What Causes Acne & Pimple Redness?

Article Read Duration 8 min read

With acne affecting 85% of 12 to 24-year-olds and up to 64% of adults globally1, acne redness is a common complaint. But what is it that causes pimples and the surrounding skin to turn bright red and angry during a breakout? And why does this redness sometimes stick around even after the spot itself is gone?


In this anti-acne skincare guide, we’ll explain exactly what causes acne redness – and the simple skincare steps you can take to minimise it. Whether you’re looking to camouflage a pimple before a meeting or seeking a lasting resolution to your acne redness, read on. Your calmer complexion awaits!

Inflammatory Vs Non-Inflammatory Acne

To get to the root of skin redness, we need to start by explaining the two main types of acne: non-inflammatory and inflammatory. Blackheads and whiteheads are examples of the former, while papules, pustules, nodules and cysts are all examples of inflammatory acne.

In non-inflammatory acne, oil, bacteria and dead skin cells combine to form a plug within a hair follicle. This results in a comedo, or blocked pore. These comedones can be closed, as in the case of whiteheads, or open.

Blackheads are open comedones. In blackheads, this ‘plug’ is exposed to the air and oxidation occurs, resulting in discolouration. While not characterised by redness, blackheads (and whiteheads) can turn into inflamed pimples if left untreated ¬– or if you can’t resist the urge to pick.

In more severe inflammatory acne, an overgrowth of C. acnes bacteria in a blocked pore triggers the body’s inflammatory healing response. Accompanying this inflammation is redness, heat, swelling and pain – particularly in the case of deep, cystic acne.

Why Squeezing Pimples is the Road to Redness

How you treat your acne-prone skin will greatly impact the degree of pimple redness you experience. And picking and squeezing is one habit you need to break – immediately! Potentially spreading bacteria and triggering inflammation, picking can lead to a worsening of existing blemishes, and also result in brand new breakouts.

Not only that, picking a pimple can cause hyperpigmentation – leaving dark or red acne marks on the skin that remain long after your acne heals. It can also send the infection deeper into the skin, which can lead to acne scarring. So, let’s all agree to keep our hands to ourselves!

Why Does Acne Redness Last Longer Than Actual Pimples?


You’ve had a particularly angry pimple and are delighted when it finally disappears. However, that delight soon turns to dismay when you’re left with a dark or red acne mark that’s almost as annoying as the pimple itself. Sound familiar?


Unfortunately for acne-prone individuals, breakouts are a very common cause of post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH). In PIH, inflammation in the skin triggers an immune response, leading to a spike in melanin production.


While often resolving itself naturally over time, this type of hyperpigmentation can take many months to fade. Thankfully, an anti-acne skincare routine such as one comprised of the Effaclar range will help to improve the skin’s natural exfoliation rate.


(If you want to know more, this article discusses red acne marks and pigmentation in detail.)


What Causes Acne Scarring?

Affecting 30% of those with moderate or severe acne2, there is also acne scarring. While hyperpigmentation refers to flat areas of darkened skin – usually red, brown or purple, acne scars are indented or raised.

Atrophic (indented) acne scars occur when damage to the pore causes a loss of tissue. Hypertrophic (raised) acne scars, on the other hand, involve an overgrowth of tissue. This type of keloid scarring is typically more common in those of Asian, Hispanic and African descent (3).

The deeper and more inflamed a pimple, the greater the chance of scarring. It’s therefore essential to avoid squeezing acne, and to consult a dermatologist as soon as you experience severe or cystic acne.

For mild to moderate acne, a targeted anti-acne skincare regime can help minimise scarring and skin redness.


How to Exfoliate Acne-Prone Skin Without Causing Redness

Sloughing off dead, dull skin cells, exfoliation is important for all skin types. But none more so than acne-prone skin, where there is an inefficient shedding (or desquamation) process.

Exfoliation is the easy way to remove acne-causing build-up – but it’s important to use the right products in sensitive, acne-prone skin. While physical exfoliation with a face scrub can create micro-tears, spread bacteria and exacerbate skin’s redness, chemical exfoliants can be very beneficial.


Dissolving the ‘glue’ that keeps dead skin cells from shedding, ingredients such as glycolic, salicylic and lipo-hydroxy acids are popular in acne products. By boosting skin turnover, they can help prevent dead skin cells building up in the pores and causing eruptions – and therefore pimple redness. This enhanced exfoliation rate can also help resolve post-acne hyperpigmentation sooner.


Our Micro-Exfoliating, Anti-Bacterial, Anti-Redness Serum

Formulated for mild to moderate-acne prone skin, the La Roche-Posay Effaclar Salicylic Acid Serum boasts a powerful Tri-Acid Complex in a concentrated formula. Ideal for daily use and suitable for sensitive skin, the non-sticky serum is scientifically proven to help visibly reduce the appearance of breakouts and imperfections.

As gentle lipo-hydroxy acid (LHA) micro-exfoliates and stimulates renewal, salicylic acid penetrates deeply to unclog pores and reduce sebum. Meanwhile anti-bacterial glycolic acid targets skin redness and helps to refine visible pores – while reducing dead skin build to help prevent future breakouts.

Barrier-boosting, anti-inflammatory niacinamide (Vitamin B3) offers also offers soothing support, targeting redness and minimising moisture loss.

A Simple 3-Step Routine for Acne Redness

To reduce acne redness, you first need to address the root cause of your breakouts, such as excess oil production or sluggish skin cell turnover. Enter the La Roche-Posay Effaclar range. Combining soothing, exfoliating and sebum-balancing ingredients, Effaclar helps to calm existing breakouts, while also reducing breakout recurrence.

Ideal for mild to moderate-acne prone skin, the Effaclar Salicylic Acid Serum is scientifically proven to help visibly reduce the appearance of breakouts and imperfections, as well as fine lines and wrinkles making it ideal for those experiencing adult acne. Non-sticky and ultra-concentrated, the daily face serum targets problem skin with a refining Tri-Acid Complex.

As LHA micro-exfoliates and helps stimulate renewal, salicylic acid penetrates deeply to unclog pores and reduce excess sebum, and glycolic acid helps renew the skin surface and refine visible pores. Meanwhile soothing niacinamide (Vitamin B3) helps combat moisture loss and dehydration for a comfortably clearer complexion.


Step 1: Cleanse (AM & PM)

To gently remove dirt and impurities, massage Effaclar Foaming Gel Cleanser into damp skin, morning and night. With soothing La Roche Posay Thermal Spring Water and anti-bacterial zinc PCA, this acne-fighting cleanser removes excess sebum and minimises shine. 


Step 2: Apply an Anti-Acne Serum (PM ONLY)

Apply a few drops of Effaclar Salicylic Acid Serum to a cleansed face at night, followed by the La Roche Posay Effaclar Duo (+) Anti-Acne Moisturiser.


Step 3: Use an Anti-Acne Moisturiser (AM & PM)

Formulated with LHA, salicylic acid and zinc PCA to help balance sebum production, Effaclar Duo (+) is a lightweight, unclogging moisturiser. Also boasting niacinamide and prebiotic Aqua Posae Filiformis, it helps to soothe breakouts, reduce redness and restore balance to the skin’s microbiome. 

Instantly mattifying the skin, Duo (+) delivers a visible reduction in acne redness after 12 hours, and visible reduction in imperfections after 8 days. Apply to cleansed skin morning and night, and follow with sun protection in daytime use.



As UV radiation can darken acne hyperpigmentation, daily wear of a broad-spectrum sunscreen is non-negotiable for those with acne.

Non-comedogenic and non-greasy, the La Roche-Posay Anthelios range delivers high-level invisible protection for all types of sensitive skin. Ultra-lightweight and anti-eye stinging, the Anthelios Fluid Facial Sunscreen SPF50+ provides very high UVA and UVB protection in a fast-absorbed, universally tinted formula that’s ideal for normal to combination skin.

Or for something more mattifying, there’s the Anthelios XL Anti Shine Dry Touch Facial Sunscreen SPF50+. Ideal for oily and acne-prone skins, this lightweight gel-cream formula boasts a unique anti-sweat molecule called Airlicium to absorb sebum, sweat and oil.

Apply sunscreen to face and neck after moisturising, 20 minutes before sun exposure. Always read the label and follow directions for use.


In a Rush? Try these 3 Steps to Reduce Acne Redness, Fast

A holistic, long-term approach is essential to minimise acne redness. However, there are a few things you can do to tone down an angry blemish before a big event or board meeting.

Step 1 – Ice It

To reduce swelling and redness, try icing your pimple. Simply wrap an ice cube in a thin, clean cloth, and apply to the offending blemish for a few minutes. Repeat as necessary.

Step 2 – Pop Some Visine On It

It might sound odd, but many people also swear by anti-redness eyedrops such as Visine. Add a few drops to a cotton pad, and gently press on your pimple.

Step 3 – Camouflage

If all else fails, a green-based concealer can help neutralise pimple redness. Just make sure you use a non-comedogenic option to prevent further breakouts.

Professional Treatments for Acne Redness 

If your acne redness, PIH or acne scarring are severe, consult with your dermatologist. Professional treatments such as chemical peels, light and laser therapies, dermabrasion and skin needling may help improve your skin texture and reduce redness.


  1. Brown H et al. Acne in Primary Care: A Cross-Sectional Analysis. Australian Journal of General Practice. Vol 48, Issue 11 Nov 2019.
  2. Dermnet NZ. Acne Scarring. Reviewed June 2014.
  3. McGinty S, Siddiqui WJ. KeloidStatPearls [Internet]. Updated March 19, 2019.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK507899/