What is fungal acne? This is all you need to know, and how to banish it for good

Ever heard of fungal acne? If you haven't, it's something you should know about. While people often attribute 'acne' to hormonal changes like puberty and pregnancy, it can actually be caused by a whole array of reasons, and affect men and women of all ages. One such lesser known cause of the common skin condition is a fungal infection. Yes, it sounds unpleasant but it's actually more prevalent than you may think and, luckily, easier to treat than many other causes. 

So, how does it happen? And more importantly, in what ways can it be treated? We've called upon the skin experts to explain everything you need to know about fungal acne, as well as the best ways to treat it.

What is fungal acne?

“Fungal acne, also known as pityrosporum folliculitis, is caused by an overgrowth of superficial yeast,” explains Dr. Dendy Engelman, celebrity dermatologist and board certified dermatologic surgeon. “Many people make the mistake of thinking it's caused by bacteria, which often leads to misdiagnosis and mistreatment.”

Yeast is found in everyone's skin – fungal acne occurs simply because the yeast grows too much or becomes imbalanced in some way. “It's often seen along the hair line, or around the chest – anywhere that gets sweaty is more prone as yeast love hot, moist environments,” says Dr Engelman. “For that reason, it's also more common in summer when the weather is hotter, and in people who like saunas and steam rooms.”

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How do I know if I have it?

Fungal acne can easily be mistaken for common acne, but there are some key differences. “Firstly, the chest and back are common sites of fungal acne – it can affect the face, but less frequently,” says Dr Justine Hextall, FRCP Consultant Dermatologist. “With acne, the skin lesions are associated with whiteheads and blackheads and appear at different stages of evolution, but with yeast folliculitis, the spots often all look very similar and appear in crops.” And crucially, the spots with fungal acne are often very itchy, whereas common acne is often more on the sore side.

What makes someone at risk of developing it?

If you've taken antibiotics recently – which eliminates bacteria and disturbs the yeast balance on your skin – this makes you more at risk of developing fungal acne. It also thrives on humidity and sweat, so if you've been wearing tight, non-breathable gym gear lately and noticed some itchy bumps, it could well be fungal acne.

How is fungal acne treated?

This depends on the severity of your breakout and can only be determined by visiting your GP or a dermatologist, who may prescribe anti-fungal medication. “Ciclopirox and Ketoconazole are two prescription medications that you can applying topically to treat fungal acne,” says Dr Engelman.

However, there are other treatments you can try without having to see a doctor. “Always make sure you wash your body and clothes after the gym,” advises Dr Hextall, “and try a mild antiseptic wash or a salicylic body wash, which can help to reduce build up in skin follicles”.

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For another readily available option, Dr Engelman recommends dandruff shampoos. “It sounds strange, but many dandruff shampoos contain selenium, which also treats fungal acne. Apply the shampoo to the affected area on your body and leave it on for five minutes before washing it off in the shower.”

It's also worth switching up your skincare regime to include products with ingredients like Tea Tree oil and Witch Hazel. Both ingredients are naturally antibacterial and anti-microbial, and can help to inhibit the growth of the underlying overgrowth of yeast. Other than that, it also helps to shower more regularly when you have symptoms so for instance if you shower once a day, make that two if you can. 

Wearing loose, breathable clothes  instead of tight things also helps as your skin get proper circulation and encourage balanced bacterial and fungal growth. 

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About the Author: Tung Chi