Did you know that 95% of people experience acne before the age of 30? Maybe. But what if I told you that 27% of those people have fungal acne? Myself included. In fact, there was a time – not too long ago, actually – when I assumed that every passing glance from a stranger was an examination of the condition of my skin. Especially my T-zone. While these self-conscious thoughts went completely against my nature as a Leo (IYKYK), my insecurities were tied up with this commonly misconceived skin condition that I furiously battled for years.
Before I explain what fungal acne is, it’s worth addressing that the name is actually a misnomer. So, as unpalatable (to put it bluntly) as it may sound, ‘fungal acne’ is not exactly acne, but rather the colloquial term for the skin condition’s medical name, malassezia folliculitis or pityrosporum folliculitis (I know, I can’t pronounce them either). Now, seeing as we’re all introduced and on friendly terms, let’s get into the nitty-gritty details.
What is fungal acne?
‘Fungal acne is a skin condition that goes under-recognised and can often be confused with acne to the untrained eye, or it co-exists with acne, and a person has two simultaneous diagnoses,’ explains Anjali Mahto, medical and cosmetic consultant dermatologist. ‘It’s caused by a yeast that naturally lives on the skin, known as malassezia, and this fungus forms part of the skin’s natural microbiome.’
‘The yeast causes inflammation in the skin’s follicles, resulting in the occurrence of visible spots,’ says Stefanie Williams, cosmetic dermatologist and medical director of Eudelo. She explains that although fungal acne may look similar to ‘regular’ acne, often the latter has a white head of pus, whereas fungal acne is usually itchy. Medical and aesthetic dermatologist Alexis Granite adds that fungal acne also ‘tends to have a very uniform appearance – look for small red or flesh coloured bumps or pustules’. Basically, just as ‘regular’ acne – otherwise called acne vulgaris – is commonly caused by imbalanced hormone levels and bacteria, yeast is the main cause of fungal acne. This is why it won’t always respond to your regular blemish clearing products.
How do I treat fungal acne?
Oil, as we’ve established, can make the fungus flourish, seeing as that is what it mostly feeds off. So, perhaps unsurprisingly, sweating, trapped heat and humidity (which can be caused by non-breathable clothing) and friction are the most common causes, explains Dr Granite. ‘A moist environment, medications such as oral antibiotics or underlying medical conditions’ are also contributors, she adds. But the most common cause is often excess oil production – especially in oil-rich areas, such as the forehead, sides of the nose, chin and the upper back and chest. Throw into the mix all those lovely oil-rich beauty products we like to use, and the problem is bound to be exacerbated.
Basically, as a rule of thumb, it’s best to stick with products that have a water base rather than oil, so it may be worth double-checking your foundation, concealer and cleanser. Oh, and never re-wear workout gear without washing it first (no judgement, we’ve all been there).
When it comes to skincare, medical doctor and skincare specialist David Jack recommends that ‘cleansing twice daily is important, and using high-quality microbiome-boosting ingredients can help. This includes those used to optimise the pH of the skin, such as gentle alpha-hydroxy and poly-hydroxy acids (AHAs and PHAs), mandelic and lactic acid, and nourishing ingredients such as ceramides and hyaluronic acid.
Dr Jack also explains that ‘topical antifungals often prove to be the most effective way of treating fungal acne – these include ingredients such as ketoconazole and clotrimazole’. He continues, ‘Failing this, oral antifungals, such as fluconazole, are the next line of treatment.’ However, these would require a prescription from your doctor or dermatologist and, per Dr Jack’s recommendation, do seek professional medical advice if your at-home treatments aren’t working. ‘It’s important that a diagnosis and treatment plan is made by someone experienced in dealing with more complex skin conditions,’ he explains.
So, if, like me, you fall into the 27% of people who experience fungal acne, don’t stress – there’s lots that can be done to treat it. Start by checking out the routine on your right to see which skincare essentials will help stop flare-ups before they even start.
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