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Fungal Acne Explained: Proven Ways to Treat and Prevent Malassezia

Most people experience bacterial acne at least once in their life. It can be caused by hormones, diet, or even the environment. But what if you have fungal acne? What does fungal acne look like? Is there a fungal acne treatment? And what is fungal acne, anyway?

Keep reading to learn the facts about fungal acne vs bacterial acne. You can learn the causes and treatments of this particular form of acne and learn how to care for your own symptoms.

So, what is fungal acne? Fungal acne, or Malassezia folliculitis, is caused by Malassezia furfur, a yeast-like fungus that has evolved to live on human skin. It exists on the surface of every human’s skin, and it can cause issues like dandruff, eczema, and dermatitis, among other skin conditions.

This fungus is not the same fungus that causes athlete’s foot, which infects the skin and nails of the feet. Malassezia lives on the surface of the skin, though it can cause inflammatory responses such as folliculitis, acne, and dandruff. 

Though the fungus lives on the surface of the skin, some people who have weakened immune systems or sensitivity issues experience more allergic reactions than most. The most common reaction to this fungus is excessive itchiness, and a common response is inflamed and sore follicles that cause eczema, acne, or dandruff on the skin and scalp.

If you have acne, you may not know which kind you have. What does fungal acne look like? Fungal acne looks a lot like bacterial acne and can sometimes be misdiagnosed. The things to look for are:

  • Uniform red bumps and/or pustules
  • Bumps on the chest, upper arms, or back
  • Bumps that do not come to a head
  • Bumps that are extremely itchy

If you suffer from acne but the normal treatments aren’t working, you may have fungal acne. Talk to your medical professional so they can test your acne and determine if you have acne caused by the Malassezia fungus. 

Malassezia normally lives on the skin with other bacteria. Bacteria and fungus on the human body live together in harmony until something displaces the balance. 

For example, taking antibiotics can kill a lot of the bacteria on your skin. This leaves room for the fungus to grow out of control. When the Malassezia yeast grows out of control, it can enter the hair follicles on the scalp, chest, upper arms, and back.

There are a few other factors that can increase the risk of developing fungal acne:

  • Wearing workout gear multiple times between washing
  • Living in a hot and humid environment
  • Wearing tight, non-breathable clothing

Yeast grows best in warm, humid environments. If you wear dirty workout clothes or tight clothes you sweat in for long periods of time, the yeast can grow too fast and enter the hair follicles.

When Malassezia enters the follicles, it causes allergic reactions like itchy, red bumps. Once the hair follicles are inflamed and bumps have formed, the body has fungal acne. 

One of the key differences between fungal acne vs bacterial acne is the source. Fungal acne is caused by Malassezia yeast, which lives on the skin. Bacterial acne is caused by Propionibacterium acnes bacteria, which lives in the base of the oil glands in the hair follicles. 

Whereas Malassezia can grow out of control and cause folliculitis by infecting hair follicles, bacterial acne can be caused by a host of different things. Some of the causes of bacterial acne include:

Treating bacterial acne is a balance of finding what’s right for your skin and lifestyle. Some people can control their acne by eating a diet rich in vitamins A and E. Others change their makeup routines. Some people take acne medication prescribed by their doctor to keep breakouts under control. 

Fungal acne requires different treatment than bacterial acne. Look at some fungal acne treatment options below.

There are a few known treatments that soothe inflamed hair follicles and help control the overgrowth of the Malassezia yeast. If you have a breakout, the following fungal acne treatment options may help:

  • Dandruff shampoo: Certain dandruff shampoos contain pyrithione zinc or selenium sulfide. These ingredients are antifungal agents that can help control yeast overgrowth. Some people have reported that they use dandruff shampoo as a body wash to help control fungal acne.
  • Topical antifungal creams: There are creams and oils that have antifungal agents to control fungal acne. Certain agents like benzoyl peroxide, ketoconazole, econazole nitrate, and clotrimazole are found in athlete’s foot cream and have been successful for some people.
  • Oral systemic antifungal medication: Some fungal acne infections are deep, and topical treatment isn’t as effective. If the topical treatments aren’t working, your doctor may prescribe you an oral antifungal medication to treat the acne systematically. If you have a weakened immune system or have to take regular rounds of antibiotics or glucocorticoids, then you may be susceptible to fungal acne breakouts. Once you find a treatment that works for you, keep it on hand so you can quickly treat breakouts. 

If you don’t find a treatment that works for you, talk to your medical provider or a dermatologist. They may be able to prescribe a treatment that’s tailored to your specific needs. 

Malassezia lives on our skin, and you may experience fungal acne a few times in your lifetime due to antibiotics or other factors that can increase the chance of developing fungal acne. 

Prevention is key when it comes to acne. Acne breakouts, both fungal and bacterial, can be painful and irritating. Take a look at your lifestyle and your daily habits. If you notice that you have acne-inducing habits you can change, doing so may reduce the frequency of your fungal acne breakouts. 

Try these preventive tips to keep fungal acne at bay:

  • Keep your skin clean
  • Wash workout clothes regularly between uses
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing so your skin can breathe
  • Change your clothes daily and shower multiple times a week
  • Avoid taking antibiotics unless prescribed by a doctor for a specific illness
  • Use a fungal acne treatment every so often if you are susceptible
  • Moisturize your skin daily

Some people have great success with these fungal acne treatment options. For others, these tips may not work. Everybody’s skin is different. If you need to take antibiotics, you may have severe fungal acne breakouts because the antibiotics kill the bacteria living on your skin. You may need an antifungal treatment that only a doctor can prescribe. Be sure to bring your concerns to your medical provider if you are experiencing resistant fungal acne breakouts. 

It’s important to know what kind of acne you are experiencing. The differences between fungal acne and bacterial acne indicate what kind of treatment your body needs. 

Treating the two types of acne properly goes a long way toward healthy and happy skin. If you treat fungal acne with bacterial acne treatments, you may make the acne worse. Understanding the differences between the two types can help you find the right treatment faster so you can experience relief sooner. 

Use preventive measures like wearing loose clothing and washing your gym clothes between each use. If you are sensitive to fungal acne, keep some dandruff shampoo or antifungal cream in your medicine cabinet so you can treat it quickly and efficiently. 

Take care of your skin and find out what products work the best on it. If you can’t find relief for your fungal acne breakouts, then talk to a dermatologist or your doctor. They may have a treatment option that works better for you.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3380954/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4533528/

https://www.science.gov/topicpages/y/yeast+malassezia+sympodialis

https://www.science.gov/topicpages/m/malassezia

https://www.science.gov/topicpages/p/pathogenic+fungus+malassezia

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4198587/

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