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How to Get Rid of Fungal Acne (Plus Symptoms & Causes)

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Fungal acne - Dr. Axe

If you’ve recently taken a course of antibiotics or you have a chronic condition that affects your immune system (such as autoimmune disease or diabetes), you have a higher likelihood of developing certain skin conditions, one of which is fungal acne.

Fungal acne is a bit different than your run of the mill acne because it’s actually caused by a yeast infection. It’s technically a type of folliculitis (an infection of the hair follicles) and produces clusters of whiteheads or bumps on the back, chest, neck, shoulders, and sometimes the upper arm and face.

How do you get these types of breakouts under control? For starters, you want to keep your skin clean, dry and cool.

You’ll find other tips below, including topical products that can help keep the ratio of microbes living on your skin in balance.

What Is Fungal Acne?

According to dermatologists, fungal acne’s name is misleading — because this skin condition isn’t actually a type of acne. It’s in fact a skin problem caused by yeast that leads to small breakouts that look similar to acne.

This makes it different from other types of acne, which are caused by bacteria.

Fungal acne is actually an infection of the hair follicles. It’s technically called pityrosporum folliculitis or Malassezia folliculitis.

Why is it called “fungal acne” if it’s due to overgrowth of yeast? Yeast is biologically a type of fungi.

Causes

What causes fungal acne? As mentioned above, it’s caused by an overgrowth of certain types of yeast known as Malassezia. This leads to tiny infections within hair follicles, causing them to become irritated, red and inflamed.

Everybody has this type of fungi/yeast living on his or her skin, and it won’t always cause a problem. However, when it proliferates too much it can lead to breakouts and inflammation of the skin.

The same yeast can also cause some other skin conditions too that have different symptoms, including seborrheic dermatitis, which is characterized by dry skin.

Why does the yeast become overgrown in the first place? This can happen if you don’t cleanse your skin properly, especially after sweating, or for immune-related or genetic reasons.

Antibiotics can also disrupt the normal balance of yeast and bacteria living on your skin.

Dermatologists think it’s not always preventable, but you can help lower the odds of experiencing it by practicing good hygiene and exercising. These help flush excess microbes out of your skin and hair follicles.

Wearing clothing that traps heat and sweat against the body is also a risk factor.

Something else unique about fungal acne is that it can potentially be contagious, meaning the yeast can spread. This is not the case with other forms of acne.

Symptoms

How do you know if you have fungal acne? Here are fungal acne symptoms you want to take note of:

  • Small breakouts on the skin, typically in the form of clusters of tiny whiteheads.
  • Usually these look like papules and pustules on the chest, shoulders and back. Fungal acne is most likely to affect parts of the body covered by clothing, which allows the yeast to grow more easily.
  • Fungal acne whiteheads/bumps don’t usually come to heads like other types of pimples can.
  • Signs of inflammation like redness can develop.
  • Sometimes the skin can become very itchy too.
  • Symptoms might become worse with sweating or when it’s hot and humid outside.

Treatment and Prevention

How do dermatologists treat fungal acne? If you visit a dermatologist for help clearing up your breakouts, fungal acne treatments typically involve body washes or sometimes medications (whether oral or topical) that help eliminate the unwanted fungi/yeast.

Your doctor might recommend using a topical sulfur wash that has antifungal and antibacterial properties.

How do you treat fungal acne at home? Here are some tips and action steps:

1. Cleanse Your Skin Properly

One of the simplest remedies for acne is keeping your skin clean and moisturized. This helps balance oil production and stop microbes from getting trapped in pores or hair follicles.

Depending on your skin type, you should wash your face and body once or twice daily with a cleanser that removes oil but doesn’t leave your skin overly dry or irritated. People with acne-prone skin can often benefit from using a cleanser that contains salicylic acid.

If you want to clean your back or chest twice daily, try cleansing towelettes that can save you and extra shower. Cleansers containing probiotics are another option for keeping your skin’s microbial balance in check.

It’s also beneficial to exfoliate your skin two to three times per week to help remove dead skin cells and keep pores from becoming clogged. Try this homemade exfoliating body scrub on your body or your face after you’ve used a small amount to test your reaction.

After exfoliating and cleansing, use some witch hazel on acne-prone skin. Witch hazel fights bacteria while soothing irritation, including itching and inflammation.

To keep skin moisturized without making it more acne-prone, try applying coconut oil to clean skin. Coconut oil contains medium-chain fatty acids that possess a fungus-killing action. These special fats exhibit potent antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal effects that can kill fungus.

Neem oil is another oil that may rid the skin of bacteria and certain fungal infections. To relieve a fungal infection on the skin, mix three drops of neem oil with one tablespoon of coconut oil or almond oil, and then apply.

2. Apply Antifungal Cream

If you rather not visit your doctor for a prescription fungal cream, you can try a homemade antifungal cream first.

Topical antifungal creams contain ingredients such as oregano oil and tea tree oil, which are powerful plant-based antibiotics. Studies have found that these oils have significant antibacterial properties that can help kill fungus and harmful bacteria.

Why is oregano so great? Oregano oil contains 71 percent of the antiseptic compounds known as phenols, including thymol and carvacrol. It can cause a burning sensation and should be heavily diluted with a carrier oil — plus it may irritate sensitive skin or some areas of the body, so use caution when applying it.

Tea tree oil can also reduce yeast and fungus growth and is beneficial for multiple types of acne. You can add tea tree oil to your favorite cleanser or body wash or apply it right to the skin.

Before using, do a small test patch in an inconspicuous area, as tea tree oil can cause an adverse reaction for some people.  If you don’t react to the test, mix four to five drops of tea tree oil with your favorite body wash for each shower. Massage in well, allow to sit on your skin or hair for five minutes or so, and rinse well.

3. Try Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

Some people also experience good results using anti-dandruff shampoos on their skin to help reduce yeast. Active ingredients like pyrithione zinc and selenium sulfide seem to be most effective.

Lather the shampoo with water, apply to the problem areas and let it sit for about five minutes before rinsing well. Leaving it on the skin for several minutes gives it enough time to help remove some of the fungus and yeast.

4. Exercise to Induce a Sweat

Exercising and sweating are natural ways to boost blood flow and help cleanse our pores. Some doctors even recommend people induce a sweat about 24 hours after they take oral antifungal pills. This helps yeast to be carried out of the sweat glands and hair follicles.

After you sweat or work out, make sure to clean your skin and keep it dry. Change out of sweaty clothes, and wear something that lets your skin breath. This helps keep microbes from getting trapped in your pores.

5. Take Turmeric

Turmeric is an herb that has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, so it’s useful for many types of skin conditions, including folliculitis (infections of the hair follicles).

Take 600 milligrams three times a day of a high-quality turmeric supplement. Make sure you select one that contains black pepper or piperine, as it increases turmeric’s absorption.

Topically, a turmeric paste may help fight an infection.

Mix a ½ teaspoon of turmeric powder with either coconut oil or just a bit of water to form a paste. Spread gently over the affected areas, and cover with a bandage overnight.

Try this for several nights in a row. (If your skin turns a bit orange, don’t worry — this will go away with time.)

Risks and Side Effects

Look for signs of your fungal acne symptoms diminishing after about one month of doing the steps above. If your symptoms persist for more than a month following natural treatments, head to a dermatologist for help.

You may require a stronger prescription to get the yeast under control.

Work on preventing recurrent fungal infections so they don’t wind up spreading and causing boils, scarring, dark spots and permanent hair loss.

Treating underlying conditions and consulting with your physician about any medications that could be the root cause are important. Talk to your doctor first before stopping any prescribed medications.

Conclusion

  • Fungal acne is a skin condition that’s caused by overgrowth of yeast (a type of fungi), making it different than bacterial acne.
  • The condition is technically referred to as pityrosporum folliculitis or malassezia folliculitis for the specific type of fungus it’s caused by.
  • It leads to breakouts, usually of clusters of whiteheads, due to inflammation of the hair follicles. Sometimes the skin is itchy and red too.
  • Here are some action steps regarding how to get rid of fungal acne: clean your skin properly and apply a natural moisturizer, such as coconut oil; sweat and exercise to help flush out microbes from your skin, but change out of sweaty clothes after; try applying natural antifungal agents, such as oregano oil and tea tree oil, to your skin.
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