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Medically Reviewed by Dr. Eva Simmons-O’Brien

Dr. Eva Simmons O’Brien received her MD from Yale University and is a board-certified dermatologist. With over 30 years of experience, she has worked for hospitals, established her own private practice, and consulted for organizations such as the FDA. Today, Dr. Eva runs her own practice in addition to serving as our Chief Science Officer.

Swelling vs Inflammation: What’s the Difference

Swelling vs Inflammation: What’s the Difference

Swelling vs Inflammation: What’s the Difference



The skin is an amazing organ. The largest in (or on) your body holds your guts in and protects you from pathogens and injury. However, your skin can be a place of serious mystery. If you’ve ever woken up to a Hitch-sized welt on your face, you know what we mean.

Besides the skin’s ability to protect you, its ability to create bumps and blemishes is day-ruining at best. It’s hard to feel like the sexy stud you are when you’re staring at a giant, yellow pimple on your forehead. 

The biggest factor that frustrates guys about their skin is not knowing what to do about the skin-related problems. One of the main issues is determining whether the super-uncool bumps and lumps your skin makes are from inflammation or swelling. 

Both inflammation and swelling can occur on the skin, and knowing how to deal with each of them can help you eradicate them and get on with your life. Buckle up. We’re about to get sciencey. 

What is Swelling

Swelling and inflammation are often used interchangeably, but they are two separate phenomena. Both can create lumps on your skin that are red and look puffy, but the difference is the source of the puff. 

Swelling is a collection of fluid in a concentrated area. Often, swelling can happen as a result of inflammation, but sometimes swelling can happen on its own. You might experience swelling because of an allergy to a product or medication or because of an injury. 

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is your body’s response to an intruder. Your body perceives something as invasive, like a pathogen or bacteria, and it sends white blood cells to the area to seek and destroy. This collection of white blood cells causes a lump or nodule to form. 

This type of raised area is your body’s way of healing an injury, fighting an infection, and sealing off a particular affected area so that infection or injury doesn’t spread. It also serves to protect the injured or affected area from further intrusion by bacteria. 

Inflammation can cause swelling, and many times it does. 

Swelling vs. Inflammation On Your Skin

It can be hard to differentiate between swelling and inflammation on your skin. If you have particularly sensitive skin, it can even seem like your skin develops rashy areas of redness for no particular reason. There are, however, some tell-tale signs that can help you figure out whether your skin is swollen or inflamed. 


Acne and blemish are sources of inflammation. Cystic acne, for instance, is even being considered an inflammatory disease. When your skin cells mix with dirt and sebum (your skin’s natural oil) and clog your pores, your skin’s response to swelling and redness is to create a closed or open bump to seal off the dirt and bacteria from the rest of your skin. 

Even though you want to, don’t let your response be to pop a pimple. It always (100% of the time) makes your bumps worse and also initiates swelling. If your blemish wasn’t big enough, the popping of a pimple can hurt the skin and cause it to swell. 

Signs of Strange Bumps

There are many different types of acne, and they’re usually easy to recognize. But if you’ve got lumps and bumps that are red, raised, or even just flesh-colored and raised, you may just be dealing with swelling. 

Just like Hitch, you could have swelling due to an insect bite, or even from a specific ingredient in a product that your skin doesn’t like. Swollen skin won’t have a “head” like a pimple, and you shouldn’t attempt to pop or squeeze it. 

When To See A Doc

If you have signs of swelling on your skin that doesn’t go away on its own within 24-28 hours, it’s a good idea to call your dermatologist and have it checked. 

How To Deal With Skin Inflammation and Swelling

No matter what you’re dealing with, you just want it to settle down so you can leave your house with confidence. We get it. Here are three go-to strategies for dealing with both inflammation and swelling like a pro. 

1. For Swelling: Cleanse With a Mild Product

Swollen skin ain’t happy skin, and using a harsh cleanser on it will only make it angry. 

Whether your skin is swelling from harsh, chemical ingredients or you’re just using the wrong products for your skin type, switching to a mild cleanser can help you settle down the swollen areas. 

Coconut oil has cleansing properties that help cleanse bacteria away from your skin and emollient properties to help hydrate it and keep it soft. 

We also throw in phytic acid from almonds to help keep your skin looking more youthful and charcoal to keep pores clean and clarified.  

Mild skin care products can help settle down swollen, irritated skin. 

2. Aloe + Apricot Oil for Inflammation

Your mom loved to slather you in aloe anytime you got sunburned, and she wasn’t wrong. Aloe is a plant-based ingredient that helps soothe irritated skin and repair skin damage. Aloe can help heal your skin and restore it to its pre-inflamed glory. 

Apricot oil is packed with antioxidants that help restore the skin and reduce signs of inflammation. It’s a natural way to help alleviate inflamed skin and deal with blemishes. 

Some facial scrubs have particles so large they can tear your face (which will probably result in swelling). Ours does not. We use apricot seed powder and papaya to gently exfoliate the surface of your skin and encourage cell turnover. 

We also load our scrub with aloe and apricot oil to help calm areas of irritation and soothe the skin. Using a scrub like ours just twice a week can help you experience less breakouts. 

3. For Both: Level Up Your Skin Care

Taking better overall care of your skin will keep your skin looking and feeling better and help you experience less swelling and inflammation. Don’t know where to begin? 

If you’re currently using a store brand, it’s time to level up. Store brand skincare is usually formulated for women’s skin, which is thinner than ours. Men’s skin is tougher and thicker, and has a different pH balance. Also, it produces hair. 

Let’s Disco

Swelling and inflammation are different, and now you know and can impress your friends. You can deal with both swelling and inflammation on your skin by knowing how to identify each and using products with soothing ingredients. 

Disco has everything you need to get a grip on your skin care. Our ingredients are powerful enough for your manly skin, but gentle enough to leave it as smooth and touchable as you want.



Swelling vs inflammation|Medical 

The Role of Inflammation in the Pathology of Acne|NCBI 

Developmental cell programs are co-opted in inflammatory skin disease|PubMed 


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