Do you have stubborn acne or dandruff that won’t seem to go away? Do you have flakes around your nose, chin, eyebrows, or scalp? Do you have pus-filled whiteheads or itchy, red patches of skin?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, you might not be dealing with acne – you might have Malassezia and seborrhoeic dermatitis – also known as fungal acne and dandruff.
For a long time, I tried treating my acne with conventional methods – using harsh cleansers and creams with benzoyl peroxide and salicylic acid, only to find my acne coming back stronger than ever. If you’re like me, you probably tried everything from Retin-A to antibiotics to get rid of your acne, only to find your skin damaged and worse than before.
If this sounds like you, you’re not alone and it’s not your fault – typical acne treatments don’t improve fungal acne, they actually make it worse.
In my book, Unmasking Acne I detail how you can treat and cure fungal acne and seborrhoeic dermatitis internally, using diet, supplements, and natural antifungals, but in the meantime, I really wanted to share with you how one specific product, MCT oil, improved my decade-long dandruff and fungal acne in just two weeks, and why it’s so much better than traditional acne and dandruff products.
But first, I want to quickly cover what fungal acne is, and how it’s different than regular acne so that we can really understand why MCT oil works so well for both acne-prone skin and dandruff.
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What is Malassezia and Fungal Acne?
Malassezia is a type of fungi that is naturally found on the skin. Everyone has Malassezia, and it’s actually necessary and beneficial in small amounts. Just like sebum oil (which usually takes the blame for bacterial, inflammatory, and hormonal acne,), Malassezia fungi isn’t evil – it’s too much Malassezia that’s the problem.
When the balance of Malassezia is thrown off on the skin or scalp, fungal infections and overgrowth can occur, leading to tons of different skin conditions, including fungal acne, seborrhoeic dermatitis (dandruff), psoriasis, and eczema. Basically, a fungal infection can cause just about every skin issue out there, so it’s super important to keep Malassezia levels regulated.
While many people’s skin has no problem naturally managing Malassezia levels, individuals with a compromised immune system, skin microbiome, or gut microbiome tend to have a much harder time managing Malassezia and are much more likely to have fungal acne and dandruff.
The underlying health issues that lead to Malassezia overgrowth can arise for a few reasons: the use of oral and topical antibiotics is a big one, along with eating an inflammatory diet. If you’ve used topical acne products or cleansers in the past and found yourself with fungal acne, it could be due to the fact that harsh acne products tend to disrupt the natural skin microbiome and act as antibiotics, leaving the skin too damaged and weak to fight off excess Malassezia. It’s one more reason why I strongly advocate for tackling acne through your diet, lifestyle, and supplements.
Before I talk about how I improved my fungal acne and dandruff with MCT oil and other natural antifungals, let’s go over the signs and symptoms of Malassezia overgrowth so that you can identify the proper treatments and methods for your specific skin.
Signs and Symptoms of Fungal Acne and Malassezia
If you’re just trying to get rid of dandruff with MCT oil, skip this section – it’s really easy to tell if you have dandruff, and regardless of whether it’s caused by dry skin or Malassezia fungus, the products I recommend below can fix it.
Fungal acne, on the other hand, is a little trickier to diagnose. It’s much different than regular acne – in fact, it’s technically not even acne at all, it just looks like acne and caused by fungi, so we call it fungal acne.
The most surefire way to tell if you have fungal acne is to check with a dermatologist – unfortunately, many of us (me included!) don’t have easy or affordable access to a dermatologist.
Luckily, it’s pretty easy to tell if you have fungal acne. These are the most common signs and symptoms:
- Whiteheads near the lips, nose, eyebrows, or jawline
- White, flakey substances near the nose
- Dandruff or flakes in the hair
- Red, pus-filled pimples
- Redness around nose and lips
- Acne that doesn’t seem to respond to conventional cleansers, creams, or treatments
Now you don’t want to jump to conclusions too quickly, but if you have had acne for a while and regular acne products don’t seem to work, you may have fungal acne. Still, even if you have regular bacterial acne and not fungal acne, the protocol I have below is a lot safer for your skin than most routines out there, and MCT oil can help both kinds of acne.
What is MCT Oil and Why It Helps With Acne and Dandruff
Basically, MCT oil is coconut oil with all the yeast-feeding properties removed.
On its own, coconut oil is an acne-killing machine – in fact, one study found that coconut oil was three times more effective than benzoyl peroxide, the most common ingredient in over-the-counter acne products, at killing acne bacteria.
Unfortunately, coconut oil is a nightmare for fungal acne and dandruff because it contains a large amount of saturated fatty acids called lauric acid. Malassezia, the fungus behind both fungal acne and seborrhoeic dermatitis-driven dandruff, feeds off of lauric acid. So while coconut oil is great for most acne, it’s not great for fungal acne.
While coconut oil is mostly lauric acid, which feeds acne and dandruff-causing bacteria, MCT oil (if you buy the right kind) is purely caprylic acid without the lauric acid, which means you’re left with pure fungus-fighting oil.
As an added bonus, while coconut oil is comedogenic, meaning it can clog pores (which we all know can lead to acne infections), MCT oil is non-comedogenic and extremely moisturizing. It leaves both the skin and the scalp moisturized and protected.
You can buy any kind of MCT oil you want as long as it’s pure caprylic and capric acid with no lauric acid. Check the ingredients list and make sure there is no lauric acid before you buy it – otherwise, you’ll be feeding your fungal acne and dandruff, not getting rid of it. I buy Left Coast Performance MCT Oil – it only contains capric acid and caprylic acid, which makes it perfect for fungal acne and dandruff.
How I use MCT Oil for Acne and Dandruff
There’s no blueprint on the perfect way to use it – you’ll need to experiment and find your own sweet spot, but I’ve found that generally speaking, the less I wash my face and hair the better.
Here’s the summary of my routine:
- Once a day in the afternoon, I’ll massage about a tablespoon or two (enough for a thin layer) of MCT oil to both my skin and my scalp.
- Let the MCT oil sit for 15 minutes or so – sometimes, I’ll let it sit for an hour or two
- Wash your face with lukewarm or cold water (hot water can dry your skin and kill good bacteria), and, if you want, use a microfiber cloth to wipe the oil off
- 1-2 times a week, I will use MCT oil with organic tea tree oil. I use the same amount of MCT oil, and then add 2-3 drops of tea tree oil for my entire scalp and face – tea tree oil is very potent – less is more!
I will also use raw honey masks once or twice a week, especially if I’m seeing a lot of redness or flakes around my nose. Unlike many other fungal infections, Malassezia fungi does not feed on sugar or carbohydrates – which means raw honey (which has lots of sugar in it) is generally safe for fungal acne. Honey is a natural antibacterial and antifungal, and I find that it helps quite a bit with my acne. Right now I’m using manuka honey, but honestly, I think that any kind of raw, organic honey would do the trick (just really make sure you get raw honey).
For my hair and skin, I will also use raw apple cider vinegar once or twice a week to wash excess oil out and tone my skin. Apple cider vinegar is a natural antifungal and antibacterial. I pore a mixture of a few tablespoons of ACV mixed with 2 cups of water and leave it on my scalp and face for 3-5 minutes. It leaves the skin surprisingly moisturized and clean.
If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking that this is crazy. After all, doesn’t oily skin cause acne and dandruff? Trust me, this is what I thought too, and I don’t blame you – after all, we’ve been told by our parents and dermatologists that damaging soaps and cleansers are the secrets to clear skin for decades. But trust me, they’re not. Here’s why I don’t use them…
Why I Don’t Use Soap, Acne Products, or Dandruff Shampoos
I would advise against not using soap or shampoo to get rid of fungal acne and dandruff for a few reasons.
First off, soap and acne products are extremely drying and damaging to the skin microbiome – in fact, most of our skin is too clean, and despite what your dermatologist told you, acne, especially fungal acne, is not caused by grimy or oily skin. In fact, if you have acne, your skin doesn’t have enough beneficial oil and bacteria to fight off fungus and acne bacteria. By stripping your skin and scalp of its necessary, healthy, moisturizing oils, your skin will compensate by pumping out more sebum oil. Both acne bacteria and Malassezia fungi thrive on sebum oil.
If you have fungal acne, benzoyl peroxide, the active ingredient in most acne cleansers, is only going to make it worse by damaging your gut microbiome, increasing overall sebum oil production (which feeds fungal acne), and drying out the skin. Fungal acne does not respond to conventional acne treatments because it isn’t caused by bacterial infections. This is why gentle, glycerin-based cleansers are best for fungal acne when you want to wash the normal dirt and grime off of your face.
The same goes for shampoo, especially prescription and over-the-counter dandruff shampoo. While it’s effective at getting rid of dandruff temporarily, it almost always results in more dandruff for two reasons: the fungus on the scalp can adapt to it, and it makes my scalp extremely dry, which can lead to flakey skin and thin, dry, damaged hair.
Trust me, you might break out or find your dandruff getting worse when you first start using MCT oil, but stick with it for at least 2 weeks and you’ll really thank yourself.
When I first stopped using soap, my skin and scalp was a nightmare, but slowly and surely, it started to get considerably better as the days went on.
I know it might seem crazy to put MCT oil, raw honey, and tea tree oil on your face, but trust me – if you have fungal acne or dandruff, the problem usually isn’t too much bacteria and sebum oil, it’s not enough.
Your skin needs help to balance out the Malassezia fungi on your skin, and it can’t do that when you’re bombarding it with antibiotics and harsh cleansers. On the other hand, MCT oil and other natural antifungals kill acne bacteria and Malassezia without damaging or drying the skin, leaving your skin with less acne, less dandruff, and more good bacteria to prevent it from happening again in the future.
I’m not saying MCT oil is a cure-all for acne or dandruff – but even after eating a healthy, acne-fighting diet, I still found myself with some annoying dandruff and fungal acne around my nose – MCT oil was the only thing that really helped.
If you’re really looking for that extra edge against fungal ance or would prefer to treat it at the source, check out my new book, Unmasking Acne, which has a whole chapter dedicated to a Fungal Acne Protocol.
I urge you to try it out and let me know how it goes in the comments below.
Frequently Asked Questions
Lauric acid is a saturated fat found in many vegetable fats such as coconut oil and palm kernels.
Fungal acne is typically filled with dark-colored, puss and is extremely itchy. Fungal acne can be found on the face, scalp, arms, and chest.
Should I use shampoo for normal scalp acne?
While I recommend abstaining from normal shampoos to treat fungal acne our team spent several weeks researching the best shampoos for scalp acne and created a list of 10 outstanding, vetted products that are safe for anyone dealing with normal scalp acne to use.