We’ve all been there: You wake up first thing in the morning, minding your own business, and WHAM! You look in the mirror and discover the first sign of a breakout.
You might be tempted to apply acne-fighting ingredients to help exfoliate, reduce oil and fight bacteria. Seems logical, right?
Not so fast. Although it sounds intuitive to slather on every skincare product you own—hey, that’s what they’re there for, right?—combating those pesky little red dots the ol’ fashioned way is sometimes *not* the answer. The culprit? In this case, it might be fungal acne.
Conventional acne, and even hormonal breakouts, are triggered by a bacterial infection (aka, not fungus). But fungal acne rarely responds to traditional over-the-counter acne products because it has to be treated differently. Even though it resembles bacterial acne, it’s actually caused by an overgrowth of the natural yeast on your skin, called malassezia. Increased levels of yeast on your skin can be triggered by a moist environment (hello, sweaty workouts!) or a decrease of natural bacteria, which usually keeps yeast in check.
So, now that you’re aware of this added complication to your life (you’re welcome), how can you tell the difference between the two so you can get that freakin’ thing off your face?!
I’ve got your back.
Although the two are eerily similar, there are a few distinctions to keep in mind:
- Fungal acne is more uniform in shape, usually about one millimeter in size.
- Fungal acne often appears as red or while bumps that can be pus-filled, but they never typically come to a head. So, don’t attempt to pop them!
- Fungal acne can show up on your face, but is more common on your chest, shoulders and back. Bonus: they’re typically grouped in clusters (yay).
- Fungal acne tends to be itchy, unlike bacterial acne, which is more painful.
Think your acne struggles might be caused by yeast overgrowth instead of bacteria? Don’t panic! Here are a few ways to prevent and treat fungal acne.
1. Add sulfur.
No surprise here, sulfur has always been a tried-and-true remedy for acne—but it never gets the love and attention it deserves compared to more common ingredients (lookin’ at you, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide). Here’s why we heart it so much: sulfur is one of the only acne-fighting ingredients that treats both bacterial and fungal breakouts. Mhm, big deal. That being said, try adding Versed Game Over Acne Drying Treatment with 20% sulfur, or Indie Lee Banish Solution with colloidal sulfur and salicylic acid. You’ll thank us later.
2. Consider cleansing with a dandruff shampoo.
Ever heard of ketoconazole? It’s an over-the-counter topical antifungal treatment in percentages of 1%, typically found in dandruff shampoo. Try incorporating this ingredient into your routine by cleansing affected areas with Nizoral, which contains 1% ketoconazole, a few times a week. You can also try Head and Shoulders or Selsun Blue, which both contain either pyrithione zinc or selenium sulfide—two ingredients that keep the overgrowth of yeast to a minimum.
3. Keep up with exfoliating.
Because fungal acne starts in the hair follicles, it’s important to continue to exfoliate and keep those hair follicles from trapping in fungus and causing the breakouts. Use a good exfoliating serum like our Multitasker Night Serum and consider adding in exfoliating wipes such as Pixi Beauty Glow Peel Pads with 20% glycolic acid. Specifically, use these products either before or after workouts, as moist environments can worsen this condition. You can either swipe on The Multitasker before workouts or use an exfoliating peel pad after to keep sweat from settling into your hair follicles and causing breakouts.
If your breakouts aren’t improving within three weeks, it’s time to see your dermatologist. Sometimes fungal infections in the hair follicle can be difficult to treat with topicals alone. In this case, your doctor will prescribe an oral medication that could help. Recurrence of fungal acne is common, so continuing to periodically use the dandruff shampoo as a cleanser is a good way to keep it from coming back.
Bottom line? The worst thing you can do with fungal acne is mistake it for bacterial acne, because conventional acne treatments can worsen fungal acne. When in doubt, see your dermatologist for a correct diagnosis and plan of treatment.