Inflammatory Acne - Red, Swollen Pimples

Red, Swollen Pimples

What is inflammatory acne – or cystic acne – and how is it caused? When the pore is clogged and your immune system reacts by sending in white blood cells to fight the infection, the surrounding area becomes red and swollen, or inflamed. This is called inflammatory acne.

Inflammatory acne results from the rupture of the wall of the hair follicle or pore, leaking bacteria and oil into the surrounding skin. The closer to the skin’s surface these events happen, the smaller and more minor the breakout will be. If the rupture occurs deep inside the pore, you may experience a cyst - a large, firm, bump deep inside the skin. Inflammatory acne is often throbbing and painful as the blood flow increases to the area delivering white blood cells to contain and fight the infection.

There are different types of inflammatory acne depending on the size, redness, tenderness and potential to scar.


These are pink or red dome-shaped bumps, varying in size from a pinhead to half an inch. There’s no visible fluid and they don't contain pus. They are usually painless unless scratched or picked. Like all pimples, papules are the result of an increase in oil and bacteria inside the pore trapped by dead skin cells. Your body's immune system fights the infection with white blood cells, so papules are slightly inflamed.



Pustules form when a plug deep inside a pore traps oil and bacteria, attracting white blood cells to fight the infection. Pus is simply a collection of dead white blood cells. Pustules have a yellow or white pus-filled center with a red base. The greater the inflammation, the redder and larger the pustule will be.

Nodules and Cystic Acne

Large, deep and painful bumps, acne nodules and cysts are filled initially with blood, then with pus. They can linger under the surface for weeks or even months and can eventually harden. They may also leave deep scars.

Nodules are larger than pustules and papules and form deeper within the skin. They feel solid to the touch and can be quite painful. They develop when oil and bacteria deep inside a pore spreads, infecting adjoining follicles. Nodules can harden into deep cysts and may leave deep scars, on many levels.

Cystic Acne

Cystic nodular acne is the most severe form of acne. Cysts are deep, painful, pus-filled bumps that can be quite large, measuring up to an inch or more. Cystic acne often runs in families and may result in permanent scarring and disfigurement. It’s also most common in teenage boys and young men. Not sure how to treat nodular acne? Cystic acne, or any form of scarring acne, needs immediate attention by a dermatologist. A doctor will have the best solution for nodular acne treatment.

Want to learn more? Click here for further explanation on the different types of acne so you can understand how to treat your particular type.

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