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The Different Kind of Breakout: Fungal Acne

By Megan Griffith

Reviewed for medical accuracy by Dr. Jaggi Rao,
MD, FRCPC Double board-certified dermatologist

Have you recently experienced a sudden bout of acne and are wondering why no specialized acne-fighting products are helping your case? Are you blaming the inadequacy of the products, or even  worse – your own bad luck? That may simply be because you do not have regular zits, but are instead suffering from acne of the fungal kind1.

Fungal acne
Fungal acne is a skin condition which has the tendency to persist for years if not treated properly with the right products.

What in the world is that?

The good news is that if this is what you are dealing with, then you are not really suffering from acne! Instead, you may have developed a yeast infection called Pityrosporum Folliculitis. Despite its complicated, science-y name, this is simply a non-serious inflammation of your hair follicles. Just like yeast infections by your genitals, it is the result of the yeast present on your skin. Indeed, while we are all sporting certain levels of yeast on a daily basis, this mild complication occurs when those levels increase abnormally. The reasons for this increase are usually pretty innocent and can be classified under a moist and warm environment, such as the gym or the summertime2. This means that you may have simply developed this condition because you have been sweating or because the air around you is hot and humid.

The confusing part is that the visible effects of this are small bumps on your skin, that may even carry whiteheads filled with minuscule amounts of pus3. Just like with regular acne, you may find these wherever you have more natural oils. This is because yeast thrives due to the oils, which contain fatty acids, sterol and wax esters, triglycerides, squalene and good old cholesterol – all lipids that yeast enjoys. The targeted areas thus tend to be on your face, your chest and back and even your scalp.

You may even be experiencing some side effects like a flaky scalp, atopic dermatitis or psoriasis. It may feel like the end of the world at the moment, but trust us – this condition is not so hard to get rid of.

So, why is nothing helping?

The reason why you have been unable to treat this kind of acne with regular acne products is that most of these cosmetics specifically bear high amounts of fatty acids. As mentioned, these are sought after by yeast4. Products contain them in order to provide the hydration that those suffering from normal acne need.

Proposed treatment

Because this ‘acne’ is based on fungus, the best thing you can do is use products that fight that, in particular, rather than ones that fight its symptoms. Look for some anti-dandruff cosmetics; a simple shampoo will do. Those often contain ketoconazole which has antifungal properties. Apply it to the affected area and leave it on for several minutes – just as you would if you were using it against dandruff.

You might also want to give some athlete’s foot topical ointments a try. This may sound weird, but we warned you – what you have is not regular acne, at all5. These products should successfully clear up your skin. If you simply refuse to try such strange-sounding products against your zits, you can also ask your doctor for tablets that contain straight ketoconazole.

Suggested products

These products may help clear up your complexion but you must not forget that skin conditions such as this one are essentially caused by your lifestyle. Therefore, you might have to make some adjustments in that respect, too.

First and foremost, steer clear of anything that leads to the overproduction of natural oils by your sebaceous glands. But there are also some products that can help you on the way. Your sebum can be easily regulated by chemical exfoliants like Coxrx AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid or its blackhead counterpart – depending on what you are experiencing. Although these products are based on chemicals, they have a very mild and caring formula.

Although we advise against heavy moisturizing, it is still important to maintain healthy skin. Do not go for anything that is based on fatty acids, as these will only aggravate the problem1. You should thus be reading the labels of everything you buy! Instead, opt for formulas that contain honey, propolis or good old aloe vera. A good choice is the Benton Aloe Propolis Soothing Gel. Its ingredients will also boost your system’s ability to fight off germs, which are a major cause of all kinds of acne, including this one. Upon using such a hydrating product, you will find your skin calmer, brighter and more glowing. It can even help you deal with any old breakout scars, as it generally rejuvenates your skin.

Alternatives to your usual cosmetic products

Regardless of whether you suffer from regular acne or fungal acne, you should be cleansing your face frequently. For fungal acne, invest in a mild product. The exact components don’t matter so much, as a cleanser is usually taken off as quickly as it is applied, but do go for the most natural, plain kind. Look for a more acidic kind, and try to get one containing madecassoside or panthenol for hydration.

The same goes for your toner, as you want it to moisturize your skin effectively, without increasing the oil on your body. Look for a plain toner, as well, such as the Missha Near Skin Simple Therapy Mist Toner which only carries 9 components. Specifically, the dill in it is great for your irritated skin. Its spraying container makes it really easy to use at any point of your day, too.

Another product which you might want to adjust to your fungal acne is the sunscreen that you should be applying on a daily basis! We recommend the Acwell Aqua Sun Control Gel, as it incorporates the benefits of mint, peony and licorice root, for a soothing and refreshing effect. Your skin will love it and take it in immediately.

Last but not least, the essence you use can also be helpful in fighting off fungal bacteria. A honey and a propolis-based product can really help you battle the germs that are causing you harm6. Products with royal black honey, royal jelly and black bee propolis extract can sooth your skin like no other.

As you can see, the products you should use against your fungal acne are almost the same as the ones that combat regular acne, and even similar to those you can regularly use when your skin is healthy. While they can help, it would not hurt to inquire with a doctor on the state of your particular condition – especially if you are not sure whether you have traditional acne or the fungal kind.


  1. Rubenstein RM, Malerich SA. Malassezia (pityrosporum) folliculitis. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2014;7(3):37-41.
  2. Ayers K, Sweeney SM, Wiss K. Pityrosporum Folliculitis Diagnosis and Management in 6 Female Adolescents With Acne Vulgaris. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2005;159(1):64. doi:10.1001/archpedi.159.1.64
  3. Song HS, Kim SK, Kim YC. Comparison between Malassezia Folliculitis and Non- Malassezia Folliculitis. Ann Dermatol. 2014;26(5):598. doi:10.5021/ad.2014.26.5.598
  4. Rupke SJ. Fungal skin disorders. Prim Care. 2000;27(2):407-421.
  5. Medscape. Published 2019.
  6. Veiga FF, Gadelha MC, da Silva MRT, et al. Propolis Extract for Onychomycosis Topical Treatment: From Bench to Clinic. Front Microbiol. 2018;9. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2018.00779
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