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):



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:


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.

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152 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

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.

Lilly June 18, 2020 - 5:28 am

Hi Ive been using the neutrogena oil free acne wash but notice it can be drying at times so I wanted to try the Cerave hydrating cleanser in the am and SA renewal cleanser at night is that a good option ? I’m also using dandruff shampoo in the morning before going in with a cleanser and I use a combination skin moisturizer.

Gio July 14, 2020 - 10:17 am

Lilly, if the Neutrogena cleanser is too drying, definitely switch. But it’s impossible for me to recommend you a different cleanser without having more information. You didn’t even mention your skin type!

kara June 2, 2019 - 11:42 am

hi! are essential oils fine for FA

Gio June 4, 2019 - 6:27 pm

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

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?

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.

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!

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.

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).

Maki June 8, 2019 - 12:55 pm

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

Gio July 6, 2019 - 1:29 pm

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

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!

Gio July 6, 2019 - 3:01 pm

Samantha, you’ve answered your own question!

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

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!!

Dania December 27, 2019 - 5:59 pm

Hi rose, im also the one who was suffered fungal acne too at 18 age , but u know what im glad cause i have supporting mom who will always spend her money just for me. and yessss i”ll go for medical skin for instant laser skin treatment. And yes they also provide a expert consultant to diagnose your skin and definitely they will give some advice to get the best treatment to treat your fungal acne. And you know what ? Its really work well on my skin. But the the things that i dont like is the price is unreasonable, and ofc my mom cant afford to pay for it but she try her best to help me to get my healthy skin back. The Side effect when u doing the treatment is you would be feeling so painful but dont worry its gonna be okey after you get done in your treatment. Im just doing 3 treatment only even though atleast i need 10 times of treatment hahaha but yahh. Definitely im highly recommend for you to go see laser treatment

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!

Gio August 8, 2019 - 2:51 pm

Alexandra, it’s comedogenic! Stay away!

Safa Arshad August 17, 2019 - 4:53 am

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

ASL August 18, 2019 - 3:31 am

Very informative post thank you.

Kate August 28, 2019 - 10:50 pm

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

Gio September 14, 2019 - 5:40 pm

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

Gilad September 5, 2019 - 8:29 pm

All you recommend is tested on animals 😒

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.

Giancarlo Donatelli September 13, 2019 - 12:46 am

SULFUR SALYCLIC SOAP!!!! MIRACLE

reba January 14, 2020 - 12:45 am

does nizoral work for fungal acne?

Gio January 17, 2020 - 1:12 pm

Reba, it can help, but be careful. It’s not really meant to use on the face.

Mélanie laborde January 17, 2020 - 9:12 am

Hello, i suspect i have fungal acné and have removed Lily products from my routine but am looking for something very moisturizing for my skin. I have come a cross this list of ingrédients for a moisturizing serum. What do you think? Thank you Very much for your post and your reply !

WATER (AQUA), BUTYLENE GLYCOL, LACTOBACILLUS/PORTULACA OLERACEA FERMENT EXTRACT, PHENOXYETHANOL, SODIUM HYALURONATE, ETHYLHEXYLGLYCERIN, POTASSIUM SORBATE, LEUCONOSTOC/RADISH ROOT FERMENT FILTRATE

Gio January 17, 2020 - 4:57 pm

Melanie, it should be fine. But please refer to the list above in the future. It’s there so you can identify potentially harmful products. 🙂

Hope Bahr February 6, 2020 - 1:25 am

I think I have fungal acne, and have made many changes to my routine that seem to be helping. BUT … I CANNOT find products with retinol that are safe!! I can find some with Vitamin C that are safe. I need retinol to help refine my skin texture. I also miss all my wonderful serums and moisturizers from Paula’s Choice. Such a downer … Any suggestions on retinol or retinoid products that are safe?

Gio February 8, 2020 - 5:42 pm

Hope, I used to recommend Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic Acid + Retinol Brightening Solution, but I think they recently added Polysorbate-20 to it…

Hope Bahr March 2, 2020 - 11:49 pm

TY! They did add Polysorbate-20 🙁

So far I’ve found the following two serums: Paula’s Choice Resist Intensive Wrinkle-Repair Retinol Serum and Pixi Collagen & Retinol Serum. I have been using the Pixi one and it seems to be working well, however, not as well as other retinol based products I’ve used previously. .

Daria Antora March 14, 2020 - 3:53 pm

hi i cant understand whether this is fungal acne or other things…how can i differ what it is?

Gio April 4, 2020 - 7:44 am

Daria, does it itch? That’s usually a sign that’s fungal acne. To know for sure, go to a dermatologist who specialises in fungal acne.

Nonto May 1, 2020 - 10:06 pm

Hi I’m on South Africa and suffering from fungal acne. I cannot find safe vitamin c serums around. However there is a lot of Korean beauty websites here selling brands like cosrx, The ordinary, etc. Kindly advise on which Korean beauty vitamin c or similar product I can try for my hyperpigmentation. And I’m leaving in a hard water area which I feel also contributes to this acne, currently using the avene cleansing lotion which I then follow with their mineral water spray to avoid using the water, but I feel this isn’t thoroughly removing all my sunscreen. Kindly recommend alternative cleanser. Thanks in advance.

Rachel May 26, 2020 - 11:54 am

The Avene extreme emulsion. I can only find this in Australia as the Creme not the emulsion. Will that be okay or does that have the dreaded fatty acids?

Nur syakirah June 18, 2020 - 1:37 am

Did vaseline intensive care can kill fungal acne?btw thanks

Oyin June 28, 2020 - 12:30 pm

Hi Gio. Thank you for the article. I’m currently suffering from a case of fungal acne. After putting my current Skincare products through the sezia.co ingredient list, I found that they all have irritants in them, especially Glycerin. I’m really struggling to find a good Moisturiser at the moment and was wondering if I can use Vaseline? Since you mentioned petroleum jelly is safe. But why I hesitate is because I’ve seen a few posts telling me to stay away from vaseline. What are your thoughts on this?

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