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 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”. 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.
Related: Everything You Need To Know About Sebum
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
- Prolonged use of antibiotics (usually, the stuff they give you to treat bacterial acne!)
Related: What Skincare Ingredients Should You Avoid During Pregnancy?
How To Tell If You Have Fungal Acne
So, how can you tell if you have fungal acne instead of bacterial acne? Here are three warning signs to look out for:
- You’re an adult: Anyone can get fungal acne, but it’s more common in people in their ’20s and ’30s.
- Nothing works: You’ve tried all the classic anti-acne medications, but those stubborn pimples won’t budge!
- 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.
- 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. That nasty bugger seems to flare up and give you a breakout 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!):
- Amino acids (only when paired with fatty acids)
- Benzoyl peroxide (can dry out skin, helping Malassezia spread)
- Esters (they’re a combo of fatty acid + alcohol; end in -ATE; for ex, isopropyl palmitate, glyceryl stearate etc)
- Fatty acids (lauric, linoleic, linolenic, myristic, oleic, palmitic, stearic)
- Hydrogenated oils (they contain fatty acids)
- Oils (they contain fatty acids – there are only 3 exceptions to this rule, listed below)
- Polysorbates (you guessed it, they have fatty acids)
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:
- Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride (includes MTC oil – coconut oil is a no-no)
- Exfoliating acids (glycolic, mandelic, salicylic)
- Fatty alcohols (cetyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol… who said alcohol was bad?!)
- Lactic acid-producing bacteria (bifidobacterium, lactobacillus, lactococcus…)
- Petroleum-based ingredients (think vaseline and mineral oil – no fatty acids there!)
- Squalane oil
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:
- 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
- Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid (£22.00): available at iHerb, Ulta and Yes Style
- Stratia Soft Touch AHA (£14.00): available at Stratia
- Stridex Pads ($3.97): available at Amazon and iHerb
- Bioderma Hydrabio Moisturizing Serum (£18.50): available at Dermstore and Feel Unique
- Mad Hippie Vitamin C Serum (£28.00): available at iHerb and Ulta
- Replenix Serum CF ($85.00): available at Dermstore
- Skinceuticals CE Ferulic ($166.00): available at Blue Mercury and Dermstore
- Avene Tolerance Extreme Emulsion (£10.12): available at Dermstore
- Dr Jart+ Water Drop Hydrating Moisturiser ($36.00): available at Sephora
- Eucerin Original Healing Rich Creme (£12.46): available at iHerb and Walmart
- Africare 100% Mineral Oil ($14.21): available at Walmart
- Indie Lee Squalane Facial Oil (£30.00): available at Cult Beauty, Dermstore and Nordstrom
- The Ordinary 100% Plant Derived Squalane (£5.50): available at Beauty Bay, Cult Beauty and Feel Unique
- Bioré UV Perfect Milk SPF 50+ PA++++ (£7.09): available at Amazon
- Cotz Face Natural Tint SPF 40 ($23.99): available at 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.
Related: 5 Natural Treatments That Really Work To Heal Fungal Acne
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.