You’ve scrubbed your face clean 3 times a day, bought every spot treatment you could get your mitts on and even tried your hand at making your own Apple Cider Vinegar toner in a last desperate attempt to get rid of your acne.
Nothing worked. No matter what you throw at your acne, it just won’t budge.
But what if you didn’t have acne at all? Fungal acne looks a lot like traditional acne, but it’s caused by a fungus, not a bacteria. The same treatments don’t apply.
If you suspect you’re dealing with fungal acne, this quick guide will help you recognize it and treat it once and for all so you can finally get your clear, flawless skin back.
What Is Fungal Acne?
Fungal acne looks a lot like bacterial acne or hormonal acne: inflamed, pus-filled bumps on the oiliest areas of your face (forehead, nose chin), chest and back.
The tell-tale sign that sets them apart? Unlike regular acne, fungal acne itches like crazy. It also tends to pop up in clusters of small whiteheads that won’t disappear, no matter how often you exfoliate.
P.S. The scientific name for fungal acne is Pityrosporum Folliculitis or Malassezia Folliculitis.
What Causes Fungal Acne?
If fungal acne is so similar to regular acne, shouldn’t the same treatments apply?
Not so fast.
While the symptoms may be similar, their cause is completely different. Regular acne is caused by the bacteria P. Acnes (that’s why it’s called bacterial acne, duh!).
Fungal acne is to blame on a… you guessed it, fungus. Malassezia, to be exact. It’s a fungus that lives on everyone’s skin. Most of the time, it’s completely harmless.
Malassezia feeds on human sebum. When it eats too much, it grows out of control, giving you acne. It can happen for several reasons:
- Certain diseases, like diabetes, immunologic deficiencies and nutritional disorders
- Excess sweating
- Hot and humid weather
- Oil-rich skincare products
- Prolonged antibiotic use (usually, the ones prescribed to treat bacterial acne!)
You see now why traditional acne remedies won’t work? They kill bacteria, but they’re powerless against fungi…
How Can You Tell If You Have Fungal Acne?
Before treating your acne, you need to make sure who your enemy is. Here are three warnings signs you’re dealing with fungal acne:
- No treatment works: You’ve tried everything - from OTC exfoliants to prescription antibiotics and DIY recipes - but your acne won’t disappear!
- Most skincare products break you out: It’s not just rich creams or oils. Anything you put on your skin seems to make your acne worse.
- You’re a young adult: Anyone can get fungal acne at any age, but it’s more common in your 20s and 30s.
If you suspect you’re dealing with fungal acne, it’s a good idea to consult a dermatologist. Just make sure to tell your doctor to examine the pus inside your pustules.
Most doctors only check the surface of the skin… and diagnose you with bacterial acne instead! Yes, fungal and bacterial acne look so similar, they can fool even professionals.
Get your doctor to check the pus, too. That does NOT lie.
What Ingredients Should You Avoid If You Have Fungal Acne?
When it comes to treating fungal acne, what NOT to use is more important than what you use. Here’s why.
Ever wondered why every product, including lightweight toners and serums, make you break out non-stop?
A lot of ingredients in your lotions and potions feed the fungus Malassezia. When you slather on rosehip or marula oil, for example, you’re giving the fungus the food it needs to grow and spread!
There’s no way around it: if you want fungal acne to disappear, the first step is to get rid of anything Malassezia likes to eat.
Here are all the skincare ingredients to avoid when you’re dealing with fungal acne:
- Amino Acids: But only when paired with fatty acids.
- Benzoyl Peroxide: It dries out your skin, helping Malassezia to spread.
- Esters: A combo of fatty acid + alcohol, they end in -ATE (Isopropyl Palmitate, Glyceryl Stearate, etc).
- Fatty Acids: Lauric acid, Linoleic acid, Linolenic Acid, Oleic acid, Palmitic acid, Stearic acid.
- Galactomyces: A type of yeast made during the fermentation of sake.
- Hydrogenated oils: They contain fatty acid (Hydrogenated Coconut Oil, etc).
- Oils: They contain fatty acids. The only exceptions are Mineral Oil, MTC Oil and Squalane Oil.
- Polysorbates: They contain fatty acids, too!
In other words, if a skincare product contains fatty acids, it’s OUT. Banned. Forbidden.
Problem is, most products on the market contain fatty acids. They’re a godsend for dry skin: they help repair its protective barrier and make it softer and smoother again.
Malassezia loves them, too. You may be able to use the odd fatty acid if it appears towards the end of the ingredient list. But if you want to stay on the safe side, avoid them completely.
What Ingredients Can You Use If You Have Fungal Acne?
I know it feels like you can’t use anything right now. But that’s far from the truth. There are still plenty of products you CAN use to starve Malassezia and get your clear skin back.
If anything, narrowing down the ingredients you can use makes it easier to spot the products that’ll make your skin thrive. Here’s what to put on your shopping list:
- Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride: This is basically coconut oil minus the comedogenic parts that feed the fungus.
- Cholesterol: A natural component of your skin’s protective barrier.
- Exfoliating acids: Glycolic acid, Lactic Acid and Salicylic Acid.
- Fatty Alcohols: They’re moisturizing. They include Cetyl Alcohol, Cetearyl Alcohol and Stearyl Alcohol.
- Hyaluronic Acid: Great for skin conditioning, and a humectant that draws moisture into the skin.
- Lactic acid-producing bacteria: Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus and Lactococcus.
- MTC Oil: Another coconut oil derivative that’s not comedogenic.
- Petroleum-based ingredients: Vaseline and Mineral oil moisturize skin without adding fatty acids to it.
- Propolis: It helps to kill the fungus.
- Silicones: They create a protective barrier on the skin that seals moisture in.
- Squalane Oil: It’s practically identical to human sebum, but doesn’t feed Malassezia.
I know what you’re thinking. Synthetic stuff like mineral oil is good and natural oils are bad?! Blame Malassezia. It likes the same stuff you do.
FYI, you don’t have to use ingredients you’re not comfortable with. This is just a list of what you can use. Take your pick.
How To Treat Fungal Acne
Fungal acne is hard to treat, but it can be done. The key is to starve the fungus by removing anything from your skincare routine that can feed it.
Simply by avoiding all the ingredients mentioned in the list above will make a huge difference and clear up your acne faster.
But, sometimes, skincare alone isn’t enough. If your fungal acne is really severe, it’s a good idea to consult a doctor who can prescribe an anti-fungal to kill the nasty bugger.
FYI, just because you manage to kill Malassezia, don’t think for a moment the fight is over. You still need to avoid skincare products that can feed it or your fungal acne will come back with a vengeance!
See popular Babyface products that are fungal acne-safe below.