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.
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
Nor, I’m a skincare coach, not a doctor. If you plan on taking medicine, please consult your medical care provider.
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.
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!
hi! are essential oils fine for FA
Kara, no! They’re one of the worst things you can use when you have fungal acne!
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?
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.
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!
Martina, no I don’t suffer from it. But if I did, I’d use the products I recommend in this post.
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).
hey there,,, does moisturizing too much flare up fungal acne?
Maki, only if your moisturiser contains ingredients that can feed the fungus.
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!
Samantha, you’ve answered your own question!
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
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!!
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
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!
Alexandra, it’s comedogenic! Stay away!
But don’t these products cost to much and there are not even available in Pakistan.
Very informative post thank you.
Can I use salicylic acid product with ketoconazole cream 2% or a witch hazel product?
Kate, if it’s not too much for your skin, yes you can.
All you recommend is tested on animals 😒
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.
SULFUR SALYCLIC SOAP!!!! MIRACLE
does nizoral work for fungal acne?
Reba, it can help, but be careful. It’s not really meant to use on the face.
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
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. 🙂
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?
Hope, I used to recommend Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Ferulic Acid + Retinol Brightening Solution, but I think they recently added Polysorbate-20 to it…
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. .
hi i cant understand whether this is fungal acne or other things…how can i differ what it is?
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.
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.
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?
Did vaseline intensive care can kill fungal acne?btw thanks
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?