As if there aren’t enough question marks surrounding acne, it turns out that what you think is acne might not be!
Yep. There’s this thing called fungal acne that looks a whole lot like a typical breakout but is actually completely unrelated. Misleading name, right?
Technically, it’s referred to as pityrosporum folliculitis or malassezia folliculitis. But I’m gonna stick with fungal acne because pronouncing scientific names is not my strong suit. (Did anyone else just gloss over those words instead of trying to sound them out? Just me?)
Even more obnoxious, fungal acne requires different treatment than your everyday zit, so identifying your breakouts is actually pretty important.
What Is Fungal Acne?
Your commonplace Acne Vulgaris (vulgaris literally meaning ‘common’) needs bacteria to develop. Fungal acne thrives on yeast, which, yes, is a fungus.
Here’s the sitch. It’s totally normal for yeast to just hang out on your skin. It’s balanced by the normal bacteria that are chilling out there too. If there’s an imbalance for some reason, and the yeast growth gets out of control, it can extend into your pores and cause an infection that looks a whole lot like whiteheads.
So like...a yeast infection on your skin? Precisely.
Fungal Acne Causes
The bacteria-yeast imbalance can happen for a variety of reasons.
Maybe you’re on an antibiotic that ends up killing good bacteria along with the bad (which they commonly do). Without good bacteria to police your skin’s flora, yeast has permission to run rampant. (This can also happen if your skin’s pH is off balance).
If your immune system has taken a hit, whether because of a medical condition or a recent operation, your skin microbiome could be thrown out of whack, leading to fungal acne.
But your fungal acne could also be the result of tight, sweaty clothes, similar to acne mechanica. Think an ill-fitting sports bra, or lounging in your activewear long after spin class is over.
Fungal Acne Symptoms
Fungal acne and bacterial acne are two heads on the same beast, but how can you tell the difference?
Fungal acne looks like whiteheads, but they don’t actually form a head. They are usually more inflamed than typical zits and surrounded by redness.
You’ll rarely have fungal acne on your face. It’s more commonly found on your back, chest, and shoulders.
But the biggest symptom that sets it apart from your average breakout is itchiness. Fungal acne is crazy itchy. Not your typical, “this zit is a little dry and scratchy,” but a more serious, “omg I have to scratch this right now and forever or I’ll die.”
You should know that fungal acne is frequently mistaken for regular acne, making it difficult to eradicate. If you think your skin concerns are fungal, ask your doctor to specifically test for yeast presence so you can get it taken care of.
Fungal Acne Treatment
Another difference between bacterial and fungal acne is the way they are treated.
A glaring sign that you’re dealing with a fungal situation is that your regular acne treatment isn’t working, like, at all. Zit fighting ingredients target bacteria, which are not an issue with fungal acne. Your best bet is to chat with your doctor about your options. They’ll likely prescribe or suggest some kind of antifungal cream or medication.
Dermatologist Richard M. Rubenstein, explains that oral antifungals work hard and fast to solve your problem, providing the most rapid improvement. The yeast infection is so deep within the pores that topical options aren’t always effective.
If you want to go the topical, over-the-counter route, an antifungal soap or shampoo with sulfur might be helpful. That translates to your typical dandruff shampoo. (Did you know that dandruff is triggered by fungus?!)
Just make sure that you’re not using an antibiotic. Like I mentioned earlier, a lack of healthy bacteria is part of the problem causing fungal acne. An antibiotic will continue to kill bacteria and make your fungus problem worse.
Fungal Acne Prevention
So you’ve discovered you’re prone to fungal acne, and you want to prevent it instead of constantly treating it. Way to be proactive; go you!
- Try to avoid taking antibiotics, which disrupt the natural microbiome of your skin.
Counteract the negative effects of antibiotics with a healthy diet full of probiotics (Greek yogurt is a great start).
- Up your hygiene game. Yeast loves a hot, moist environment. Change out of your gym clothes following your workout, and shower right after any sweat-inducing activity.
- Add an antifungal soap to your regular washing routine.
Sometimes fungal acne is inevitable. The good news is that if you identify and treat it early on, you can move past it and focus on more important things. Like willing a Friends revival into fruition.