Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Viddhi Patel (Journalist)  on 06th Jan 2021

Fungal Acne and ingredients that should be avoided in your skincare routine

ingredients that should be avoided in your skincare routine

Well, if you have identified all bumps on your body as acne, you're already familiar with the woes of acne. The little itchy bumps don't seem to go away, do they? Your constant measures to those blemishes and your annoying little whiteheads don't seem to make a difference. And we are here to throw light on all the wrong things you have done so far that have made your acne condition worse; number one is identifying the acne type.

The little bumps might not be your usual acne. It might be Malassezia Folliculitis. The term is overwhelming, yes, but it is also referred to as "fungal acne." No, don't freak out. Take a deep breath. You can treat this fungal acne but just not with the usual steps. Oh, and yes, breathe out!

Fungal acne, or what you have perceived to be little bumps on your body, also seems to get worse with hot and humid weather. If acne is not going away despite all the care and service, it might be Pityrosporum folliculitis or Malassezia Folliculitis (M.F.). Fungal acne can is probably the leading cause of your blemishes here.

You might know these "fungal bumps" as "grainy rashes" or "sand grain bumps" in the areas of congestion or breakouts. Not only you but many of us have managed to ignore the condition entirely, and it's high time we pay heed to this very real problem.

We have also diagnosed the fungal type as the bacterial type, and this confusion makes it hard to answer the condition to the root. Malassezia Folliculitis is the acne type caused by fungus or referred to as yeast, Pityrosporum. Fungal acne is also associated with other skin conditions that have been the sworn enemy of our skin health, like eczema, Seborrheic Dermatitis (S.D.), Psoriasis, etc.

The tiny red or even skin-colored bumps give you the illusion of being acne, but are actually fungal infections and occur on the forehead, back, chest, or shoulders and often cause inflammation and itching. The long name of this acne type isn't the only frustrating thing about it; the real problem is that if you can't identify it, you cannot treat it right, and then it all goes downhill. M.f. has thicker barriers, and you can't just get rid of them without proper targeting with the right ingredients. The market is an illusion that claims to give you all the magical products to make the acne go away. But M.F. is unlikely to go away with these skincare products that boast about "vanishing acne."

Take a breather. There is nothing to worry about. M. F. can be treated and prevented, but what you have to do is keep in check the ingredients that lather on your skin. Malassezia Folliculitis demands you to avoid certain ingredients such as oils, as not doing so can worsen the condition. 

What exactly is this fungal acne? 

The overgrowth of the Malassezia yeast on your skin leads to fungal acne. This creates numerous tiny bumps that give the illusion of being pimples and occur on your face and upper body. Often lost and misidentified as acne vulgaris, the need to identify the condition more readily has risen as M.F. is becoming more prevalent now than ever.

The yeast that causes it is a sneaky beast and the pimple-like appearance accompanied by inflammation doesn't help the identification process. The condition is also referred to as Malassezia Folliculitis or Pityrosporum folliculitis.

Overgrowth of yeast in the hair follicles leads to small, scattered, itchy bumps that are often accompanied by inflammation. These papules may enlarge and turn papular. While your regular acne is unlikely to cause you itchiness, the fungal type of acne makes your skin itch, turn red, and become irritated.

The yeast present thrives on sweat, making the condition worse in hot and humid weather. The fungi that strive on oil and our skin has the fungi, what leads to trouble is the overgrowth of these fungi. Oily skin triggers the growth of the fungi, and so does the weather. The overgrowth leads to an infection of the hair follicle, triggering our immune system; this further leads the acne to inflammation. 

Did you know?

Fungal acne isn't even acne; it is just an impostor that poses as acne.  

How can you differentiate your usual acne from the fungal acne?  

Acne vulgaris and fungal acne look the same, don't they?  

But they are quite different. My friend, they cannot be any more different than they already are apart from the fact that both of them love sebum. Their love for sebum allows them to live next to each other and co-exist without any quarrels.

While your regular acne is bacteria-based, fungal acne is yeast or fungi based. Your regular acne has a wide range of sizes, and fungal ones are usually small and are similar to each other in size. 

Ingredients that can potentially worsen fungal acne  

There is a list of ingredients you should avoid when you are dealing with fungal acne.

Fungus feeds on esters, fatty acids, and oils, and your skincare products don't skip these ingredients; even your acne-treatment kit might have these ingredients present that can help the fungi strive rather than die. Your face and scalp have an open supply of sebum through the sebaceous glands, and this makes choosing the right ingredients for our delicate skin inevitable.

When you realize that you have M.F., alter, and revise your entire skincare game as ignoring this will allow the fungi to flourish and live scot-free. 

Avoid oils and fatty acids based products 

Give Malassezia oil, and it will serve you by colonizing its babies on your skin; it loves feeding on fats that have a 12, 13, 14- atom carbon chain. I repeat, never think of oil cleaning your fungal acne. Your skincare should analyze not only your condition but also the environment your skin is living in. A cold climate won't have you worrying about fatty acids that moisturize, but a hot and humid accompanied with an oil-based moisturizer might cause what you call a full-blown fungal acne flare-up.

We will name the fatty acids that when you read on the back of the labels of skincare products, you know these are not for you! 

  • Laurice acid, Myristic acid, Tridecylic acid, Palmitic acid, Stearic acid, Oleic acid, and Linoleic acid.
  • While many other fatty acids need to be avoided, like undecylenic acid, pentadecanoic acid, margaric acid, etc., the ones stated above are the ones that are most common on the back of the products as in the labels.

Now coming to lipids that you should avoid at all costs 

  • Shea butter, cocoa seed butter, Avocado oil, castor oil,  

Furthermore, we will name the esters you are supposed to avoid; these are very likely to show up in the ingredients list of the products, even five to six in one product alone. What you have to do for real is avoid all kinds of esters unless they are made from capric or caprylic acid. Esters are made of fatty acids and alcohol combined. It is best to avoid all esters, while some should not even be looked at.  

  • Polysorbate 20, 40, 60, 80
  • Hydrogenated castor oil 
  • Polyglyceryl-2 triisostearate.  
  • Subordinate isostearate 
  • Glyceryl stearate.

Moving forward, there is a little more you have to keep in mind. 

Avoid fermented ingredients  

Fermented ingredients like galactomyce should be avoided, along with antibiotic creams.

Antibiotic creams meant for your bacterial acne bring no good for your M.F. What these creams do is attack the bacteria. This triggers dysbiosis, meaning an imbalance in the body, making M.F. worse.

Moreover, it can worsen the condition by multiplying the fungi. When you use any kind of antibiotics, topical or oral, it gets the flare-up going rather than stopping it.

When you use too many products for your skin, the preservatives content that you are serving your skin with also increases; they mess with your skin's natural bacteria. This overapplication of a range of products sets a whole new garden for Malassezia to overgrow. So cut down on your products or go natural as what you apply stays on your skin longer than you can imagine (even after you cleanse the skin). 

What you can do

Target the fungal acne with targeted antifungal agents like Zinc pyrithione, tea tree oil, sulfur, etc.

Some other ingredients that help fight the fungus are honey/propolis extract, green tea extract, or salicylic acid.  

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Topical antifungal treatments like gels or lotions help reduce the symptoms and target the fungi in hair follicles. Oral medications can be taken.

Products with salicylic acid or glycolic acids can help you immensely to keep the fungal acne at bay.

Use antifungal products as cleansers for your hair and body.  

What you should avoid 

Don't let the sweat sit on your body for long after workouts, and keep it dry.

Don't forget to check your skincare routine for ingredients like benzoyl peroxide, fatty acids, etc. they are potential runners of your hard work.

Don't forget to get rid of the sweaty outfit as soon as you can.

Hot and humid weather triggers the fungi as it is, so it is better if you don't over-moisturize as hydration will promote their growth. 

Hyaluronic Acid 2% + Vitamin B5
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Advice by Minimalist

With no standardized treatment plan to guide us and a constant risk of recurrence of the condition, it is hard to treat M.F. entirely and so what you have to keep in check is your environment. As fungal acne thrives in sweaty, oily, hot, and humid climates, it is your responsibility to keep the environment in your body safe, sound, and in check.

Changing seasons and lifestyle habits can trigger the condition again as it does not go away entirely.

Prevention is hard for fungal acne, but you can still help the condition by taking precautions not to allow the sweat or oil to let the fungi overgrow.

Keep your immunity strong by prioritizing your body over anything else, eating healthy, and living an active lifestyle inclusive of exercise.

The sweaty undergarments you are too tired to get rid of serve as triggers for fungi' overgrowth on your skin. So rinse the sweat and don't wear clothes that are too tight. 

Wrapping it up

M.F. looks like whiteheads and often occur in clusters. They have long been misdiagnosed, so it's important to see a dermatologist check out the flare-ups.

Precaution helps you in the long run as the rate of recurrence in fungal acne is high.

Take extra caution with the ingredients in the products to not worsen the condition.