Fungal acne isn’t acne at all – it’s pityrosporum folliculitis (PF), which is the inflammation of hair follicles due to an overgrowth of yeast (and yeast, by the way, is a form of fungus). Fungal acne-safe products aren’t truly a thing either as “fungal acne-safe” isn’t an official classification with set guidelines, like vegan or clean. “Like non-comedogenic, it is just a designation that suggests it won’t stoke fires if used with PF,” explains Mona Gohara, an associate clinical professor at Yale School of Medicine.
When you do see the phrase tacked onto a skin-care product, it’s based on knowledge of ingredients known to inhibit or enable the growth of fungal acne-causing yeast or bacteria, notes Kaveri Karhade, a board-certified cosmetic and medical dermatologist in the San Francisco Bay area. “Unfortunately, this is not a black-and-white topic,” she adds. “Some people are more prone to [PF] than others, and some topicals may more frequently contribute to [PF] in some people but not others.”
Some facts that apply across the board: Tea tree oil and sulfur, for example, have fungicidal benefits, making them safe and effective pityrosporum folliculitis treatments.
Fatty acids, on the other hand, feed PF, says Jennifer Chwalek, a board-certified dermatologist at New York City’s Union Square Laser Dermatology. So products spiked with linoleic, oleic, stearic, palmitic, myristic, and lauric acids could exasperate fungal acne. Many of these are naturally found in coconut oil, so you can also add that to the list of ingredients to avoid. Acids you can seek out include lactic and salicylic, cosmetic chemist Jim Hammer tells Allure.
Oils, in general, are off-limits, too. “[They] actually serve as a growth medium for Malassezia, which is the yeast that causes inflammation around the hair follicles,” Karhade says.
To keep you from investigating ingredient labels, we rounded up several fungal acne-safe products based on recommendations from dermatologists and cosmetic chemists. Allow these picks to save you the guesswork and help you revamp your skin-care routine during a fungal acne breakout.
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