Fungal acne is one of our worst nightmares. As though acne itself isn’t already bad enough, the word ‘fungal’ added to it makes it sound so much scarier.
We’ve certainly managed to scare ourselves a few times in our life by overthinking that we’ve developed fungal acne, when it was actually normal acne all along. (And luckily for us, we’ve already got a guide to treat acne too.)
So, what exactly is fungal acne, and what causes it? How do you treat it, and what kind of ingredients should you be looking at?
If you’ve been looking for answers to these questions, go ahead and keep reading, as we’ve already gathered all the information you might need about fungal acne – including a list of products you should get on your radar.
What is fungal acne?
While fungal acne looks like pimples, you might be surprised to know that fungal acne is not technically acne at all. It isn’t a classification of that pesky skin condition we’re all familiar with.
Instead, it is a skin condition called pityrosporum folliculitis or malassezia folliculitis. It is caused by an overgrowth of yeast in the hair follicle, which leads to breakouts, itching, and skin irritation.
The breakouts look like acne and are often pink and occasionally have a whitehead. If you spot whiteheads or blackheads that are about a millimetre large, it is likely that is fungal.
Fungal acne usually shows up on the face, chest, back, or upper arms, but you can basically develop fungal acne anywhere that you have hair.
What causes fungal acne?
There are a few known causes of fungal acne, so if you are aware of them, you could lessen the chance of developing them.
Here are the common causes of fungal acne:
- Heat and humidity: It is known that yeast multiplies quickly in hot, sweaty places. Unfortunately, since we live in a hot and humid climate, we are more likely to experience fungal acne.
- Sweat: Yeast thrives in moist environments with excessive sweat, so it’s best to change out of those gym clothes once you’re done exercising. You should also avoid tight, synthetic fabrics as those can also increase your risk of developing fungal acne.
- Antibiotics: Yeasts on our skin are common as they are part of our microbiome, and they’re not usually a problem. However, long-term use of topical and/or oral acne antibiotics can cause fungal acne to occur. This is because the normal skin flora is wiped out, causing the yeast to flourish.
- Underlying conditions: If you’ve got any medical condition that causes the suppression of the immune system such as HIV infection, you might be at higher risk to develop fungal acne. This is because your body cannot control yeast overgrowth.
How to treat fungal acne
To properly treat fungal acne, you’re going to have to restore the balance between yeast and bacteria on the skin.
However, there are a few misconceptions surrounding how to treat fungal acne, but we’ll go over what you can do to fight the fungus and some tips on what to avoid.
Fungal acne tends to be mistreated as it often gets mistaken for regular acne. But anti-acne treatments do not work on them.
One popularly misused product on fungal acne is adapalene, which is a retinoid that works to stop pimples from forming under the surface of the skin.
Differin gel, which contains adapalene, is also often used to treat acne. But since we’ve already covered that fungal acne isn’t the same as regular acne, these products won’t work to cure your fungal acne.
There is limited evidence on whether diet changes alone can tackle fungal acne, but you can still go on an antifungal diet as there is some truth to an antifungal diet reducing yeast in the long term.
By going on an antifungal diet, you are reducing or eliminating foods that promote yeast growth or foods that contain yeast.
Unfortunately, this means you might need to stay away from sugar, white-flour products, vinegar, mushrooms, beer, and wine. Some antifungal diets also recommend cutting out dairy together.
Lifestyle choices to make
Some simple lifestyle choices you can make to combat fungal acne involve taking more showers and wearing looser clothes.
We’ve already established that they love hot and humid environments, so showering will help wash away the excess yeast that may have started growing.
Meanwhile looser clothes will help your skin get proper circulation and encourage balanced bacterial and fungal growth.
Skincare ingredients: What to look for & avoid
You must be very careful about what you put on your skin when you have fungal acne, so you should read the ingredients list of your skincare products very carefully.
Ingredients to avoid
Unfortunately, there are a lot of common skincare ingredients that can exacerbate fungal acne.
The skincare ingredients you’re going to want to avoid are as follows:
- Fatty acids i.e. lauric acid, myristic acid, tridecylic acid, palmitic acid, stearic acid, oleic acid, linoleic acid
- Shea butter, cocoa seed butter, avocado oil, castor oil
- Polysorbate 20, 40, 60, 80
- Hydrogenated castor oil
- Amino acids
- White petroleum
- Polyglyceryl-2 triisostearate
- Subordinate isostearate
- Glyceryl stearate
- Fermented ingredients
Ingredients to look for
On the flip side, there are some ingredients in our skincare list that help fight the fungus, and some of them you’ve likely got on hand already.
The skincare ingredients you’re going to want to look for are as follows:
- Zinc pyrithione
- Selenium sulphide
- Tea tree oil
- Honey/Propolis extract
- Green tea extract
- Salicylic acid (BHA)
Fungal acne-safe products
Etude House Soon Jung pH 6.5 Whip Cleanser
This cleanser has a slightly acidic formula to protect the skin’s moisture barrier while cleansing.
Free of potential irritants like fragrance, artificial colour, and parabens, this cleanser produces a mild foam that is gentle on the skin.
It retails for S$20.
Glow Recipe Blueberry Bounce Gentle Cleanser
This is a gentle, pore-refining cleanser that can remove makeup with minimal rubbing.
Your skin is left clear, radiant, and glowy as the cleanser is packed with antioxidants that protect the skin against environmental stressors.
It retails for S$16.
Simple Kind to Skin Refreshing Facial Gel Wash
This facial wash contains skin-loving ingredients such as vitamin E, which helps to protect your skin from pollution and reduce hyperpigmentation.
It also thoroughly washes away makeup, dirt, and other impurities – all while leaving your skin feeling clean and fresh.
It retails for S$13.90.
Eau Thermale Avène Thermal Spring Water Spray
This toner only has two ingredients: thermal spring water and nitrogen. Therefore, it is highly unlikely to irritate your skin.
It has a neutral pH which reduces sensitivity and restores skin balance.
It retails for S$53 for a pack of two.
COSRX Centella Water Alcohol-Free Toner
Containing centella asiatica leaf water, this toner gives stressed-out and irritated skin much-needed relief.
There are other hydrating ingredients such as panthenol and allantoin to give your skin that extra boost of hydration.
It retails for S$26.28.
Innisfree Jeju Cherry Blossom Skin
We’re reminded of springtime with the Innisfree Jeju Cherry Blossom Skin. Containing natural betaine, the toner creates a barrier to prevent dehydration.
The Jeju cherry blossom leaf extract brightens the skin too, leaving your face looking clear and radiant.
It retails for S$20.
A'pieu Madecassoside Cream
Although it’s called madecassoside cream, there is only 0.1% of the ingredient in this moisturiser. It is formulated with 40% centella asiatica leaf water, which soothes irritated skin while repairing skin damage.
Niacinamide also brightens the skin while witch hazel extract and panthenol keep the skin hydrated.
It retails for S$39.
Dr. Jart+ Vital Hydra Solution Biome Water Cream
A hydrating gel-type cream, this refreshing moisturiser provides a cooling sensation due to the presence of eucalyptus leaf oil.
Using a combination of prebiotics and hyaluronic acid, it enhances the skin’s ability to retain and lock in moisture.
It retails for S$48.
Sebamed Clear Face Care Gel
With a pH value of 5.5, this gel strengthens your skin’s natural acid mantle, thereby providing biological protection from bacteria-causing acne.
Hyaluronic acid and natural aloe are present to provide moisture to the skin while allantoin and panthenol make it soft and supple.
It retails for S$19.60.
Missha All Around Safe Block Essence Sun Milk SPF50+
Pay extra attention when purchasing this product, because there are other versions of Missha Sun Milk, like Soft Finish or Waterproof, which are not safe for fungal acne.
The essence sunscreen offers complete protection from harmful UVA and UVB rays. It also provides moisture and nourishment to the skin using four different flower extracts.
It retails for S$33.80.
Neogen Day-Light Protection Airy Sunscreen SPF50+
Packed with 20 kinds of plant extracts, K-beauty brand Neogen’s sunscreen is lightweight, fast-absorbing, and it helps to control sebum production.
Be careful when purchasing this product too as there is a non-airy version of this sunscreen that is not safe for fungal acne.
It retails for S$55.
Fungal acne treatments
This cream contains ketoconazole which is the magic ingredient in defeating fungal acne as it lowers levels of fungus on the skin.
All you have to do is apply a thin film of the cream onto the affected area. Keep applying it every day until the area is fully healed.
It retails for S$35.90.
Nizoral Ketoconazole 2% Shampoo
Surprised to see an anti-dandruff shampoo as a fungal acne treatment option? Well, it works because the shampoo contains ketoconazole as an active ingredient.
Substitute your regular cleanser or body wash for this shampoo. Lather up and wash the affected skin with it.
It retails for S$25.20.
Selsun Blue Pro-X Extra Strength Shampoo
Instead of ketoconazole, this anti-dandruff shampoo contains 1% of selenium sulfide, which is another fungal-fighting ingredient.
This also has menthol added to it, if you’re a fan of that tingly, cooling sensation.
It retails for S$12.90.