Fungal acne, also known as Malassezia (Pityrosporum) folliculitis, is a type of skin condition that occurs when yeast infects the hair follicles. Unlike regular acne, which is caused by bacteria and oil buildup, fungal acne is caused by an overgrowth of yeast that naturally lives on the skin.
Fungal acne can be difficult to treat and often requires a different approach compared to regular acne. Avoiding triggers, such as certain ingredients found in skincare products, can help prevent flare-ups and finding the right ingredients can help improve the appearance of fungal acne.
It’s crucial to identify the triggers and ingredients that can either help or hinder your skin to effectively manage and treat fungal acne. In this article, we’ll explore the triggers to avoid and the ingredients to look for to help combat fungal acne.
What is fungal acne?
Fungal acne is a skin condition caused by an overgrowth of yeast known as Malassezia, which naturally lives on the skin. When the yeast multiplies, it can clog the hair follicles, causing small red bumps and itching. Usually, bumps develop on the forehead first and then spread to the chest, upper back and other parts of the body.
The overgrowth of yeast can be triggered by a variety of factors, including humid environments, hot weather, certain skincare products, and medical conditions that affect the immune system. Antibiotic use can also lead to fungal acne, as antibiotics can disrupt the skin’s natural flora and cause an overgrowth of yeast.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Fungal acne can present as small, red bumps that are often itchy and painful. The bumps can be confused with regular acne, but they are usually uniform in size and tend to occur in clusters. Fungal acne can also be accompanied by itching, flaking, and scaling.
A dermatologist can diagnose fungal acne by examining the skin and taking scraping of the affected area to examine it under a microscope. In some cases, a skin culture may also be taken to confirm the diagnosis.
Differences between Fungal Acne and Regular Acne
Fungal acne and regular acne can have similar symptoms, but they are caused by different factors. Regular acne is caused by a buildup of oil and bacteria, while fungal acne is caused by an overgrowth of yeast. The treatment for each type of acne also differs, with antifungal medications typically used to treat fungal acne and antibiotics or other topical treatments used to treat regular acne.
It’s important to correctly diagnose the type of acne to ensure proper treatment and avoid worsening the condition. A dermatologist can help differentiate between the two types of acne and recommend the best course of treatment.
Identifying Triggers of Fungal Acne Breakouts
Fungal acne can be triggered by a variety of factors, including hot and humid environments, certain medical conditions, and certain skincare products. Identifying and avoiding these triggers can help reduce flare-ups.
Hot and Humid Environments: Hot and humid environments can provide an ideal environment for yeast to grow. Avoiding environments that are too hot or humid can help reduce the likelihood of a fungal acne breakout.
Certain Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as HIV/AIDS and diabetes, can affect the immune system and make it more difficult for the body to fight off the overgrowth of yeast that causes fungal acne.
Certain Skincare Products: Certain skincare ingredients, such as oils, silicones, and fragrances, can trigger fungal acne breakouts. It’s important to read labels carefully and avoid products that contain these ingredients.
List of ingredients to avoid for fungal acne
Generally, for treating fungal acne, it’s best to steer clear of oils, emollients, and occlusive ingredients. Oils and fatty acids (such as oleic acid, linoleic acid, and lauric acid) provide a food source for Malassezia, while emollients (including cetyl alcohol and stearyl alcohol) and occlusive ingredients (like beeswax, butters, and silicones) trap the moisture required for the fungus to multiply.
Here is a list of ingredients that are commonly associated with causing or exacerbating fungal acne:
- Oils, such as coconut oil, olive oil and argan oil
These oils can provide an ideal environment for yeast to grow, clogging the hair follicles and causing fungal acne. They can also be thick and heavy, making it difficult for the skin to breathe and exacerbating the issue. However, squalane oil, for example, is safe to use oil as it is non-comedogenic and won’t clog the skin.
- Fatty acids such as oleic acid, linoleic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid, and lauric acid
These fatty acids can provide a food source for the yeast that causes fungal acne, making it easy for the yeast to multiply and thrive.
- Esters such as Isopropyl Palmitate and Glyceryl Stearate
Esters are made up of fatty acids and alcohols and can provide a source of nutrition for the fungus Malassezia, which is responsible for causing fungal acne.
- Synthetic oils
Synthetic oils such as Isopropyl myristate and Isopropyl palmitate can be comedogenic, meaning they can clog the pores and cause breakouts.
- Silicones, such as dimethicone, cyclopentasiloxane and cyclohexasiloxane.
Silicones can create a barrier on the skin that can trap bacteria and yeast, leading to clogged pores and fungal overgrowth.
- Butter, such as shea butter and cocoa butter
Butters are heavy and may clog your pores, creating an environment for yeast to thrive.
- Synthetic fragrances
Synthetic fragrances can cause skin irritation and trigger fungal overgrowth. They can also be a common cause of contact dermatitis, which can further exacerbate fungal acne.
- Natural fragrances:
Natural fragrances, such as essential oils and botanical extracts, can be very potent and irritate the skin, causing inflammation and triggering fungal overgrowth. Common natural fragrances to avoid include lavender oil, lemon oil, and eucalyptus oil. Also, avoid limonene and linalool which are two common natural fragrances that are often added to skincare products and can be irritating for those with fungal acne.
- Alcohol, such as ethanol and isopropyl alcohol
Alcohol can dry out the skin and makes oiliness worse. This can lead to fungal acne breakouts and skin irritation.
- Sulfates, such as sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate
Sulfates can strip the skin of its natural oils, causing dryness and making it more susceptible to fungal overgrowth. They can also irritate the skin and cause inflammation, further exacerbating fungal acne.
- Essential oils, such as tea tree oil and lavender oil
Essential oils, such as tea tree oil and lavender oil, have the potential to both help and harm those with fungal acne. While some essential oils have antimicrobial properties that can help combat fungal overgrowth, they can also be very potent and irritate the skin, causing inflammation and triggering fungal overgrowth in some individuals. It’s important to use essential oils with caution and under the guidance of a dermatologist and to patch-test new products containing essential oils before using them on a larger area of the skin.
- Polyethylene glycol (PEG) compounds
Polyethylene glycol (PEG) compounds are commonly found in a variety of skincare products, such as cleansers, moisturizers, and sunscreens. They can strip the skin of its natural oils, making it more susceptible to fungal overgrowth. Some specific PEG compounds that may be listed on skincare product labels include:
- PEG-100 stearate
- PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil
- PEG-75 lanolin
- PEG-150 distearate
- PEG-200 hydrogenated glyceryl palmate
It’s important to note that not all PEG compounds are problematic, and some can even be beneficial for the skin. However, if you are trying to avoid PEGs due to fungal acne, it’s best to look for products that do not contain any PEG compounds or use alternative ingredients that are less likely to irritate the skin.
- Surfactants such as laureth-4, laureth-23 and Oleth-3 and -10
Surfactants can disrupt the skin’s natural barrier and increase the risk of fungal overgrowth. They can also be drying, stripping away the skin’s natural oils and creating a perfect environment for fungal overgrowth. It’s best to avoid these ingredients if you have fungal acne.
Lanolin is a type of waxy substance that is derived from sheep’s wool. It is often used as an emollient in skin care products and can help to soothe and moisturize the skin. However, it can also be comedogenic, meaning that it can clog pores, which can lead to fungal overgrowth and the development of fungal acne. For this reason, it’s best to avoid lanolin if you have fungal acne.
It’s important to note that these ingredients may not trigger fungal acne in everyone and that the severity of symptoms can vary from person to person. Some people may also find that they can tolerate certain ingredients that others cannot.
What ingredients should I look for to help combat fungal acne?
Some ingredients that can be beneficial for treating fungal acne include:
- Niacinamide: This form of Vitamin B3 has anti-inflammatory properties that can help soothe irritated skin and reduce the redness associated with fungal acne. It can also help to regulate the production of sebum, reducing oiliness and helping to prevent fungal overgrowth.
- Zinc pyrithione: Zinc pyrithione is an antifungal and antibacterial agent which is used for treating dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis. It can also be used as an effective treatment for fungal acne as it helps to reduce inflammation and dryness associated with fungal acne and can also help to speed up healing.
- Witch Hazel: This natural astringent helps to reduce oil production, which can be a trigger for fungal acne. It also has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Tea Tree Oil: Despite its potent nature, tea tree oil can be beneficial for fungal acne. Its antifungal and antibacterial properties can help to kill yeast and prevent fungal overgrowth. However, it can be irritating to the skin, so it’s important to use it sparingly.
- Salicylic Acid: This exfoliating acid can help to unclog pores and remove dead skin cells, which can reduce the risk of fungal overgrowth. It’s also anti-inflammatory and has antibacterial properties.
- Azelaic Acid: This naturally occurring acid has antimicrobial properties and can help to reduce the redness associated with fungal acne. It can also regulate sebum production and has anti-inflammatory properties.
- Lactic Acid: also helps to unclog pores and remove dead skin cells, preventing the buildup of oils and bacteria.
- Glycolic Acid: Glycolic acid is an effective acne treatment due to its strong exfoliating and moisturizing properties. It clears pores by removing excess oils and debris, and helps maintain healthy skin by replenishing moisture.
- Sulfur: Sulfur is a natural antiseptic and antibacterial that can help to reduce the risk of fungal overgrowth. It also has anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Caprylic Acid: This fatty acid has antifungal properties that can help to reduce the risk of fungal overgrowth. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and can help to regulate sebum production.
It’s important to keep in mind that everyone’s skin is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. It’s also important to patch-test new products and to talk to a dermatologist before trying any new ingredients.
Which acid is best for fungal acne?
Azelaic Acid is one of the best acids for treating fungal acne due to its antimicrobial properties and ability to reduce redness and regulate sebum production. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and it’s suitable for sensitive skin. It is not as harsh as other acids and it’s less likely to cause irritation.
Is aloe vera good for fungal acne?
Aloe vera may be beneficial for fungal acne in some cases. Aloe vera has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, which can help reduce redness and soothe the skin. However, it is important to note that everyone’s skin is unique and what works for one person may not work for another. It’s best to patch-test any new products before using them all over your face and to speak with a dermatologist if you have concerns.
Does hyaluronic acid help fungal acne?
Hyaluronic acid is a humectant that can help hydrate and retain moisture in the skin. It doesn’t have specific antifungal properties, but it can improve the overall health and appearance of the skin. It is normally a good choice for people with acne-prone skin, as it can help to reduce the risk of irritation and inflammation. However, everyone’s skin is different so it’s best to patch-test any new products before using them all over your face.
A Customized Skincare Regimen to Help Combat and Prevent Fungal Acne
Creating a customized skincare regimen to combat and prevent fungal acne can help you get the best results. Your routine should include cleansers, moisturizers, and treatments designed to target the underlying causes of fungal acne. Here are some suggestions for your skincare routine:
1. Cleanse: Use a gentle, non-comedogenic and pH-balanced cleanser formulated for acne-prone skin to remove dirt and oil from your face. Look for a cleanser with antifungal and antibacterial properties, such as tea tree oil or salicylic acid.
2. Treat: Apply a product containing azelaic acid or niacinamide twice daily to help improve the appearance of fungal acne. Be sure to patch-test any new products before applying them all over your face.
3. Moisturize: Use a light and non-comedogenic moisturizer to keep your skin hydrated and healthy. Look for moisturizers containing hyaluronic acid, which can help to retain moisture without clogging pores.
4. Protect: Use sunscreen of at least SPF 30 during the day to protect your skin from damaging UV rays.
By following a customized skincare regimen, you can help combat and prevent fungal acne breakouts. As always, it’s important to speak with a dermatologist if you have any concerns about your skin.