How to Know if You Have Fungal Acne ~ and How to Treat it

This is not just another acne blog. Fungal Acne is an ongoing problem that many people struggle with. Fungal Acne – is that even a thing? Well, it is and if you suffer from acne and have tried multiple products, facials and treatments only to have your condition worsen then you may be suffering from fungal acne (AKA Pityrosporum folliculitis or Malassezia folliculitis). Unfortunately, fungal acne often goes misdiagnosed by family physicians and aestheticians alike.

The skin is an incredibly dynamic and complex ecosystem of microflora flooded with bacteria, viruses, and fungi that interact with each other and with us. Research continues to investigate how all of these micro-organisms network, what they do for us, and what we do for them. The reality is, certain micro-organisms are needed for healthy skin, while others can cause disease or set the playing field for disease.

What is Fungal Acne anyway?

We all have a magical ecosystem of microflora living on our skin. What is that? Bacteria and fungi! The good, the bad and the ugly living in harmony together on your skin. Until…dysbiosis occurs. How does this happen? Well, there are a number of possibilities which may lead to the skin responding in a way that shows up as red, itchy acneic looking skin. This fungus then feeds on oil on our skin and inside our pores including other oils or oil-rich ingredients that are applied to the skin. Yes! Your products that you thought were helping solve the problem could very well be perpetuating it.

What causes Fungal Acne?

Contributing factors of Fungal Acne can one or many of the following but not limited to:

Antibiotics:

Long-term use of topical or oral antibiotics such as clindamycin doxycycline and minocycline can make fungal acne worse. Antibiotics cannot differentiate from good or bad bacteria, so it kills all of it, which creates dysbiosis, which allow the fungi on the skin to proliferate.

Humidity:

Yeast thrives in warm, humid places. Fungal acne is more common in these types of climates and seasons. Keep this in mind after your workout! Always make sure you shower and dry off well! Sweating and using products that contain oil (fatty acids) is a haven for fungal acne.

Skincare Products:

Yeast feeds on oil! If you’re using skincare or makeup that contain certain types of fatty acid, oils, esters and some polysorbates (even small amounts), it could be a trigger. The list of ingredients that can exacerbate fungal acne is vast. Therefore, we will focus on ingredients that will counter it.

Diet:

While diet usually isn’t the initial cause of a fungal acne outbreak, once there is an existing imbalance your diet can play significant role, especially if it is high in sugar. Think about a candida dietand then a probiotic. Yeast will thrive in this environment.

Inflammation:

Those who have a condition that suppresses the immune system and those who take immunosuppressant medication may also be vulnerable to fungal acne. A suppressed immune system prevents proper regulation of Malassezia, allowing the yeast to grow freely.

Immuno-compromised:

Research indicates higher incidences of fungal acne among patients with diabetes, HIV, Hodgkin’s disease, organ or bone marrow transplant recipients, or those with nutritional disorders, neurotransmitter abnormalities, and immunologic deficiencies.

How do I tell the difference between Acne and Fungal Acne?

Location:

While fungal acne can potentially happen anywhere on the body, a common way to tell the difference between fungal acne and traditional bacterial acne is often, but not always, the location. Traditional acne typically occurs primarily on the cheeks, jawline, and T-zone (this includes the forehead, nose and chin). The Acne along the hairline or on your upper back, shoulders, and upper chest is more commonly associated with fungal acne, but there are always exceptions to the rule! We are all different and nothing is surprising when it comes to fungal acne. H3: Appearance: Fungal acne can appear as small, uniform red bumps filled with pus. However, when comparing, traditional acne comedones, it may progress at different rates and can largely vary in severity and size. Fungal acne is quite often ITCHY and sometimes even burns! Whereas traditional acne, typically doesn’t present with that characteristic. It also can be especially uncomfortably worse on those hot humid summer days which Calgary weather is fortunately or unfortunately however you may see it, usually lacking.

Biopsy:

If, however, you still find that you are unsure, you can always choose to seek the expertise of a board-certified Dermatologist. They may also let you know which strain(s) of fungi you have, as there is a vast array of them. This process is usually done through a shave biopsy or culture in one of the areas where you have the majority of activity (i.e. upper back, chest, shoulders, scalp, or t-zone area of the face). Although, this isn’t even 100% definitive as the majority of the fungi live within the follicle as opposed to the surface of the skin. Ideally a sample of what is extracted from the follicle would give a truer picture. Keep in mind you may need a referral from your primary health care provider and waits to be seen in some provinces can be up to one year.

Don’t let this discourage you! Read on because help may be on the way!

How is Fungal Acne treated?

Ketoconazole:

Most fungal acne will respond well to ketoconazole 2% which is a broad spectrum anti-fungal agent which can be applied topically and is used as a first line defense for fungal acne. For more severe conditions an oral anti-fungal of itraconazole, fluconazole, ketoconazole and terbinafine may be introduced short term.

Zinc Pyrithione:

Is also known as a mild anti-fungal and keratolytic agent, studies have shown that it’s less effective than ketoconazole at inhibiting fungal acne.

Benzoyl Peroxide:

Can be an effective ingredient (antimicrobial) to fight both acne bacteria and yeast. However, is best when applied and left on the skin for 10-20mins then rinsed off to avoid dehydrating the skin.

Salicylic acid:

Is a keratolytic and has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal properties. It’s an oil-soluble hydroxy acid, and desmolytic agent. What does that mean? It does an effective job at dissolving all the fungi that accumulate inside of clogged pores as well as removal of dead skin cells.

Sulfur:

Washes or masks containing sulfur can be useful. Sulfur is naturally anti-bacterial and anti-fungal, allowing it to regulate fungal or yeast production and remove it from within your pores.

Azelaic acid:

This natural ingredient and commonly used to treat fungal acne as well as rosacea which can also have fungal acne properties. It may help by regulating the fatty acid content in your skin, a common mechanism used by antifungals. As the yeast or fungi/survive on the fatty acids and oils in the skin, reducing the free fatty acid content may help to reduce the yeast population.

Caprylic acid:

Products containing this powerful antifungal property have been shown in studies to inhibit several fungi species.

Cinnamic acid:

Derived from cinnamon oil, cinnamic acid has been shown to possess antifungal activity against a variety of fungi species.

Tea tree oil:

Derived from the Melaleuca alternifolia plant, it is a well known antimicrobial. In vitro studies show that it may be effective in inhibiting several species of fungi and we know there are many.

Remember, there may be other ingredients not listed that you find work well for your particular case and some ingredients in this list that don’t agree with you. Let’s remember, we are all individuals and may respond differently to each ingredient. Best defense is try introducing one ingredient at a time to prevent any negative reactions.

An important note on sunblock – “Sunblock makes me breakout” – Quite a few acne clients don’t want to wear sunblock because quite often they say sunblock will make them breakout. Yes, you may be right! Read your ingredients and ensure you are applying sunblock with ONLY physical ingredients like zinc and titanium dioxide, any additional ingredients or chemical sunblock can inflame acne or even cause breakouts, they also have been proven to cause hormonal disruption. It doesn’t matter what skin colour you have, you need sun protection. Read more about it here: Anti-aging & Sunscreens NCBI publication.

Supplements that might help fungal acne

Probiotics:

Studies have shown that supplementation of Lactobacillus paracasei reduces fungi. Probiotics improve fungal acne. Your gut microbiome balances the microbiome in other parts of your body, including your skin. Remember your skin is telling a story. If your skin isn’t happy, you should question, what is going on with the rest of my body?

In-office Treatments:

Yes! Do find a trusted clinic who is experienced in treating fungal acne and is able to provide you with treatments to clean and unclog your pores, give advice on products etc… and work together to help keep your skin clean, clear, healthy and strong.

It is possible to live fungal acne free. Don’t feel like there is something wrong with you or suffer in silence because it just won’t clear up. If you have had fungal acne once you are susceptible to have future outbreaks or perhaps yours has never cleared up. Addressing your skin concerns and getting a prompt and accurate diagnosis is the first step to clean, clear, healthy skin!

The SkinScience Team

Meta Description: Learn more about what fungal acne is, how to diagnose fungal acne and how to treat fungal acne in this blog.

Acne 101 ~ What you need to truly understand acne

Acne-prone skin, in Calgary and all over the world, is the most common dermatological disorder that people; female, male, young and old will seek professional treatments yearly.  Acne does not discriminate.  Every walk of life, every ethnicity, every socio-economic background is vulnerable to this inflammatory skin condition. This dreaded four letter word has plagued people since the beginning of time.  Acne can be a complex and multifaceted condition that ranges from very mild to painfully severe and everything in between. At SkinScience, we believe each case should be treated equally and with immense attention and care. 

Whether you’re reading your first blog, tenth or 100th, know this: you are not alone, you matter, and you are a beautiful being with or without acne. Yes, acne can be a socially debilitating condition causing anxiety, depression, OCD and more. Today, you have come to the right place to be heard. We get it, but we can also help you solve it!  Knowledge is power, so let’s educate you on this somewhat complicated topic.

ACNE FACTS 101

Facts:

Hormonal changes can trigger acne: Girls and woman alike have already figured this one out and have seen first-hand what happens to their skin throughout their cycles, and into perimenopause and menopause.

Acne has predominantly an inflammatory factor.  In the body, there are anti and pro-inflammatory interleukins and acne happens to be associated with the pro-inflammatory interleukins in the body and there are a large range of variables that can cause this.  The takeaway from this is to understand that inflammation mitigation is going to be a key factor in acne control.  I have attached a link for those interested in learning more about interleukins Interleukins – NCBI.

Diet affects acne

Food sensitivity can cause an inflammatory response in your body.  Most of us have some degree of intolerance to dairy, whether we recognize it or not.    Dairy is an extremely pro-inflammatory food which can be a culprit for many individuals, not just for their skin but within their entire gastro-intestinal tract as well. Also, high glycemic foods can trigger acne in certain individuals.

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24719062/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27061046/

Stress affects acne

Cortisol is the stress hormone responsible for our fight or flight response and chronic stress will raise cortisol and negatively affect other anti-inflammatory mediators which in turn will raise inflammation. 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28871928/

Poor sleep can affect acne

Moreover, poor sleep raises cortisol and inhibits the body’s natural ability to repair and rejuvenate thus raising inflammation and oxidative stress.

Ingredients matter

Interestingly, using products with ingredients that clog pores or cause inflammation ie. parabens, sulphates, silicones, fragrance this list is a long one, we were going to attach a list of ingredients to avoid but the list is so long we have decided to attach a link to which ingredients are the most effective when trying to control acne. Effective acne ingredients – Mayo Clinic.

Clogged pores can affect acne

For every clogged pore there is risk of a future pimple.

Bacteria can be associated with acne

Most acne has a component of the C. acnes bacteria (Cutibacterium), formerely known as P. acnes (Propionibacterium) bacteria. 

MYTHS

FALSE: Poor hygiene can cause acne

Acne is not due to dirty skin and doesn’t reflect personal hygiene habits, however we don’t recommend not cleansing our skin on a regular basis. Blackheads are dirt-filled pores – wrong! They’re dark because the oil in them has oxidized, this happens when it comes into contact with air.  In fact, washing vigorously and exfoliating too often may make acne worse by irritating the skin, and causing inflammation and dehydration, especially if you are using products that contain harsh or stripping ingredients.

FALSE: Acne is just a phase

Your acne condition may clear up with time, but acne can get worse before it improves. The longer you have acne, the greater the risks of permanent scarring.  This risk increases with the darker your natural skin color, however, lighter skins are not immune to PIH.  Here’s a recent medical journal publication on PIH, Post Inflammatory Hyperpigmentation and the recent research and treatment options available: Clinical publication NCBI on PIH.  

FALSE: Acne is contagious

You can’t get acne from contact with someone who has it: Acne may be unsightly and embarrassing, but it is not contagious.

Sun exposure and tanning clear up skin: Neither outdoor nor indoor tanning will help acne over time. Being in the sun can help initially by drying up skin lesions and surface oils, and masking spots by tanning, but the effect is only temporary.  More often, people will experience an acne flare-up after UV exposure.  Sun exposure also raises the risk of skin cancer and don’t think it won’t happen to you! It can happen to anyone, and it does. 

Acne can present itself in a number of different ways and believe it or not it is quite possible to have one, two or all of the below listed types on your face or body. Acne cases should always be assessed individually and can vary greatly between grades.

What type of acne do you have?

  • Grade 1,2 blackheads – small black or yellowish bumps that develop on the skin; 
  • Grade 1, 2 whiteheads – have a similar appearance to blackheads, but may be firmer and will not empty when squeezed 
  • Grade 1, 2 comedones/papules – small red bumps that may feel tender or sore 
  • Grade 1, 2 pustules – similar to papules, but have a white tip in the centre, caused by a build-up of pus 
  • Grade 3, 4 nodules – large hard lumps that build up beneath the surface of the skin and can be painful 
  • Grade 3, 4 cysts –  also known as acne conglobata, the most severe type of spot caused by acne; they present as large pus-filled lumps that look similar to boils and carry the greatest risk of causing permanent scarring

Ok, you now know the facts and myths about acne and hopefully have a better understanding of what type of acne you suffer from, what’s next?

An important note on sunblock

“Sunblock makes me breakout” – Quite a few acne clients don’t want to wear sunblock because quite often they say sunblock will make them breakout.  Yes, you may be right!  Make sure you read your ingredients and apply sunblock with ONLY physical ingredients like zinc and titanium dioxide, any additional ingredients or chemical sunblock can inflame acne or even cause breakouts, they also have been proven to cause hormonal disruption. It doesn’t matter what skin colour you have, you need sun protection. Read more about it here: Anti-aging & Sunscreens NCBI publication.

The most effective way to control acne is to address it and make a plan with a trusted clinic who will listen to your concerns and is willing to guide you and work together to make positive changes as soon as possible.  Take your time to find a clinic who is experienced with acne and treats each case individually.  No two cases are the same, just like no two people are the same.  What works for one may not work for another.  

Please note! Acne is not the only condition that presents with red, inflamed bumps on the face. Always ensure you are properly diagnosed by a qualified health care professional before beginning any treatment.

Acne can be pretty overwhelming, but taking one step further in a positive direction, is one step further in the right direction. We hope this blog has helped to inform you more on acne and given you the tools to make a plan for your acne’s future. Acne doesn’t define you and it shouldn’t prevent you from being everything you want to be. Remember, sometimes the hardest thing to wear is our own skin.

In healthy skin,

The SkinScience Team