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.
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.
It can be hard to tell the difference between fungal and bacterial acne. Sometimes they look very similar.
Fungal acne presents as small red bumps that sometimes have white heads. They form in a cluster, so you’ll usually have a lot of little bumps in one spot. Your skin will look very red, inflamed and irritated.
Bacterial acne, on the other hand, comes in all sizes, from little whitehead to big cyst. While they can form in clusters, they don’t usually look identical or group together in one spot. It also comes with inflammation and redness.
So, is your acne fungal?
Left: Fungal acne, Right: Bacterial acne
Look at the placement. Fungal acne forms in different places on your body: chest, upper arms, shoulders. If it’s on your face, it’s generally going to be around your hair line, forehead or temples.
Bacterial breakouts can show up anywhere on your face and body and won’t necessarily be in a little cluster of identical spots.
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 a fungal breakout.
Wearing tight, sweaty clothing also causes fungal acne similar to acne mechanica. Think an ill-fitting sports bra, or lounging in your activewear long after spin class is over.
In some cases, you might be predisposed to getting fungal acne because of your genetic makeup. If you have oily skin or tend to sweat a lot, you’re at a higher risk of developing it.
With the addition of face masks into our everyday wardrobe, a lot of us are noticing an emergence of new skin concerns. The problem might be frustrating, but at least it has a cute name: Maskne.
Maskne occurs because your hot breath and spittle are trapped under your mask creating a little greenhouse effect for the lower part of your face. Wearing your mask all day perpetuates that warm, moist environment that’s very appealing for bacteria and fungi to grow.
Yes, that means your maskne could be a bacterial breakout or a fungal breakout. It’s important to figure out which so you can treat it correctly.
The most obvious symptom signaling you to a fungal acne breakout is the arrival of a grouping of red bumps with white heads.
The most uncomfortable symptom is the itch. Fungal acne causes crazy itchiness. 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.
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.
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!
Here's some tips for preventing pesky fungal breakouts:
Averr Aglow's Maskne Face Spray helps with maskne, whether it's fungal or bacterial!
Still have questions? We’ve got answers. Scroll through some of these frequently asked questions about fungal acne.
Fungal acne is very itchy! It’s the biggest different between fungal and bacterial breakouts. Pay attention to your itch. The sooner you begin treatment, the sooner it will heal.
It sure is! Yeast, the inciting fungus, is easily spread on contact. If you suspect a fungal acne breakout, try to keep the area isolated from other people or other parts of your body.
Fungal acne can spread on different parts of your body and even onto someone else. As we mentioned above, fungal acne is caused by yeast which is known for spreading. So keep your fungal acne to yourself!
While fungal acne can be pus-filled it isn’t always. As a general rule, you should avoid popping all types of acne since it could lead to scarring. Plus, your fingers might not be the cleanest when you go in for the big squeeze. Try to avoid popping fungal acne breakouts, especially since it won’t help them go away any faster.
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.