What To Do If You Have Fungal Acne: How To Tell, Treat It And Keep It From Coming Back

by Gio
how to treat fungal acne and keep it from coming back

Have you tried EVERYTHING to get rid of your acne but nothing works?

You may not have acne at all.

Not the traditional kind of acne caused by bacteria, anyway. A fungi is more likely to blame here.

And you know what happens when you treat fungal acne the same way as bacterial acne? Your acne gets worse, that’s what.

Unfortunately, the two conditions are so similar, even doctors sometimes mistake the two! I know… 🙄

If you think you may be dealing with fungal acne, this quick guide will tell you how to recognise it, treat it and keep it from coming back (plus, what skincare products are safe and not safe to use when you’re dealing with fungal acne):


get the ordinary acne routine cheatsheet


What The Heck Is Fungal Acne?

The scientific name is Pityrosporum Folliculitis. The nickname Malassezia Folliculitis. Friends and enemies call it fungal acne. But I like to call it a “pain in the ass”. Cos that’s what it really is, isn’t it?

Fungal acne is an itchy acne-like breakout that looks like small red bumps of close comedones. It usually appears on the areas that produce a truckload of sebum, like the t-zone and back.

What Causes Fungal Acne?

Malassezia. It’s a type of fungi that lives on everyone’s skin (it’s part of your healthy skin’s micro biome) and feeds on sebum. This is normal.

The problems start when Malassezia eats so much sebum, it grows out of control. Here’s what puts you at risk of that happening:

  • Certain diseases (diabetes, Hodgkin’s disease, nutritional disorders, transplant recipients and immunologic defiencies)
  • Hot and humid weather
  • Oil-rich skincare products
  • Pregnancy
  • Prolonged use of antibiotics (usually, the stuff they give you to treat bacterial acne!)
  • Stress
  • Sweat

How To Tell If You Have Fungal Acne

So, how can you tell if you have fungal acne instead than bacterial acne? Here are three warning signs to look out for:

  1. You’re an adult: anyone can get fungal acne but it’s more common in people in their 20s and 30s
  2. Nothing works: you’ ve tried all the classic anti-acne medication but those stubborn pimples won’t budge!
  3. Everything breaks you out: even lightweight toners and gentle moisturisers. You’ve come to a point you’re scared of even trying a new skincare product because you know it’ll give you more pimples.
  4. Papules and pustules: that’s what fungal acne looks like. The pus inside looks white/yellow.

If you suspect you’re dealing with fungal acne, go to your doctor for a proper diagnosis. Tell your doctor to extract a pustule with a comedones extract and examine the crap inside it.

This is super important. Most doctors just do a biopsy on the surface of the skin. If malassezia is hiding in the pore, this superficial biopsy won’t detect it and your doctor will likely treat you for bacterial acne!

What To Avoid When You Have Fungal Acne

When it comes to fungal acne, what you DON’T use is as important (if not more) of what you do use. Because that nasty bugger seems to flare up and give you a breakouts no matter what you put on your skin.

The first step is to get rid of any skincare products that make fungal acne worse. That means anything with (be warned – it’s a loooooong list!):

Basically, if it has fatty acids – you know, the good stuff that helps dry skin recover – it’s out of the question for you. And that rules out 90% of skincare products on the market. Fatty acids are so good at moisturising, they’re everywhere!

Related: Benzoyl Peroxide: Friend Or Foe For Your Skin?

What You Can Use When You Have Fungal Acne

Fret not. There’s still a lot of stuff you can use. The irony is that a lot of it is synthetic. Yep, the “nasty” stuff the natural brigade loves to complain about is a skin saver for you. Go figure! Here’s what you can use:

That’s better, isn’t it?

Related: Is Mineral Oil Really Bad For Skin?

What Are The Best Skincare Products For Fungal Acne?

Wait, you didn’t really think I was gonna let you scour the skincare aisles for fungal acne-safe products alone, did you? Here are my picks in every category:

CLEANSERS:

  • Avene Eau Thermal Cleansing Foam ($20.00): available at Dermstore
  • Avene Extremely Gentle Cleanser Lotion ($24.00): available at Dermstore
  • Bioderma Sensibio H20 Micellar Water (£10.80): available at Dermstore and Feel Unique

EXFOLIANTS:

SERUMS:

MOISTURIZERS:

  • Avene Tolerance Extreme Emulsion (£10.12): available at Dermstore
  • Dr Jart+ Water Drop Hydrating Moisturiser ($36.00): available at Sephora and Yes Style
  • Eucerin Original Healing Rich Creme (£12.46): available at iHerb and Walmart

OILS:

SUNSCREENS:

  • Bioré UV Perfect Milk SPF 50+ PA++++ (£7.09): available at Amazon
  • Cotz Face Natural Tint SPF 40 ($23.99): available at Dermstore and Ulta
  • EltaMD UV Clear Broad Spectrum SPF 46 ($33.00): available at Dermstore and Walmart

If you’re looking for sample skincare routines that are safe and effective for fungal acne, check out this post at Simple Skincare Science.


Looking for even more products suitable for fungal acne? Click on the image below to subscribe to my newsletter and receive the “Best Products For Fungal Acne List:

get the ordinary acne routine cheatsheet


How To Treat Fungal Acne

A good skincare routine is key to prevent those breakouts from getting worse and, once you’ve killed the fungus, keep it from coming back. But, there’s only so much skincare alone can do.

If you have a yeast that’s misbehaving, you need an anti-fungal to kill it. You have a few options here but I’m not gonna go into them.

Why not? Because even though some of these anti-fungal meds are available OTC, I do think it’s best to see a doctor and have it prescribed by them. A doctor will be able to prescribe the right anti-fungal treatment for you and tell you how to use it properly. Plus, a lot of anti-fungals are full of fatty acids, polysorbates and other stuff that makes fungal acne worse. 🙁

There are natural solutions for fungal acne too but these are tricky. Most products don’t contain enough of these natural extracts and making your own isn’t always ideal. The problem with natural ingredients is that their composition (and the amounts of goodies that can kill fungal acne) varies depending on where they’re grown, climate, soil conditions, etc.

This post is already long enough but if you’re interested in natural treatments for fungal acne, let me know and I can write a follow up post. 🙂

The Bottom Line

Fungal acne looks similar to bacterial acne but it’s way trickier to treat. The key is to avoid anything with fatty acids in your skincare routine (they just feed the monster!) and add an anti-fungal to get rid of it.

Do you have fungal acne? Share your tips and skincare routine below.

Take The Guesswork Out Of Skincare Shopping

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136 comments

nor shahidah binti ramli May 24, 2019 - 5:23 am

I used medicine by vitahealth . It called cleansa plus . The medicine contains red clover , passiflora , burdock root , queen ‘s delight , sarsaparilla and nettle . Is this medicine good for fungal acne

Reply
Gio May 31, 2019 - 1:02 pm

Nor, I’m a skincare coach, not a doctor. If you plan on taking medicine, please consult your medical care provider.

Reply
kara June 2, 2019 - 11:42 am

hi! are essential oils fine for FA

Reply
Gio June 4, 2019 - 6:27 pm

Kara, no! They’re one of the worst things you can use when you have fungal acne!

Reply
Carrie September 15, 2019 - 10:48 pm

I found some studies done around the anti fungal properties of certain essential oils on Malassezia. Why do you believe they are one of the worst things? I’m probably missing something 🙂 Another question, what about hydrosols of these same plants?

Reply
Gio October 5, 2019 - 5:22 pm

Carrie, the problem with essential oils is that they’re made up of lots of different substances. Some of them may have anti-fungal properties, while others can feed malassezia. Plus, the fragrant components are irritating for everyone.

Reply
Martina June 7, 2019 - 8:44 am

Hi, Gio! Do you also suffer from Fungal Acne? What are your favorite FA safe cleansers? I wanna try the Vanicream Gentle Cleanser one but i want to hear your fave cleansers. Thank you!

Reply
Gio July 6, 2019 - 12:04 pm

Martina, no I don’t suffer from it. But if I did, I’d use the products I recommend in this post.

Reply
Veera July 18, 2019 - 5:53 am

Hi Martina! I’m not sure if you’ll see this answer or if your request for recommendation on FA safe facial cleansers is still up to date, but here it comes. I felt entitled to answer your question as I have FA and have been using Vanicream Gentle Cleanser, which you stated you’d like to try out. A big recommendation. In my experiense, Vanicream has been a very good cleanser. It’s gentle and doesn’t irritate skin or contain grazy amount of suspicious ingredients. Better yet, it’s marketed to be cruelty free (if that’s something that interests you).

Reply
Maki June 8, 2019 - 12:55 pm

hey there,,, does moisturizing too much flare up fungal acne?

Reply
Gio July 6, 2019 - 1:29 pm

Maki, only if your moisturiser contains ingredients that can feed the fungus.

Reply
Samantha Liew June 20, 2019 - 9:51 am

For oils, does that mean Sunday Riley’s UFO and Luna oil cannot be used? The UFO’s ingredients listed in https://sundayriley.com/products/ufo-acne-treatment-face-oil.

Would be great to get some advice!

Reply
Gio July 6, 2019 - 3:01 pm

Samantha, you’ve answered your own question!

Reply
Sarah July 2, 2019 - 6:05 am

Hi,

I was wondering if Ponds Cold Cream makes fungal acne worse? I was about to start using it but I’m nervous the ingredients are going to make my fungal acne worse

Reply
Rose July 8, 2019 - 11:20 am

Ma’am I am a teenager of age 15. I have suffered from fungal acne for about 4 years and have many scars due to it. I thought maybe because I have oily skin I had these bumps on my forehead, back and chest. After a very long time i have discovered that i have fungal acne. I want to use Skinceuticals CE Ferulic or Replenix Serum CF but it seems to be used on very matured skin. So can u give me some other option or is it fine for me to use ?And thank you so much for this research and product recommendations!!

Reply
Alexandra July 9, 2019 - 12:22 pm

Hi Gio! Does coconut oil straight from jar helps my skin or it does more damage to it? Not only for fungal acne but for also regular acne. Thanks!

Reply
Gio August 8, 2019 - 2:51 pm

Alexandra, it’s comedogenic! Stay away!

Reply
Safa Arshad August 17, 2019 - 4:53 am

But don’t these products cost to much and there are not even available in Pakistan.

Reply
ASL August 18, 2019 - 3:31 am

Very informative post thank you.

Reply
Kate August 28, 2019 - 10:50 pm

Can I use salicylic acid product with ketoconazole cream 2% or a witch hazel product?

Reply
Gio September 14, 2019 - 5:40 pm

Kate, if it’s not too much for your skin, yes you can.

Reply
Gilad September 5, 2019 - 8:29 pm

All you recommend is tested on animals 😒

Reply
Gio September 14, 2019 - 7:07 pm

Gilad, that’s because EVERYTHING has been tested on animals. Up until a few years ago, the law forced you to test on animals. Brands that are “cruelty-free” are able not to test on animals simply because they use ingredients that had been tested by someone else on animals. You can find plenty of brands that don’t test the finished products on animals, but good luck finding one that doesn’t use ingredients that were tested on animals at some point. I’m all for banning animal testing in cosmetics, but it’s foolish to think that are ingredients that have never been tested.

Reply
Giancarlo Donatelli September 13, 2019 - 12:46 am

SULFUR SALYCLIC SOAP!!!! MIRACLE

Reply
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