Fungal acne is not a diagnosis.
“Fungal acne” often refers to the idea that a person who has not seen improvement in their acne from conventional treatments is actually suffering from acne caused by fungus. The fungus is often identified as the genus Malassezia, formerly called Pityrosporum.
Fungal (or yeast, a type of fungus) infections of the skin can occur. Malassezia fungus can cause small red bumps or white-headed pimples on the skin. It might look a lot like acne, but it’s not acne. It’s a condition called malassezia or fungal folliculitis.
It’s described as acneiform, which means “looks like acne” but it isn’t acne.
Proponents of “fungal acne” will often recommend changing the products a person uses to being free of ingredients that supposedly feed fungus. This is akin to “detoxifying” and is a common trope in pseudoscience. Many of these “not fungal acne safe” ingredients also happen to overlap with acne triggers.
There’s little to no human evidence that removing the often highlighted ingredients will have benefits against fungal infections of the skin. The evidence given is often from cell culture studies, anecdotal, or taken out of context.
A story shared by a Redditor highlights why self-diagnosing “fungal acne” can be dangerous. This Redditor self-diagnosed what they thought was “fungal acne” and went on a “skincare detox”. The infection continued to reoccur. Finally, after visiting a doctor, and a skin swab…it was confirmed to be a staph infection. This means during this time the Redditor was self-treating their “fungal acne”, they were letting a potentially dangerous staph infection go untreated.
Fungal folliculitis can be identified by doctors through tests, their training, and experience. If the infection is confirmed to be fungal folliculitis, treatment often involves topical (or in severe cases systemic) antifungal medication.
It’s important to get a proper diagnosis, so the proper treatment can be given. It’s important not to self-diagnose. There are many conditions that can look like acne or how “fungal acne” is described, but can be harmful if left untreated.
I’ve seen some experts use the term “fungal acne” colloquially online. We don’t need to simplify the terminology we use. We’re capable of using complex words like niacinamide or emulsification.
Call it by its name. Fungal folliculitis.
But only after a diagnosis is made.