Inflammatory acne: The best ingredients for treating swollen pimples

Inflammatory acne is a pain, literally.

Written by
Kaitlyn Wilson
Medically reviewed by
min read
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Inflammatory acne is a pain, literally. It is one of the most severe cases of acne that a person can experience and, as well as being physically painful, inflammatory acne can cause scarring and dramatically affect your self-esteem.

It can also be tricky to treat as there are several different causes for this condition. But, not all hope is lost. As painful and unpleasant as inflammatory acne can be, there are many effective acne treatment options available.

What is inflammatory acne?

As you can probably guess from the name, inflammatory acne is a skin condition consisting of swollen, red and painful bumps and blemishes on the face, neck and back. They contain pus, excess sebum (oil) and dead skin cells.

The swelling on these bumps and the irritation on the surrounding skin are what give inflammatory acne its name and what causes the pain associated with these acne lesions [1].

What causes inflammatory acne?

Clogged pores are the common denominator in most types of acne. However, inflammatory acne is a little different from its other spotty siblings.

Like all forms of acne, inflammatory acne is caused by excess sebum generated from overactive sebaceous glands and dead skin cells building up and becoming trapped in your pores and hair follicles.

When these lesions become irritated and swollen, they are classified as inflammatory acne.

Less severe types of acne, such as blackheads and whiteheads, don't usually cause swelling; however, severe acne, such as pimples and cysts, can often develop into swollen spots and cause irritation on the surrounding skin.

Bacteria called propionibacterium acnes can also cause inflammatory acne. As can your immune system, when it reacts to white blood cells, which can lead to swelling, redness and irritation on the surface of the skin [2].

Lifestyle factors such as diet, sun exposure, and OTHER health conditions can also contribute to inflammatory acne.

What does inflammatory acne look like?

Inflammatory acne has many symptoms and appearances [3]. Inflammatory acne can appear as:

  • Red, swollen and painful pimples
  • Pimples with white or yellow pus, which are surrounded by redness
  • Hard spots beneath the skin's surface
  • Deep pitted scars from previous inflamed acne
  • Inflammatory lesions surrounded by red and irritated skin

Types of inflammatory acne are:

  • Pustules: Small or medium-sized pimples with white or yellow pus in the centre and red surrounding skin.
  • Papules: Red bumps with no pus. These can be of various sizes.
  • Nodules: These are deep lumps with no visible pus but are inflamed and painful.
  • Cystic acne: This is the most severe acne that usually causes scarring. Cystic acne is deep within the skin; the cysts won't usually contain us but are redder and more swollen than other forms of acne. Cysts are painful and can also appear as sores or boils.

How long does inflammatory acne last?

How long you experience inflammatory acne will vary from person to person and treatment to treatment. On occasions, inflammatory lesions can clear up on their own after many months or years, but usually, this battle can span a lifetime if left untreated.

If effectively treated, your acne should begin to clear up within several months, depending on the cause and severity.

Severe cases could take up to 12 months to heal completely. However, most people start seeing improvements within 3 months of acne treatment. Although, it is important to note that inflammatory acne can be a chronic condition that can come back even after treatment [4].

However, this does not mean your skin is a lost cause. Treating inflamed acne can be tackled in a number of ways, with ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, salicylic acid, topical retinoids and medical treatments particularly helpful.

How do you reduce inflammatory acne?

You want to treat inflamed acne quickly and effectively to prevent it from scaring. And, there is a range of topical, over-the-counter and medical treatments as well as in-clinic treatments that can be used to reduce the appearance of inflammatory acne.

Topical treatments include:

Salicylic acid

This helps reduce inflammation, decrease redness, unclog pores and clear away acne-causing bacteria and dead skin cells.

Benzoyl peroxide

Attacking the bacteria on your skin's surface, benzoyl peroxide helps to unclog pores, removing dead skin and preventing breakouts. It can help reduce inflammatory acne as well as aid future breakouts.

Topical and oral antibiotics

In some cases, antibiotics are needed to help fight acne-causing bacteria, which can be resistant to standard acne treatments.


Zinc is a hero product for reducing the swelling, inflammation and pain associated with acne.

Vitamin C

This is a healing ingredient perfect for healthy skin. Vitamin C doesn't just soothe redness and reduce inflammation; it can also help heal acne scars and reduce hyperpigmentation and discolouration.


Thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, niacinamide is particularly effective at treating inflammatory acne. It also helps clear away bacteria from the skin and can help to minimise the appearance of scars.

Topical retinoids

This is one of the most powerful acne-fighting ingredients on the market. Medical-grade retinoids help minimise existing acne but also help to prevent new acne from forming.

This ingredient works by preventing dead skin cells from building up on the surface and also allows other skincare products to penetrate the skin properly, increasing their effectiveness.


Astaxanthin is great for helping to fight free radicals, while also working to suppress acne-causing hormones and fight inflammation.

Zinc, vitamin C, salicylic acid, niacinamide and astaxanthin can all be found in Software's Acne Kit, which is designed to target your acne from the outside and the inside. All of these ingredients work together to tackle inflammatory acne at the root cause, while also helping to prevent the formation of new zits.

When you are searching for inflammatory acne treatment, it is important to remember that everyone's skin is different and what works for some won't work for others. This is why Software's personalised acne treatment is a revelation in the acne-fighting field.

This simple system allows you to have an online consultation with an Australian health practitioner and receive a customised formula to treat your individual skin concerns. With medical-grade ingredients, your Software practitioner will create the most effective treatment plan just for you.

Other options you might consider exploring include:

  • LED therapy
  • Laser therapy
  • Chemical peels
  • Enzyme therapy
  • Dermbrasion or microdermabrasion

Can you treat inflamed acne at home?

There are ways you can reduce or soothe inflammatory acne at home. However, this is not recommended for severely inflamed acne. Topical treatments can all be used at home after being medically recommended. These will be faster, more effective and safer than any DIY options.

You can also try using ice packs and cooled tea bags on the inflamed areas to help reduce pain and swelling but this won't have any impact on the acne itself.

Can you prevent inflammatory acne?

Depending on the cause, inflammatory acne can be hard to prevent, especially if it is caused by an infection or bacteria. If you already have acne, you can prevent it from becoming inflamed by treating it with ingredients such as retinoids, zinc and vitamin C.

There are some over-the-counter cleansers and creams which can help to prevent acne. However, a lot of inflammatory acne will require medical or professional treatment.

Considering speaking to one of our practitioners about how Software can help you achieve your skin goals. Our online telehealth service allows you to treat your individual skin concerns without needing the leave the comfort of your own home.

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