Whiteheads. Blackheads. Pustules. Cysts. They’re all different forms of acne and they develop when the hair follicles become clogged with oil and dead skin cells. That being said, not everything that looks like acne is all that it seems.
Folliculitis is an infection of the hair follicles, typically caused by bacteria. When the infection is caused by Malessezia (pityrosporum) furfur yeast, however, it’s called fungal folliculitis or fungal acne. Though “fungal acne” isn’t a term dermatologists typically use, the condition does look remarkably similar to regular acne.
In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at fungal acne to determine what it is, what causes it, and how you can treat it at home.
What Causes Fungal Acne?
If you struggle with facial acne but find that it isn’t responding to traditional acne treatments, it might not be acne at all. Fungal acne is a condition that presents with similar symptoms but has an entirely different cause, as well as a different method of treatment.
Fungal acne is an overgrowth of yeast within the hair follicles. In the same way that traditional acne develops when the hair follicles become plugged with sebum, dead skin cells, and bacteria, fungal acne occurs when yeast enters the equation. Malessezia (pityrosporum) furfur yeast is naturally found on the skin but when it becomes clogged in the hair follicles it causes inflammation known as folliculitis.
Yeast tends to grow in warm, moist environments so fungal acne flare-ups are most likely to occur during the summer. They can also happen in the aftermath of antibiotic and steroid treatments. Typical acne treatments help purge the skin of excess bacteria, but that just turns your skin into an ideal environment for yeast to proliferate.
Wearing tight or sweaty clothing for too long can also contribute to fungal acne. Non-breathable clothing and clothes that are wet from sweat create a warm, moist environment in which yeast can thrive.
What Does It Look Like?
Fungal acne looks very similar to a typical acne flare-up. It causes breakouts of small, uniform red bumps rising from the hair follicles. These breakouts tend to be symmetrical, occurring most often on the forehead and the upper chest and back. It can form on the face, but it’s less common.
The key difference between fungal acne and traditional bacterial acne is that the breakouts do not vary in size. They’re generally only around a millimeter in size and can look like either whiteheads or blackheads. Fungal acne doesn’t cause nodules, pustules, or cystic lesions.
Another difference is that fungal acne breakouts can be itchy. They’re not typically painful, as bacterial acne can sometimes be when the infected follicle becomes inflamed.
Fungal acne is typically diagnosed by evaluating the appearance of the breakout and other clinical symptoms. Lack of improvement with regular acne treatments can help confirm, but the most certain means of confirmation is to do a skin scraping for yeast.
At-Home Tips for Treatment
The most important thing to remember about treating fungal acne is that it’s not caused by clogged hair follicles – it’s a fungal infection, so it won’t respond to traditional acne treatments. Over-the-counter acne treatments typically contain anti-inflammatory and antibacterial agents but what you really need for fungal folliculitis is an anti-yeast or antifungal treatment.
If your infection is mild, the following at-home remedies might help:
- Use skincare products rich in antifungal essential oils like thyme and lavender in your home care regimen.
- Apply a soothing skin cream to help counter inflammation and redness.
- You may find it helpful to use an anti-dandruff shampoo on the parts of your body that are affected. Anti-dandruff shampoo contains zinc pyrithione, an antifungal ingredient. Make sure to let it sit on your skin for at least a minute before rinsing it off.
- Apply a topical antifungal or anti-yeast cream to the affected area.
- Regularly and gently cleanse and exfoliate your skin to keep the accumulation of dead skin cells and excess oil under control. Try a gentle body exfoliator like Gommage Doux Silhouette.
- Keep Eau Micellaire in your gym bag to cleanse and refresh your skin after a workout. Use on cotton rounds and wipe the area clean.
Fungal acne often occurs in waves, flaring up from time to time between periods of remission. If you’re experiencing frequent or prolonged bouts of fungal folliculitis, it’s best to address the issue with your doctor or dermatologist. In addition to topical antifungal treatments, your doctor might recommend an oral antifungal medication.
As you’re treating your fungal acne, it’s important to take proper care of your skin. This condition can cause itching and inflammation that might be exacerbated by certain skincare products or cosmetics.
If you’re concerned that your skincare regimen might be making your problems worse, stop in to a local Yon-Ka Paris partner spa for a skin analysis. While an esthetician may not be licensed to treat medical conditions like fungal acne, a Yon-Ka Paris professional may be able to help you adjust your skincare routine to help manage or relieve symptoms (e.g. skin that is red, irritated, dry, etc).