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Fungal Acne: What It Is and How to Manage It

Fungal Acne: What It Is and How to Manage It

Despite all the thousands of tiny inhabitants of the vast microscopic ecosystem on our skin/body, there is still one particular thing you probably didn’t know lives there as well. If you guessed anything but fungi, you are probably right, but not within this context.

If you didn’t know before, pretty much every human face and skin, in general, contains its fair share of fungi. These fungi mostly go about their business in peace, at least until there is an imbalance. When an imbalance occurs, they grow larger than they should, and you can visibly see signs of them.

These signs come in the form of those unfortunate bumps on the skin that virtually every hormonal teenager hates. However, these bumps are not the same as regular acne. They are, as nasty as it sounds, fungal acne.

What is fungal acne?

To start with, technically speaking, this condition is not a real thing. In fact, it is not even acne at all. It looks like acne, feels a little like acne, and is a little more annoying than acne.

However, fungus acne in itself is just a made-up term people use to describe the real problem. Scientifically speaking, this skin condition is actually called pityrosporum folliculitis. It is alternatively referred to as Malassezia folliculitis

Regardless of the terminology, you choose to assign to it, the definition remains the same. It is a skin condition that is characterized by inflammations and acne-like bumps that are often itchy and uncomfortable. These inflammations occur as a result of a surplus of the yeast referred to as Malassezia on the skin.

How does it differ from other forms of acne?

Mistaking fungal acne for bacterial or regular acne is a widespread occurrence. While they might have their similarities, there are significant differences between the two of them.

Firstly, regular acne often comes out in different pus-filled sizes. You know them as soon as you see them, and you can easily battle them with your skin products. However, Malassezia folliculitis usually comes out with a little bit more uniformity in color and size. They are often red pustules and bumps that spread over the chest, upper arm, chest, and pretty much every other place in the T-section. 

Secondly, while regular bacterial acne can be itchy sometimes, it is not quite that discomforting. Most of the time, you can live with it and perhaps even forget that it is there. Fungal acne, on the other hand, is specifically characterized by a particularly uncomfortable amount of itching.

Also, bacterial acne is pretty easy to treat. Slap a couple of skincare body creams on them, stay hydrated, and you are back to having your pretty glow. Unfortunately, Malassezia folliculitis does not respond favorably to those treatments, and it can be relatively more challenging to take care of.

Which parts of the body are most susceptible?

Unlike regular bacterial acne, which primarily targets the face, Malassezia folliculitis thrives on other parts of your body - moist and warm places. Usually, your back, neck, chest, and posterior arms are the carriers of this infection. It could also happen on the face, but rarely.

What are the things that contribute to Malassezia folliculitis?

Our skin is a delicate world of its own with a proper mix of different elements, including bacteria and yeast. Under normal circumstances, these elements are pretty well-balanced. However, problems like Malassezia folliculitis begin to arise when something throws out the existing balance.

A few of the things that can shift the balance of these elements on the skin and cause fungal acne are:

  1. Warm climate conditions

Fungi is generally more active and alive in places that are warm and humid. As such, if your weather conditions match those two words, you are more likely to have Malassezia folliculitis. This is so because under warmer climate conditions, your body temperature is higher, and you sweat more.

  1. Poor hygiene

If you are the kind of person to leave sweaty clothes on for longer than you should after a particularly hot day, you are susceptible to fungal acne. This is so because leaving those clothes on merely provides optimal living and growth conditions for the fungi. 

  1. Use of antibiotics

Certain antibiotics could cause or worsen fungal acne in humans. A few of them that come to mind are clindamycin, doxycycline, and minocycline. These kinds of topical antibiotics kill off all forms of bacteria, whether good or bad. By doing so, they provide room for the rapid multiplication of fungi.

  1. Wrong diet

Fungi consume sugar for growth. If most of your diet is rich in sugar, you are likely to be playing a major role in feeding the fungi and enabling them to grow.

  1. Skincare products

Apart from sugar, fungi like to consume oil. Skincare products that contain oil can trigger a wave of fungus acne on your skin.

How do you know you have fungal acne?

Unfortunately, fungal acne is a tricky one to diagnose. This is so because its appearance is not extremely distinct from regular bacterial acne. However, there are a couple of things that might point you in the right direction if you want to find out. They are:

  • Itchiness.
  • Unresponsiveness to regular skincare products.
  • Small whiteheads that are about as big as a pinpoint. 
  • A relative amount of uniformity of bumps on the chest, neck, back, arms, etc.

How can you prevent and manage it?

Generally, there isn’t exactly any 100% sure way to prevent fungal acne. This is even more so when you are living in warm weather conditions. You really cannot avoid sweating. Regardless, a useful tip would be to take off your sweaty clothes as soon as you can. There really is no need to provide a comfy environment for the yeast to keep growing. Apart from that, try to keep your skin as dry as you possibly can. That means avoiding too much body cream, especially when you know it is going to be a hot day.

If you already have fungal acnetreating it can be anything from easy to difficult. Nevertheless, sometimes, all it requires for management are just a couple of lifestyle changes. Here are a couple of ways you can treat or, at least, manage Malassezia folliculitis:

  1. Use an exfoliator on your skin: Dead skin cells often leave oil trapped under them and provide a feast for fungi. Using an exfoliator would help you get rid of them and keep your pores clean.
  2. Try getting antifungal treatments over the counter: Regular acne treatments are almost completely ineffective against Malassezia folliculitis. However, it’s a different ball game when you get antifungal medication.
  3. Wear breathable clothes: This makes it easier for air to pass through the fabric to get to your skin and increases your chances of keeping your skin dry.
  4. Cut down on sugar: We’ve already established that yeast enjoys sugar. It helps them grow even more. Apart from the numerous health advantages you stand to gain from cutting down on sugar, it can help you manage fungal acne.
  5. Reduce your use of oily moisturizers: Granted, you need to take care of your skin by keeping it moisturized. However, using only an oily one betrays the entire purpose of managing fungus acne. Remember that fungus feeds on oil. As such, you mustn't give them even more to enable their growth.
  6. See your dermatologist: They are professionally trained to take care of your skin. It only makes sense for you to go to them when you are having issues treating or managing a skin condition.

How long does it take to get rid of fungal acne?

If you do not treat it properly, fungus acne can last as long as days, weeks, months, or even years. For some, living with the skin condition for that long is terrifying.

However, if you take proper care to ensure that you handle the situation properly, especially by getting advice from a certified dermatologist, you should be fine. Symptoms generally begin to clear up in a couple of days after treatment begins.

For some with severe cases, it might actually take a while longer, but the acne will respond visibly to the treatments nonetheless.

In conclusion

Even if you are not fighting fungal acne, the journey to clear, glowing skin is not exactly one that happens in a day. It takes patience and consistency. Adhere to the dos and don'ts we have highlighted in this article and set yourself on a path to healthy skin free of fungal infection.

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