Inflammatory acne causes red, swollen, painful blemishes on your skin, often on your face, back, chest and shoulders. The pustules, nodules or cysts contain bacteria, pus, dead skin cells and excess oil. Over-the-counter skincare products can help clear your skin and prevent breakouts. But many people need treatment from a healthcare professional.
Inflammatory acne is a skin condition that causes red, swollen and sore bumps. These pimples contain pus, dead skin cells and excess oil. They’re common on your face, back, chest and shoulders.
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The blemishes associated with noninflammatory acne are closer to your skin’s surface and usually aren’t swollen or painful. A common type of noninflammatory acne is comedonal acne (whiteheads and blackheads).
Inflammatory acne is very common. It affects all ages, races and genders. It’s most common in teenagers, but it also affects many adults.
Acne is more common in people who:
Inflammatory acne begins when pores or hair follicles get clogged with:
Clogged pores or follicles cause whiteheads, blackheads and pimples. Eventually, if pimples put enough pressure on the walls of your pores, the walls break. The contents of the pustules can spread into your skin.
Your body’s immune system reacts by sending white blood cells. These cells cause redness, swelling, pus and tenderness common with pimples.
Types of inflammatory acne blemishes include:
The blemishes are usually:
Inflammatory acne isn't contagious, so you can’t give it to another person. And it can’t technically spread from one part of your body to another. But whatever causes one breakout of inflammatory acne can cause breakouts in other areas.
Your healthcare provider can diagnose inflammatory acne by looking at your skin. There are no tests for the condition. You can visit your primary care physician or a dermatologist (skin specialist) for a diagnosis.
Some over-the-counter cleansers and creams can help reduce inflammatory acne. But many people need treatment from a healthcare provider to clear and prevent these breakouts.
Some inflammatory acne treatments go on your skin (topical), some are oral medications and some are extraction (removal) procedures.
Topical acne anti-inflammatory products include:
Oral prescriptions include:
Some procedures can help remove inflammatory acne blemishes. They should be performed by a professional, or they might damage the pores and lead to more acne. Procedures include:
Don’t pick, squeeze or pop inflammatory blemishes. That can cause:
Many strategies can help you achieve healthier skin with fewer blemishes:
Inflammatory acne can be stubborn, but many people achieve clearer skin with several months of skin care and treatment. Many cases require the help of a healthcare professional such as a dermatologist.
However, inflammatory acne may leave permanent scars.
Inflammatory acne is often a chronic condition, so it can come back during or after treatment. Even after your skin improves, you should continue a skincare regimen to prevent or minimize future blemishes.
Inflammatory acne can be frustrating, stubborn and embarrassing. If your skin doesn’t improve after a few months of good skin care, seek help from a healthcare professional.
In addition to over-the-counter treatments, other at-home products can help calm the skin:
To prevent scars from inflammatory acne:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Inflammatory acne is a skin condition that causes red, swollen and sore pustules, nodules and cysts. Some over-the-counter treatments can help clear the skin and prevent acne. But you might need treatment from a healthcare provider like a dermatologist.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/19/2022.
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