Glycerin is a popular skincare ingredient found in almost every skincare product, from cleansers to moisturizers and even sunscreens.
And although glycerin offers many benefits for the skin, there has been some debate over whether glycerin can cause fungal acne.
And as always, skin professionals, skincare enthusiasts, and everyone else that lurks in the skincare corners of the internet has divided opinions.
Therefore, in this article, we will go over what the research says on this subject and answer the burning question of whether the ingredient found at the top of the list of almost every skincare product can cause fungal acne once and for all!
Table of Contents
What is Glycerin and What Does it Do to The Skin?
Glycerin is a humectant that’s present in all natural lipids, whether animal or vegetable.
It can be derived from natural substances by hydrolysis of fats and fermentation of sugars.
However, the glycerin used in skincare products is synthetically manufactured due to being more stable, purified of potential allergens, and less expensive.
Glycerin is a colorless, odorless, and viscous liquid that is soluble in water and alcohol, and even though it’s present in natural lipids, glycerin on its own isn’t an oily or greasy substance.
Instead, glycerin is more efficient in pulling moisture from the deeper layers of the skin and bringing it to its surface.
This moisture-binding ability makes glycerin an effective and popular ingredient in skincare products and beneficial for all skin types and skin concerns.
Some benefits of glycerin in skincare products include:
- Reducing skin redness.
- Relieving skin sensitivity, irritation, and itching due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
- Preventing dehydration by slowing down transepidermal water loss.
- Acting as a mild exfoliator by dissolving the proteins that hold dead skin cells together.
- Strengthening the skin barrier through superior hydration.
- Aiding in skin healing.
- Balancing harsh and stripping surfactants, such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Sodium Laureth Sulfate found in cleansers.
What is Fungal Acne?
Now that we know what glycerin is and what it does let’s move on to the fungal acne part.
Fungal acne is a type of itchy, pustular pimples caused by an overgrowth of a yeast called Malassezia that’s naturally present on the skin.
The overgrowth can occur due to many reasons, such as using skin care products that are too greasy or occlusive and not cleansing the skin properly.
Additionally, environmental factors can sometimes also play a role in exacerbating fungal acne, with some reports showing Malassezia’s prevalence to be the highest in areas of high heat and humidity.
Some professionals also add sweating as another factor that could trigger fungal acne; however, sweat alone is unlikely to do this.
By that logic, we would be breaking out in fungal acne even in the soles of our feet and palms of our hands, where we tend to sweat a lot, which isn’t the case.
This is why sweat could only be an issue when present alongside other components such as sebum.
Therefore, despite the differences in opinion, most experts in the field agree on one thing: Malassezia overgrowth is caused by excessively oily skin (or oily areas such as the T-zone) due to overactive sebaceous glands in these areas.
Is There a Link Between Glycerin and Fungal Acne?
It turns out to be a common misconception that Malassezia feeds on glycerin because glycerin is present in all natural fats, oils, and fatty esters (triglycerides.)
However, Malassezia doesn’t survive on all oils, fatty acids, or esters. Like all living organisms, it requires a few very specific components that will create an environment to thrive and proliferate.
It’s known that Malassezia would split host triglycerides into free fatty acids, which they then use to build their own mid-length and long-chain fatty acids to survive on.
For example, if an oil, fatty acid, or ester has a carbon chain length of less than 11, it’s not likely to trigger an overgrowth of Malassezia.
MCT oils, which are safe for fungal acne, bear carbon chain lengths ranging from C6 to C10, with C8 being the most favored for its anti-fungal properties.
But besides that, while glycerin is present in natural fats, oils, and triglycerides – it doesn’t contain fats, oils, and triglycerides itself.
This is why there has never been concrete evidence linking glycerin as the main cause of fungal acne, but merely assumptions that stem from misunderstanding how these components work.
Does Glycerin Clog Pores?
Another common glycerin-related skincare concern is that it could clog pores and lead to breakouts.
Glycerin is often confused with glycols, such as propylene glycol, butylene glycol, and pentylene glycol – all of which could potentially cause clogged pores for some people and are components that you should be wary of if you are prone to breakouts.
Propylene glycol, in particular, has been known to be a skin irritant for some people and has also been linked to more permanent conditions such as irritant contact dermatitis.
On the other hand, glycerin is a non-comedogenic ingredient that can often be seen on the ingredient list in acne treatments because of its ability to help the skin retain moisture without clogging pores.
This means that glycerin not only won’t cause you to breakout but can actually help clear up your skin if you’re struggling with acne.
Lastly, glycerin is mildly antimicrobial and antiviral and is an FDA-approved treatment for wounds.
The Red Cross reports that an 85% glycerin solution shows bactericidal and antiviral effects, and wounds treated with glycerin show reduced inflammation after roughly two hours of applying it to the skin. This is why many of the top fungal acne-safe moisturizers contain glycerin.
How to Tell if You Have Fungal Acne?
Fungal acne is usually easy to recognize if you know what to look for when identifying your pimples.
Fungal acne most often manifests itself as inflamed, pus-filed pimples with a reddish base.
They are usually itchy and often appear in clusters, and tend to thrive in the oilier parts of your face and body (such as the T-zone, back, chest, and shoulders.)
Additionally, one easily overlooked sign of fungal acne in some people can be excessive dandruff, as well as a condition known as seborrheic dermatitis, which most commonly affects the scalp, but can also affect other (typically oily) areas of the face and body and manifests itself as scaly patches, red skin, and excessive skin shedding.
These are pretty much all the warning signs of fungal acne, so if you suspect that your acne issue isn’t really a standard acne issue, the best thing to do is visit a doctor to get a proper diagnosis and treatment.
Your doctor will likely perform a shave biopsy by scraping the flared-up areas and sending the sample to a lab or extracting a comedone and analyzing the DNA using a real-time PCR system and a quantitative PCR reagent, which is a newer and more sophisticated method of diagnosing Malassezia folliculitis.
Can You Treat Fungal Acne With Glycerin?
As we’ve established before, glycerin is a safe ingredient for fungal acne.
In fact, glycerin can be quite helpful in treating fungal acne due to its hydrating properties as well as its ability to help the skin heal and repair itself. This is why the majority of fungal acne-safe makeup products contain glycerin.
However, while glycerin is a safe ingredient for fungal acne, it’s not necessarily the most effective one.
This is because glycerin only has mild antibacterial properties, and these properties, although effective for bacterial acne, won’t do much to neutralize the overgrowth of the Malassezia yeast on its own.
Therefore, if you want to treat your fungal acne with glycerin, it’s best to use it in combination with other more potent anti-fungal ingredients, such as ketoconazole, climbazole, or zinc.
When used with other anti-fungal ingredients, glycerin can help soothe the skin, lock in moisture, and speed up healing.
Glycerin Side Effects on the Skin
Generally speaking, glycerin is a very safe ingredient for the skin, and most people won’t experience any side effects when using products that contain glycerin.
However, as with all skincare ingredients, there is always a small chance that you may be one of the few people who are allergic to glycerin or have reactive skin that can’t tolerate this particular ingredient.
If you do experience any irritation, redness, itching, or burning after applying glycerin to your skin, it’s best to stop using it immediately and consult a doctor if necessary.
Additionally, glycerin is a powerful humectant, and although this is super beneficial for the skin, humectants work best when followed up by an emollient.
Therefore, when applying a lightweight product that contains glycerin, such as a toner or a serum, the best thing to do is to follow it up with a lightweight, non-comedogenic moisturizer while the skin is still damp from the previous step.
This will truly help lock that moisture into the upper layers of the skin and prevent it from evaporating through the pores. The result will be hydrated, soft, clear, and healthy skin.
What’s The Best Skincare Routine for Fungal Acne?
If you suspect that you might have fungal acne, the best thing to do is visit a dermatologist to get diagnosed.
Once you’ve received the diagnosis, your dermatologist can help you put together a skincare routine specifically tailored for your skin needs.
However, in general, these are the steps that should be included in a skincare routine for fungal acne:
The first step in any skincare routine is cleansing the skin, which is especially important when dealing with fungal acne.
This is because you want to make sure that you’re removing all the dirt, oil, and makeup from your face, as well as any other products that may be aggravating your skin.
If you are interested, we have written a highly detailed post on how to pick out the best face wash for fungal acne. This post will show you how to find a non-comedogenic cleanser that will prevent the Malassezia yeast from spreading while keeping your skin moisturized. These cleansers do not contain harsh ingredients, sulfates, or other irritants so you do not have to worry about anything other than clearing up your fungal acne.
A gentle exfoliator that contains antibacterial and anti-inflammatory ingredients such as salicylic or mandelic acid is an excellent product for fungal acne as it will help dissolve the cellular debris inside the pores, including yeast overgrowth that has accumulated due to the slow shedding of dead skin cells.
If glycerin is one of the main ingredients in your skincare routine, then you’re on an excellent way to get rid of fungal acne.
While almost all skincare products contain glycerin, it’s best to use a product that’s lightweight and leave-on, such as a serum that would stay on the skin for longer.
As glycerin is a humectant, it’s important to follow up with an emollient layer to seal in the moisture.
The best type of moisturizer to use is one that’s lightweight, non-comedogenic, and oil-free.
Last but not least, don’t forget to apply a nickel-sized amount of fungal acne-safe sunscreen every morning to protect your skin from UV damage and cell degradation. Many sunscreens contain oils that can worsen fungal acne breakouts. If you are dealing with fungal acne make sure to use a sunscreen that will help soothe and treat your fungal acne.
The Bottom Line – Will Glycerin Cause Your Skin to Break Out in Fungal Acne?
In conclusion, no, glycerin won’t cause your skin to break out in itchy, fungal acne.
But besides not doing any harm, glycerin can also help treat fungal acne to some degree due to its superior hydrating properties that might minimize the skin’s need for excess sebum.
However, although useful, glycerin won’t do miracles for fungal acne on its own, but it will definitely improve this pesky condition when used in combination with other, more targeted anti-fungal components.
Additionally, glycerin will also help soothe the skin, lock in moisture, strengthen the skin barrier, and thus speed up the healing process.