What is Fungal Acne?
Have you ever had a breakout that wouldn’t go away for weeks, maybe even months, no matter which products you threw at it? Did it consist of a lot of small bumps? Was it a little itchy?
What you had might not have been real acne at all, but a condition known as pityrosporum folliculitis. Though it looks nearly identical to bacterial acne, this breakout is caused by the fungus pityrosporum, also called malassezia—that’s why many have nicknamed it fungal acne.
“People call it fungal acne because it does look like acne,” Adam Friedman, a dermatologist at the George Washington University School of Medicine, told Gizmodo. “It can even confuse the well-trained eye of a dermatologist sometimes.”
Because malassezia fungi love oil, they’ll most often congregate in the T-zone (forehead, nose, and chin), but also cause breakouts elsewhere on the face and on the chest, back, and shoulders. They also grow exceptionally well in warm, humid conditions, making pityrosporum folliculitis much more common in summertime and in hot, sticky climates (Singapore and the Philippines, both with warm and humid climates, have the highest rate of Google searches for “fungal acne”). Malassezia also thrives if you sweat a lot. without the proper treatment, a fungal breakout can persist for years.
What is the difference fungal acne and other forms of acne?
Well, fungal acne is not acne at all. Zeichner says it’s truly an infection of the hair follicle. Some other differences include intense itching and placement. Inflammatory acne tends to affect the face and is usually either due to increased oil production, follicular plugging, excess bacterial growth of propionibacterium acnes, or hormonal changes. Fungal acne, on the other hand, frequently appears as uniform papules and pustules on the chest and back or in areas of occlusive clothing.
How to treat Fungal Acne?
Benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, are two common over-the-counter topical treatments for bacterial acne, won’t necessarily make the condition worse, they probably won’t make it any better, since they don’t target malassezia. Plus, as the post on cult-favorite blog Simple Skincare Science points out, those two products are often formulated with chemical compounds that malassezia feasts on, allowing the fungi to thrive even more.
Beyond curating your skincare products to cut out ingredients that feed the fungus (you can see a list of such ingredients here), Friedman suggested using dandruff shampoo on the affected area. Dandruff is also caused by malassezia fungus—just by a different species of the bug—so a shampoo like Head and Shoulders, which contains the antimicrobial ingredient zinc pyrithione, could help to fight off a fungal breakout. Even more effective are shampoos like Nizoral that contain a compound called ketoconazole, which is known to kill every species of malassezia.
If you want to know more about this type of skin problem you can check it on this website here, she post a very long article but I think it is very useful when you try to cure your skin problem
What to avoid?
- Amino acids (only when paired with fatty acids)
- Benzoyl peroxide (can dry out the 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)
What you can use
- Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride (includes MTC oil – coconut oil is 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