Skin Care

Is Glycerin Safe To Use On Fungal Acne (Malassezia Folliculitis) Prone Skin?

Is Glycerin Safe To Use On Fungal Acne (Malassezia Folliculitis) Prone Skin? The Answer May Surprise You!

Based on the evidence, we conclude that glycerin is safe and does not cause or worsen (malassezia folliculitis) fungal acne. To learn more, keep reading.

When we think of hydrating ingredients in skincare, we usually think of hyaluronic acid.

Hyaluronic acid, as popular as it is, is not the only moisture booster available. You may be familiar with glycerin, which is a widely used and less glamorous hydrator.

Despite the popularity of hyaluronic acid, glycerin is still the best and most effective hydrator in today’s skincare products.

Arguably, seven out of ten skincare products are likely to contain glycerin. Its ability to effectively hydrate the skin is one of the reasons for this. Healthy, hydrated skin helps to keep the epidermal moisture barrier intact, which protects us from pathogenic microorganisms and skin conditions such as dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, and malassezia folliculitis.

What is fungal acne?

Fungal acne, also known as malassezia folliculitis or pityrosporum folliculitis, is an infection caused by an overgrowth of yeast (Malassezia) within the hair follicles of the skin, resulting in tiny “acne-like” pimples that itch a lot.

Despite the fact that these pimples resemble common acne, they will not respond to traditional acne treatments because the bumps are caused by yeast rather than bacteria.

As a result, if you are unaware of this distinction, treating this seemingly stubborn form of acne can be difficult.

Check out our comprehensive article on fungal acne for a more in-depth look at this skin condition, including its causes, treatment tips, and prevention.

What is glycerin?

Glycerin, also known as glycerol, is a compound that is naturally present in healthy skin. In the topic of skincare, glycerin is derived from vegetable sources.

No matter how derived—from plants, animals, or synthetically—glycerin is a humectant. A humectant is known to pull moisture from the air into the stratum corneum (uppermost layer of the skin). When the humidity in the atmosphere is low, it does the exact opposite—it pulls moisture from the deep layers of the skin up to the surface.

When absorbed into the skin, glycerin can replenish the moisture your skin has lost.

Hyaluronic acid, too, is a humectant. Other lesser-known humectants include sorbitol, propylene glycol, and AHAs like glycolic acid.

What are the differences between fungal acne and regular acne?

Fungal acne is usually mistaken for regular acne, otherwise known as acne vulgaris. This is because fungal acne exhibits like common acne. However, they are not the same. 

The differences between fungal acne and regular acne are outlined in the table below.

<< Swipe leftFungal acne (malassezia folliculitis)Regular acne (acne vulgaris)
Causative agent Fungal acne is caused by Malassezia yeast, a fungusBacteria cause regular acne – C.acnes (Cutibacterium acnes)
Main causeFungal acne happens when there is an overgrowth of Malassezia yeast trapped in the hair follicles. Regular acne happens when excess oil produced by the skin gets trapped within the skin’s pores.
Feeling Fungal acne is usually itchyRegular acne is usually not itchy.
TriggersExcess heat and sweating can aggravate fungal acne symptomsExcess heat and sweating usually have minimal effects on common acne symptoms.
AppearanceFungal acne breakouts are usually tiny, uniform bumps in clusters on the face, upper chest, and back.Regular acne breakouts happen anywhere on the face or upper parts of the body and exhibit in different sizes and forms (cysts, blackheads, whiteheads, pustules, etc.)
SpreadFungal acne can be contagious in some cases, especially if the skin is broken or the other party has immunodeficiencies; this can occur because yeast can spread through close body contact.Regular acne is not contagious or infectious.
TreatmentsAntibiotics and typical acne treatments will not work and might aggravate it even further.Antibiotics and standard acne treatments will help to alleviate acne vulgaris symptoms.

Is glycerin safe for fungal acne?

In the fungal acne community, glycerin is popularly considered to be an ingredient that can trigger fungal acne breakouts. Other websites online promote this misinformation and advise people with fungal acne to avoid glycerin because it allegedly promotes the growth of malassezia yeast. This, however, is not the case.

Glycerin is a humectant that is present in both animal and vegetable fats. For the formulation of skin care products, glycerin is usually made synthetically (in a lab). As mentioned earlier, glycerin is present naturally in the skin, and it helps restore and replenish the skin. It also helps hydrate the skin, defend against dryness and dehydration, and maintains the skin’s moisture level.

Glycerin is great for hydrating the skin, and it works exceptionally well when joined with other occlusive and emollients. Because of the hydration it provides, glycerin can repair and maintain the skin’s moisture barrier.

No matter the skin condition you have, a healthy moisture barrier is a very important, if not the most important, element of healthy skin. Without a healthy moisture barrier, your skin cannot be clear and smooth because it cannot fully heal and repair itself.

Malassezia, the yeast that causes fungal acne, is a lipophilic fungus and fatty acid auxotroph. As a lipophilic fungus, malassezia yeasts often take over areas of the skin that have an abundance of sebaceous activity, e.g., the chest, back, head, and face. The abundance of oils, fatty acids, and lipids in these areas is required for the growth of Malassezia yeast. Without these lipids, malassezia yeast cannot survive.

However, malassezia yeast does not survive on all oils, fatty acids, or esters. The lipids that malassezia yeast can thrive on must have carbon chain lengths longer than 11. Therefore, if an oil, fatty acid, or ester has a carbon chain length less than 11, it is not likely to promote fungal acne. For example, fungal acne safe MCT oils will bear carbon chain lengths ranging from C6 to C10. C8 is the most favored for its antifungal and skin-benefiting properties.

According to its chemical classification, glycerin is a polyol, not a fatty acid. It’s also not a lipid (ceramide, cholesterol ester, ester, fat, oil, phospholipid, phytosphingosine, polysorbate, sterol ester, triglyceride, wax ester, etc.). It’s a sugar alcohol or, to put it another way, a cosmetic syrup. As a result, it is unlikely to encourage the proliferation of fungal acne.

According to Molecular Diversity Preservation International (MDPI), malassezia yeast grows in the presence of free acids, free acid esters, and fatty alcohols that have carbon chain lengths longer than 12. It was also observed that malassezia yeast did NOT grow in the presence of free acids, free acid esters, and fatty alcohols that have carbon chain lengths shorter than 12.

One study discovered that glycerin does not cause malassezia to grow unless lipids are added to the test medium. This suggests that the real worry is with the lipids and, not glycerin.

Malassezia yeast is not only responsible for fungal acne. It also causes seborrheic dermatitis and severe dandruff. This is why anti-dandruff shampoos generally work to inhibit the growth of malassezia yeast. Another study showed that glycerin was effective against seborrheic dermatitis.

According to another study, glycerin contains some antimicrobial and antifungal properties, which may help deter the growth of malassezia yeast.

Nevertheless, when glycerin is used in high concentrations, irritation and inflammation of the skin can occur. These adverse effects can exacerbate the symptoms of fungal acne and may cause even more breakouts.

Based on the evidence, we conclude that glycerin is safe for malassezia folliculitis (fungal acne) and is not a causative agent of this skin condition.

Benefits of glycerin in skincare

1. Glycerin moisturizes the skin

This is the primary and major function of glycerin in skincare products. Glycerin improves the skin’s moisture levels by attracting moisture from the atmosphere and trapping it in your skin. It helps the skin appear hydrated, soft, and healthy.

2. Glycerin helps repair and maintain the skin’s natural barrier

One characteristic of healthy skin is a natural barrier. This barrier helps protect the skin against the penetration of environmental stressors and pollutants. However, acne breakouts, irritation, and the use of harsh skincare products can break down and damage this skin barrier (lipid matrix). When the lipid matrix is not functioning optimally, the skin becomes more susceptible to dirt, pollutants, and breakouts, amongst other things. 

A recent study discovered that the combination of glycerin, hyaluronic acid, and centella asiatica extract could improve the skin barrier function up to 24 hours after applying it.

3. Glycerin has healing and anti-aging properties

Glycerin has wound-healing effects that restore damaged skin tissue and help treat scars.
Glycerin may also slow the aging of the skin by keeping it firm. With consistent use, it can also dissolve fine lines and wrinkles in the skin, making it look more supple and youthful.

4. Glycerin can treat some skin conditions

The hydrating and moisturizing properties of glycerin help calm irritated and inflamed skin. Research has shown that some skincare products containing glycerin effectively treat skin conditions like eczema and atopic dermatitis.

A study involving 197 atopic dermatitis patients showed that the smarting of the skin reduced significantly when the condition was treated with a 20% glycerin cream.

Glycerin typically functions as a humectant, fragrance, oral care agent, oral healthcare drug, skin conditioning agent, hair conditioning agent, skin protectant, viscosity-decreasing agent, and denaturant. 

Side effects of glycerin

In general, glycerin is a very safe product. The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Expert reviewed relevant human and animal data and concluded that glycerin is safe to use as a cosmetic ingredient. That’s why it’s included in many facial moisturizers and cleansers. You can also find this powerhouse ingredient in toners and serums.

Some people, however, may be allergic to glycerin. A study indicated that before applying pure glycerin onto your skin, you should dilute it with rosewater because rosewater also hydrates the skin and purifies your pores. Two tablespoons of glycerin to a quarter cup of rose or distilled water is a good starting point for dilution. Stir gently until all of the ingredients are well combined.

There are no reported side effects of glycerin when used in skincare products. However, as with any other skincare ingredient—even natural ones—there is always a chance that some people may experience irritation and allergic reactions as a result of using glycerin, mainly when used in high concentrations.

As mentioned earlier, glycerin typically pulls moisture from the atmosphere. If the humidity is low, glycerin pulls water from the dermis (middle layer of the skin) up into the stratum corneum. This can cause the dermis to become very dehydrated, which can result in crusting or blistering of the skin.

If your skin becomes red, itches, or develops a rash after using a glycerin-based skincare product, it is advisable to discontinue use immediately. To avoid this, you can conduct a patch test on the product to make sure it won’t irritate your skin. If you don’t know how to conduct a patch test, this article will teach you how.

ProTip
To be sure if your skin can tolerate glycerin or not, you can patch test pure diluted glycerin alone by itself for about two to three weeks. If you break out in the tested area, then you’re likely sensitive to glycerin. If not, it is likely that your skin can tolerate it without any negative effects.

N.B.: Don’t use pure glycerin directly on your skin. Glycerin in such high concentrations may cause a negative skin reaction. Instead, dilute pure glycerin with either distilled water or rosewater. This reduces the concentration of glycerin, which in turn reduces the risk of skin irritation.

Conclusion

Malassezia yeast generally thrives in areas where there is excess oil production, fatty acids, troublesome fatty alcohols, and lipids. Glycerin is none of these things.

Despite the fact that it has an oily texture, glycerin is not an oil or lipid. Glycerin is actually a sugar alcohol (polyol)—syrup for your face—that possesses many skincare benefits. It has been scientifically proven that glycerin provides intense hydration to dry or dehydrated skin, and is generally safe to use in skincare. Glycerin has also been reported to be the third most used ingredient in many skin care formulations.

To actually promote the growth of Malassezia yeast, the lipids (oils, fatty acids, or esters) present on the skin must have carbon chain lengths longer than 10. If the substances’ carbon chain length is shorter than 11, Malassezia yeast cannot thrive on it. The carbon chain length of glycerin is just 3. Further implying that Malassezia yeast cannot thrive on glycerin.

When glycerin is applied to the skin in its pure form—or without other fungal acne-promoting ingredients—it does not induce nor promote the growth of fungal acne.

Instead, it hydrates, rebalances, and heals the skin, all of which are essential for maintaining youthful, healthy skin.

If you have fungal acne and are not sure which ingredients can trigger a breakout or not, you can do a quick check with our handy ingredient checker.

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