problem. I honestly don't know. All I know is that not eating dairy has made a huge difference with my skin.

I don't have an agenda.  I'm not against the dairy industry or think it is out to trick us. This is just my personal experience. It LITERALLY took me decades to figure out the connection between food and my skin, and I want to share that knowledge. The discovery has had made a huge difference with regard to my daily happiness. The energy that was spent on dreading putting on makeup or looking into the mirror can go elsewhere. It's a relief, and it feels good to focus on other things.

This is where I am in my skincare journey. If more discoveries are made I will certainly provide an update. But, this is where things are right now.

How about you? Have you ever had cystic acne? Did something else help you get rid of it? Have you ever stopped eating a particular food due to health reasons? Do tell!