Our hormone-heavy teen years teach us to be on high alert for acne and to attack it with every single product under the sun at the first sign of a pimple.
Of course, as adults, we’re much wiser (well, kind of?) and understand that acne is more complex and harder to treat than the commercials of the last decade had us believe.
For one thing, no one ever told us that on some occasions, what looks like acne, isn’t acne at all. Fungal acne is one such imposter -- and nothing on the acne shelves at the local market will do a thing to make it go away. What gives?
What Exactly is Fungal Acne?
First of all, what the heck is fungal acne anyway?
Fungal acne is a common type of infection in your skin’s hair follicles. It most commonly appears as tiny pimples that don’t really vary much in size or shape and is often accompanied by itchiness.
Fungal acne can cause skin irritation as well as whiteheads, which is why it’s often confused for acne vulgaris.
(Acne vulgaris is the type of acne most commonly associated with whiteheads and blackheads.)
But fungal acne and acne vulgaris are two completely different conditions with different causes. They won’t respond to the same treatment, and if you keep trying to use your favorite anti-acne treatment, you can actually make your fungal acne worse -- yikes!
That’s why it’s super important to understand what fungal acne looks like and how it develops.
What Causes Fungal Acne?
Fungal acne is a bit of a misnomer. You see, unlike acne, fungal acne isn’t caused primarily by bacteria and oil in pores, although sebum and oil production are a big part of helping feed the bacteria that cause fungal acne.
Instead, the irritated skin and pimple-like bumps associated with are caused by an overgrowth of yeast (yes, a fungus) that inflames the hair follicles on your skin.
That’s why it’s sometimes called fungal acne, but its technical name is Pityrosporum folliculitis or Malassezia folliculitis. Say that five times fast.
The yeast responsible for your fungal acne is always present on your skin. (We know right?) Typically, your body is able to naturally balance the yeast, bacteria, and other fungi that are also a part of your skin. But if that natural balance is disrupted, an overgrowth can occur, and that’s when the infection and acne-like symptoms show up.
There are a handful of events or conditions that can upset your natural balance of fungi and bacteria, including:
Medication. If you happen to take antibiotics, the bacteria on your skin can be reduced greatly, which can lead to an overgrowth of fungus.
Trapped moisture. Did you know that wearing your sweaty workout clothes for too long can encourage yeast growth? Yup, it’s true. Sitting in dirty gym clothes or re-wearing them after a sweat sesh can expose your skin to fungi that have grown in your clothes.
Diet changes. Yeast and fungi feed on carbs, so balancing your intake of carb-rich foods and sweets may help slow fungal growth.
Warm, moist environments. Individuals living in hot, muggy climates where sweating is more likely, may experience fungal acne more frequently. Have a hot girl summer, but keep the AC on, okay?
Wearing tight clothes. Do you like rockin’ tight clothes? We’re sure you look fab, but regularly wearing tight clothes that don’t really allow your skin to breath can encourage extra sweat and moisture, which is the perfect environment for yeast to grow.
Symptoms of Fungal Acne
One of the main reasons why fungal acne can last for what seems like forever is because fungal acne looks inexplicably similar to acne vulgaris -- or bacterial acne. We know, we know, more mildly confusing symptoms.
Those with fungal acne, not really knowing the difference, may try to treat it with traditional acne skin care treatments. But these treatments don’t work and can actually make your infection worse, much worse.
Not sure how to tell the difference? Here’s how:
Location. Fungal acne usually shows up on the chest, back, and arms. It can also show up on your face, where bacterial acne is most common (hence all the confusion!).
Size. Pus-filled bumps caused by fungal acne tend to all be about the same size. Bacterial acne, on the other hand, can cause whiteheads and pimples of varying sizes.
Clusters. In many cases, fungal acne appears in clusters of tiny whiteheads. Bacterial acne is usually less clustered and more sparse.
Itching. One of the notorious tell-tale signs of fungal acne is itching, which is usually not a symptom of bacterial acne.
By now, we know that fungal acne is the result of yeast overgrowth, so you may experience other unfavorable yeast-related conditions, like dandruff and psoriasis. This can help you to determine whether your breakouts are from yeast or another cause.
How to treat Fungal Acne
If you think you might have fungal acne, you may want to take a trip to your dermatologist.
To determine if your symptoms are a result of fungal acne, your doc will ask about the symptoms you’ve been experiencing.
The set of questions will likely include:
How long you’ve had the breakout
What you’ve been using to try and treat it
Which symptoms you’ve been experiencing
In some cases, your doctor may also want to do one of the following:
They may do a simple, yet effective, skin scraping (don’t worry, it’s painless) and examine the scraping under a microscope to look for any yeast responsible for fungal acne.
They may perform a quick biopsy to take a skin sample for testing.
How is Fungal Acne Treated?
As we’ve mentioned, fungal acne is often treated improperly because it looks so similar to bacterial acne. Many people use anti-acne treatments in hopes of kicking fungal acne to the curb, but these treatments just won’t work (and not to mention, it’s a waste of product!) What a life.
To treat a fungal infection properly, you need to restore the balance between yeast and bacteria on your skin.
Below are some steps you can take to help out your skin.
Shower more regularly.
If you go to the gym on a regular basis or happen to have a job that causes you to get sweaty, try showering and changing clothes right after you hit the gym or leave work. This can help immensely to wash away excess yeast that may have started growing in the warm, moist environments that grow in sweaty clothes. More reasons to spend forever in the shower? Love that for you.
Wear looser clothes.
If you enjoy wearing tight clothes, you should know that friction and low airflow can encourage yeast growth on the skin. So, if you’re experiencing fungal acne, your tight skinny jeans could be to blame. Opt for loose-fitting, breathable fabrics more regularly to help your skin get good circulation and encourage balanced fungal and bacterial growth.
Use over-the-counter antifungal treatments.
A variety of over-the-counter antifungal creams and ointments are available, such as medications for jock itch and athlete’s foot, which are caused by a similar fungus that causes fungal acne. This should do the trick.
How to Prevent Fungal Acne
We have to be honest, not all acne is preventable. Genetics play a major role in how acne is, whether fungal acne or bacterial. If you have a medical condition like diabetes or HIV, you may also be more likely to develop acne—especially fungal acne.
The good news is that there are things you can do to help prevent the development of fungal acne, like by having a top-notch skincare routine.
Taking care of your skin is of the utmost importance. By using amazing products like the ones found at Topicals, you can keep your skin in tip-top shape to keep everything from acne, to pigmentation, (and everything in between) at bay.
While the fungal acne can be a bit bothersome, the cause is usually easily treated and even preventable with a regular skincare routine using high-quality products like the ones found at Topicals.
Topicals is a unique skincare company that creates science-backed, dermatologist-approved products to work with your skin -- not against it. With a passion for making the world a healthier and happier place, it’s easy to see why we’re a go-to for those looking to show their skin some love.
Whether you’re battling acne, eczema, hyperpigmentation, or some other skin issue causing you stress, let Topicals join your team!