Cortisone Shots for Acne

Benefits, risks, and if they may be right for you

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Cortisone shots for acne involve injecting a synthetic form of the hormone cortisol into large acne cysts. As an anti-inflammatory, cortisone shrinks the swollen cyst wall, helping reduce the redness, swelling, and pain of severe inflammatory acne breakouts.

Cortisone acne shots work quickly. Within 24 hours, you'll notice treated blemishes softening, shrinking, and flattening. While they may not completely disappear, they will invariably be smaller and better able to heal themselves within a week.

This article looks at how cortisone acne shots are given, who they are appropriate for, their benefits and side effects, and treatments that can help prevent future breakouts.

Doctor preparing to inject medication
Andrew Brookes / Getty Images

Who May Benefit From Acne Cortisone Shots

Cortisone shots don't work on your run-of-the-mill pimples, nor do they reduce the build-up of pus in the swollen pustules.

Instead, they are reserved for large and/or deep acne nodules or cysts and work by shrinking tissues.

You may want to ask your dermatologist about cortisone injections if:

  • You've had a massive, inflamed pimple for months that won't heal
  • Your blemish is a more recent issue but is incredibly swollen and painful
  • You have an important event coming up (like a wedding) and just developed a breakout

Corticosteroid injections can also be used to shrink hypertrophic and keloid scars.

How Cortisone Shots for Acne Are Given

The healthcare provider injects a very diluted corticosteroid directly into the blemish.

The needle used for intralesional cortisone injections is much smaller than what is used for vaccinations or blood draw. Called a micro-needle, it is barely larger than an acupuncture needle and is designed to enter the skin with minimal pain.

Discomfort during the injection typically only occurs if the pimple is very large and painful. To reduce pain, your dermatologist may numb the area with topical lidocaine before getting started.

The procedure is relatively quick and is done at a dermatologist's office.

Benefits of Cortisone Acne Shots

Cortisone shots provide a treatment option for acne that may be otherwise resistant to other solutions. They can be used on both the face and the body.

As cortisone's effects can be apparent within a day of an injection, the treatment can improve skin fast (which may be especially helpful if you have an upcoming event that you want to look your best for).

Cortisone injections also reduce the chance of scarring, which is especially valuable if you're prone to hyperpigmentation (darkening skin) after a breakout.

Cortisone injections along with comedone extraction (the removal of blackheads) does not alter the course of your condition, but can significantly improve your skin's appearance.

Risks of Cortisone Shots for Acne

Cortisone acne shots may sound like a magic wand when it comes to healing big blemishes quickly. But this procedure can cause side effects, such as:

  • Pitting of the skin: Too much cortisone or too strong a solution can leave a visible depression around the injection site. It usually goes away on its own but some may be permanent.
  • Hypopigmentation (loss of color): Cortisone shots can sometimes leave a lighter spot on the skin, especially in Black and brown people. This usually resolves on its own over time.

Permanent Pitting

Permanent pitting is more often caused by the breakout than by the cortisone injections. Dermal fillers may help resolve this, if desired.

Daily Acne Treatments

Cortisone injections help big breakouts heal up quickly, but they can't stop breakouts from occurring. For that, you'll need to use a daily acne treatment medication.

If you have acne that is severe or recurs regularly, you'll likely need prescription acne medications to get rid of it. For big blemishes, over-the-counter products just don't have enough strength.

Your dermatologist will prescribe a treatment that is best for your skin. Options include:


Cortisone injections aren't meant to be a regular acne treatment, but they can help clear up large blemishes. The needles are extremely thin and the procedure is often painless.

Acne shots can help clear up large pimples that won't heal on their own or are extremely painful. You may see improvement as early as a day after treatment.

Side effects may include temporary pitting and lightening skin.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Angela Palmer
Angela Palmer is a licensed esthetician specializing in acne treatment.