Inflammatory Acne Causes and Treatment

Acne can be divided into two categories: inflammatory and non-inflammatory. If you have blemishes that are red and swollen, you have inflammatory acne.

There are many different types of inflammatory acne. It can be fairly mild, with just a few red pimples here and there. You can also have more severe forms of inflammatory acne: nodular, cystic, and nodulocystic acne.

You can get inflammatory acne nearly anywhere on your body. It's super common on the face, but also the back, chest, shoulders. You can even get inflammatory breakouts on the butt. It's all completely normal, if not aggravating.

What's more, nearly anyone can get inflammatory acne. We know teens get it, but inflammatory acne is common for adults too. Even babies can break out in inflamed blemishes


All inflammatory acne breakouts, whether mild to severe, start off as a tiny pore blockage called a microcomedo. These blockages are smaller than can be seen by the naked eye, but they eventually turn into that inflamed pimple you see on your skin. That's because that tiny plug stops up the opening of the pore.

Oil keeps pouring in, engorging the pore and making a great home for acne-causing bacteria to set up house. All this eventually puts so much pressure on the pore, that the wall breaks and this material spreads into the skin. The skin doesn't like this much, so white blood cells rush in to help fix the problem. Redness, swelling, and irritation occur. You now have an inflamed acne blemish.

There are actually many different types of inflamed breakouts. Papules and pustules are the most common. These are your typical red pimples and whiteheads.

As inflammatory acne progresses, you may get more serious forms of blemishes, like nodules and cysts. These blemishes happen deeper in the skin and are more likely to cause scarring.


You don't have to live with inflammatory acne. There are so many good treatment options available today, there is one out there that will clear your skin. It just takes a bit of time and patience to find the one that works for you.

If your inflammatory acne is mild, you can probably get good results with over-the-counter acne treatment products. The most effective will contain salicylic acid or benzoyl peroxide. Try these for several weeks and see how your acne responds.

For moderate to severe inflammatory acne, you'll want to make an appointment with a dermatologist. Although it's tempting to try just one more OTC product in the hopes it will work, you'll get much better results with a prescription medication.

The more widespread or inflamed your acne is, the more important it is to get a dermatologist's help.

OTC acne treatments aren't effective against more serious cases of inflammatory acne. Prescription medications will work faster and better, and you'll be much happier with the results.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

  • Zeichner JA. "Inflammatory acne treatment: review of current and new topical therapeutic options." J Drugs Dermatol. 2016 Jan 1;15(1):s11-6.

  • Lavers I.  "Therapeutic strategies for acne vulgaris."  Nurs Times. 2013 Dec 4-10;109(48):16-8.
  • Zouboulis CC, Bettoli V.  "Management of severe acne."  Br J Dermatol.  2015 Jul;172 Suppl 1:27-36.