Acne, no matter the type, can be tricky to navigate, but cystic pimples are a whole other story. They're painful to the touch, tough to get rid of because they form deep beneath the surface, and take what feels like forever to go away. That's why cortisone shots are viewed as total game-changers for people with stubborn cysts.
For the unfamiliar, cortisone shots are steroid injections that help reduce inflammation by delivering a high concentration of the medicine into the injection site. You can get one at the dermatology office when you first feel a cyst coming on. The treatment comes in handy if you find yourself with a large pimple right before an important event, like a wedding, job interview, or even date night.
We know the idea of magically being able to zap a pimple away with the quick pinch of a shot almost sounds too good to be true, but that's actually what makes it one of the beauty industry's best-kept secrets. To demystify the treatment, we tapped two dermatologists to tell you everything you need to know about getting acne cortisone injections.
How Does a Cortisone Injection Work on Acne?
Because cystic pimples consist of inflamed, swollen bumps, cortisone shots help "get rid of acne by reducing inflammation, which shrinks the pimple," Anna Karp, DO, board-certified dermatologist at the Skin Institute of New York Dermatology, told POPSUGAR. This can also help reduce the risk of potential scarring that occurs with swollen zits.
A tiny needle is used to inject a small amount of the medicine — usually 2mg/ml and 0.1 of that 1 ml — directly into a pimple. In most cases, "It takes between 24-to-48 hours for the tenderness, redness, and swelling to go down, compared to at least a week to months without treatment," said Dr. Karp. However, board-certified dermatologist Marisa Garshick, MD, said, "Some breakouts may require more than one injection and, while we expect the injection to help the breakout subside, how long it takes can vary from person to person and pimple to pimple."
What Types of Pimples Do Cortisone Shots Work On?
While we wish there is a cortisone shot equivalent for all types of pimples, not just cysts, that's unfortunately not the case. Dr. Karp explained injections only work on pimples that form deep under the skin. "Whiteheads and blackheads are more superficial and don't need this type of treatment and can be treated with topical treatments," she said.
If you're not sure your pimple is qualified for this in-office treatment, a quick look by a dermatologist will be able to answer that for you. Your skin type, as well as other skin conditions, don't affect whether or not you're eligible for an injection, but the stage of the pimple can.
"Sometimes it is too late to do an injection if the pimple or breakout is beginning to subside," said Dr. Garshick. "The best time to do it is when you start to feel it coming on, sense increased tenderness or pain, or when the inflammation is most active."
What Are the Risks or Side Effects of Cortisone Injections For Pimples?
Cortisone shots aren't a risky procedure, but there is a small chance that a complication can occur. "The main risk associated with cortisone injections, while rare, is skin atrophy or thinning of the skin, which may lead to an indentation or discoloration," said Dr. Garshick. Dr. Karp added that this usually occurs if too much of the steroid is used.
"While the majority of divots may subside with time and go away on their own, there are treatments to help lead to a quicker recovery including saline injections, filler, laser procedures, microneedling, or platelet-rich plasma (PRP)," said Dr. Garshick.
It's important to note that, while effective and fast-acting, cortisone injections are not a cure for acne. "They are not considered a preventative approach to acne treatment and are meant for deeper, cystic breakouts to help expedite resolution," said Dr. Garshick. "It is still important to also manage the acne with topical or oral medications to both treat and prevent breakouts from forming."