Contrary to popular belief, even if it looks like acne, it may not be necessarily acne. Here’s what we mean: regular facial acne is caused by bacteria that would produce the zits we know — and love to pop but resist to do so. Fungal acne, on the other hand, is caused by excess yeast growth in the hair follicles found on your chest, back, and shoulders. To be more accurate, it shouldn’t even be called fungal acne. Its dermatological term is pityrosporum folliculitis or Malassezia folliculitis.
So what is it, really?
Malassezia folliculitis happens when there is a growth of excess yeast within the hair follicles, causing an imbalance in the bacteria-to-fungus ratio in our skin. The yeast, known as Malassezia, is a kind of fungi that are naturally found on our skin. This causes acne-like bumps to appear on the areas we’ve mentioned. "High yeast levels promote inflammation, which, in turn, manifest on the skin as pus bumps," according to Allure. Because it’s yeast-caused, tropical weather like that in Southeast Asia is the perfect environment for yeast growth. Since it’s also a fungus, it can be contagious.
It differs from bacterial acne in that fungal acne is an inflammation of the hair follicle. Its placement on parts of the upper body and a noticeable intense itching in those areas also differentiate it from regular zits. Fungal acne is most often caused by wearing tight and restrictive clothing or sweating in your clothes and not showering right away, like after a workout, for example.
What does it look like?
The difficulty here is that it really does look like a regular pimple breakout. Look for clusters of small whiteheads, so small they can be a millimetre in size. As mentioned, they would primarily appear on your chest, back, and upper arms.
How do you treat it?
It’s always best to consult a dermatologist. They may prescribe something as simple as a body wash to oral medication depending on how bad your case is. If it doesn’t clear up after several weeks, you may be prescribed with anti-fungal medication.
How do you prevent it?
You can prevent fungal acne by cleansing your skin immediately and thoroughly after a sweat sesh, especially after workouts or scuba diving where you wear tight clothing. Change into clean and loose clothes, so your skin can breathe. Using a salicylic acid cleanser while showering can help remove excess oil and dirt from the skin — two things that promote yeast growth. If you don’t have time for a full shower, keep some cleansing towelettes with an exfoliating ingredient inside your bag for a quick wipedown.