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The Reason Why Your Skin May Not Be Responding to Traditional Acne Products

Ever heard of fungal acne? It may be the reason why you’re frustrated that no popular acne products are showing results on your skin.

Do you suffer from persistent acne and feel like nothing you’re using is working? Well, it might not be you or the product’s fault. We’ve broken down the different types of acne for you before, but now we’re going more in depth about what exactly fungal acne is and how you can treat it.

What is fungal acne?

It’s actually not an acne at all. Unlike traditional acne which is caused by bacteria, fungal acne or its proper name, Pityrosporum Folliculitis, is caused by a yeast infection. Joshua Zeicher, the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, clarifies that fungal acne is actually a “mild infection of the hair follicle caused by yeast on the skin.”

The Pityrosporum yeast “actually lives on everyone’s skin, but when yeast levels rise, they may invade the hair follicle,” says Zeichner. This usually happens during times of extreme heat, sweating, or humidity. The infection then turns into tiny, whitehead-looking spots that look very similar to traditional acne.

The Pityrosporum yeast  thrives in areas with a higher concentration of sebaceous glands, such as the scalp, face and upper body, which is where most people experience this issue. This stubborn yeast feeds off of sebum since sebum is a mixture of lipids that contain a blend of triglycerides, fatty acids, wax esters, sterol esters, cholesterol, cholesterol esters, and squalene.

This makes it extremely hard to find products that don’t trigger the growth of Pityrosporum since most products contain a blend of fatty acids to moisturize and balance the skin’s natural barrier. To make it even more frustrating, this yeast can also trigger other skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis, psoriasis, and dandruff. All in all, this yeast is a stubborn, hard-to-deal-with condition that can be very hard to handle. But to make your life a little easier, we created a routine you can stick to that will hopefully keep the yeast in check.

How to treat fungal acne:

The most common recommendation for treating Pityrosporum Folliculitis is the use of antifungals, such as ketoconazole, which can be found in the Nizoral Anti-Dandruff Shampoo. You may be thinking: You want me to cleanse with shampoo?! Don’t call me crazy just yet! The use of anti-dandruff shampoos in the treatment of Pityrosporum folliculitis is actually quite common. In fact, Zeichner recommends that you “try an over the counter athlete’s foot cream,” as well.

These easily found anti-fungal treatments can be quite effective at getting rid of the bumps fungal acne leaves behind, but if you’re not comfortable with these methods, don’t despair. You can actually get prescription ketoconazole from your dermatologist that comes in pill form. But if you do decide to go the over-the-counter route, make sure to leave the shampoo on for at least five minutes before rinsing as this has been shown to be the most effective way in clinical studies.

While anti-fungal treatments can be quite effective in treating Pityrosporum, you also need to switch up your routine to keep it in check for good. As I said earlier, this stubborn yeast actually feeds off of sebum and its chemical makeup (a blend of free fatty acids, lipids and cholesterols), which means you need to avoid these ingredients in your routine so you don’t end up feeding the yeast.


To cleanse the skin, I’d suggest sticking with a gentle, cleanser that has as few ingredients as possible, such as the Etude House SoonJung pH 6.5 Whip Cleanser. You don’t have to be as thorough in your avoidance of ingredients in your cleanser since you wash these off pretty quickly, but it makes sense to stick with ones that have a small ingredient list. This cleanser has a low pH of 6.5 and uses 98.9% naturally derived ingredients to cleanse skin in the gentlest way possible. It also contains a blend of panthenol and madecassoside to moisturize and repair skin damage.


honey essence

A great essence to use is the Skinfood Royal Honey Propolis Essence. Honey and propolis are well known antimicrobial agents that have the ability to inhibit the growth of microorganisms, and in this case, Pityrosporum. This essence contains 50% black bee propolis extract, 20% royal jelly extract and 10% royal Black honey extract, to deeply moisture the skin, leaving it supple and radiant, while combating any growth of Pityrosporum.


Much like your cleanser, I’d suggest sticking with hydrating toners that have fewer ingredients. A simple but effective one is the Missha Near Skin Simple Therapy Mist Toner. It’s made with only nine ingredients and formulated with dill extract to soothe and calm sensitive skin. It also comes in a convenient mist bottle which makes it easy to apply and even easier to take on the go for spritzing midday.


Along with using an anti-fungal treatment like the ketoconazole on a regular basis, you can also use a combination of the Cosrx BHA Blackhead Power Liquid and the Cosrx AHA 7 Whitehead Power Liquid. Both of these can help to treat the skin by keeping the oil in check (AKA fewer reasons for the pityrosporum to aggregate and multiply). A major plus for these chemical exfoliants is that they’re also extremely gentle on the skin so even those with sensitive skin can benefit from them.


benton aloe gel

For your moisturizing step, you’ll want to avoid any fatty acid-rich formulas since they can feed on pityrosporum and increase the yeast related bumps. A great moisturizer to try is the Benton Aloe Propolis Soothing Gel. This calming gel avoids heavy, occlusive ingredients and instead is formulated with 80% aloe and propolis. Again, honey and propolis are great to use because of their antimicrobial properties, plus they help soothe irritated skin, fade acne scars, brighten skin tone, and even maintain hydration throughout the day.


A good option for sun protection is the Acwell Aqua Sun Control Gel, which protects skin from harmful sun rays and nourishes it with calming peony extract, brightening licorice root, and refreshing mint extract. Plus, it absorbs seamlessly without leaving any white cast or greasy residue behind.

Bottom line:

Fungal acne is a pretty complicated issue that is usually mistaken for traditional acne. If your acne isn’t going away no matter what you use, it might be worth it to visit a dermatologist and see if what you think is acne could be a fungal infection.

+ What products have you used to treat fungal acne? Let us know in the comments below!

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