I’m 33 and I have acne, and it is ruining my life.

Okay, maybe that’s probably teetering on the dramatic. But it is stressing me out. Save for some stray zits, I didn’t have acne as a teenager, so these last few months of suffering from ugly lumps and bumps on my face is some straight-up bullshit.

You may think I’m undergoing some sort of karma for being a Noxzema girl in high school (though I assure you, I didn’t get noticed), but nope. My new acne – which is cystic, no less – is most likely a result of my age.

I love being over 30, okay? I have accepted and embraced all of the badass benefits and hilarious hiccups that come with being in my third decade, but this cystic acne can seriously go fuck itself.

After suffering from numerous bouts of bad cystic acne, and undergoing all kinds of methods, both natural and medicinal, to cure and soothe (not to mention shelling out a bunch of change for products and treatments), I’ve learned a lot about it. Knowledge is power, and since I want everyone to have the beautiful, clear, radiant skin we deserve, I’m passing along what I’ve discovered and what’s worked for me in hopes of combatting your cystic acne drama.

What is it?

According to Dr. Anatoli Freiman, dermatologist and Medical Director at the Toronto Dermatology Centre, acne comes in a variety of severity. Cystic acne is considered either moderate to severe wherein there are inflammation spots (cysts) deeply embedded in the skin. You can have it on the face, the tongue, chest and back.

What causes it?

“Numerous factors affect cystic acne,” says Dr. Freiman. “Genetics, hormonal imbalance, as well as a skin care regime can affect acne, especially when it comes to females, when using heavy makeup.”

So if your mother suffered from cystic acne and her mother suffered from cystic acne – like mine did – then you know where you can place the blame (thanks, Mom!). Hormonal imbalance is also a huge factor (which might explain why you get these pesky craters around THAT time of the month). If you’re over 30 and have never experienced acne before or have gone off birth control for the first time in years OR are currently pregnant/have just given birth, then according to Dr. Freiman, acne may flare up due to a hormonal balance, which is something a dermatologist would investigate further.

How do you avoid it?

Dr. Freiman recommends a proper skincare routine that includes non-comedogenic sunscreen and non-comedogenic makeup. I recently picked up a ton of Physician’s Formula stuff at Rexall and I love it (bonus: it’s cruelty-free).

According to Dr. Freiman, there is “controversial evidence” that diet also plays a role in acne. Word around the Internet suggests laying off the dairy. A daily intake of dairy has been said to affect the natural balance of your skin and can cause inflammation, which actually speeds up the formation of cysts. At any rate, you may want to keep a food diary and examine your eating habits so you can pinpoint the possible culprit.

But what if your acne is due to genetics? Well, you’re pretty much screwed. No, I’m kidding. Being aware of stress triggers (another possible cause) and any potential hormonal imbalances – confirmed by your dermatologist – can help keep your acne in check.

When to see a doctor

If you no longer are leaving the house because of your face, then it’s time to see a doctor, my friend. Initially, you’ll see your family doctor who will write you a referral to a dermatologist, especially if your acne is more than mild. From there, your dermatologist will work with you to figure out the causes behind your acne.

What to do about the acne

Dr. Freiman cautions that over-the-counter variations aren’t enough to combat cystic acne and that you need a combination of natural remedies with prescription products to really kill those suckers. He suggests OTC acne products that contain vitamin A, benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid.

But what about all those natural remedies that pop up when you Google “how to get rid of cystic acne”? Well, Dr. Freiman may not recommend them, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t tried some of them. Normally, I’m not one to willingly put food on my face (unless it’s figuratively because god knows I have had egg on my face plenty of times), but desperate times called for desperate measures.

The Baking Soda and Epsom Salt Paste

Don’t worry – this paste doesn’t dry the shit out of your skin. In fact, I found some pretty good results with this one. Just dilute some baking soda and Epsom salts into a paste and apply onto your face. Wait until it hardens and then wipe off with lukewarm water. I applied this mask twice a day – once in the morning and once before bed – just to get ride of the fuckers as quickly as possible.

Honey Mask

Honey really is nectar from the gods. I mean, is there nothing this lovely liquid can’t do? I was always hesitant to slab honey all over my face because I’m not one to get into sticky situations (especially when there’s hair involved) but it turns out that the sweet stuff is a natural antiseptic and exfoliant. Apply the honey on the affected area and leave on until it hardens. Then rinse with lukewarm water. I did this once a day near the tail end of my treatment and noticed a difference with inflammation.

Another product that has been a godsend for me is Renee Rouleau’s Anti-Cyst Treatment. It’s a little pricey (thanks to the US dollar exchange) but the skin care expert’s potent potion –formulated without petroleum and phthalates, and is cruelty-free – flattens bumps overnight.

I hope these tips provide some solace with your acne journey, and, if anything, remember that you are in good company. Emma Stone and Cameron Diaz have been where you are, too.