Fungal Acne: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Fungal Acne

Do you have stubborn acne that just refuses to go away? You’ve done everything you could think of but you still can’t get rid of it? Well, chances are you have fungal acne. No need to panic, it isn’t nearly as harmful as it sounds.

Fungal acne is a skin condition caused by the overgrowth of yeast that is usually present in our hair follicles. We commonly call it Malassezia folliculitis or Pityrosporum folliculitis. Calling it acne is actually incorrect because unlike acne, bacteria does not cause it. However, that does not mean it causes any less anxiety than regular acne does.

Since it’s different from the other forms of acne, it also has a distinctive treatment. Moreover, you cannot cure it with regular acne medications. Unfortunately, however, fungal acne often gets mistaken for acne vulgaris. So, we can never administer the appropriate treatment immediately. It isn’t really a surprise since the two are sometimes difficult to tell apart.

So, what does fungal acne look like? What are its symptoms and causes? How can you prevent it? Read on to find out:

What Does Fungal Acne Look Like?

fungal acne

Fungal acne is very similar in appearance to regular acne that most people experience in their teen or early adulthood. While it is the same size and shape as acne vulgaris, some tell-tale signs can help you distinguish between the two.

First, the location of the fungal acne breakout is itchy while, with regular acne it is not. Secondly, this type of acne has uniform bumps that look like whiteheads. On the other hand, regular acne has bumps of varying size and appearance, occasionally occurring in clusters.

You are likely to find fungal acne on the back, chest, shoulders, and upper arm region. It also grows on oil-rich regions of your face such as the forehead, chin, and sides of your nose. Bacterial acne will grow on the face more often and is not as common in less-oily regions.

Lastly, while fungal acne does cause you itchiness along with a burning sensation, it is not inflamed and will usually not have redness around it. Regular acne, however, has a lot of redness around the lesions.

While you should be able to identify the type of acne you have by understanding these differences, it is better to consult a dermatologist.

Diagnosing Fungal Acne:

boy with allergies on the skin

Getting a confirmed diagnosis of fungal acne is vital before you start taking medication. Medicines or antibiotics that you use for bacterial acne can worsen fungal acne and cause inflammation. Therefore, it is wise to go see a dermatologist for a diagnosis.

In most cases, the doctor will be able to determine the fungal acne by knowing answers to the following:

  • How long do you have the lesions and breakouts?
  • How has it responded to the treatments, you have tried?
  • What symptoms are you experiencing with the condition?

In some cases, your dermatologist might also want to get skin scraping to examine the sample and see if there is any yeast or fungi in it. They may also choose to do a simple biopsy to draw a more reliable conclusion.

What Causes Fungal Acne?


As mentioned earlier, fungal acne is a result of the excess growth of a fungal (or yeast) organism known as Pityrosporum. It is a part of our skin’s normal flora yet, this fungus exists in a proper balance with the bacteria of your microbiome (a community of micro-organisms living together).

Under certain circumstances, the skin loses this balance and it results in the eruption of fungal acne. There can be many reasons for this imbalance. We will discuss a few of these here:

1. Heat and Humidity:

Hotter climates are more likely to trigger and aggravate fungal acne. It is primarily because the yeast that causes this disease thrives in warm and moist environments.

2. Sweating:

Sweating exacerbates fungal acne since yeast grows better in moist places. All the following can cause fungal acne:

  • Not showering after excessive sweat breakouts
  • Not changing out the workout clothes after exercise
  • Not washing sweaty clothes before reusing them

Moreover, wearing non-breathable fabrics that cling to your skin will also foster the perfect environment for yeast to grow on your skin.

3. Overuse Of Medication:

The bacteria on your skin keep the yeast population in check. When the population of bacteria gets disturbed, the yeast flourishes, thus leading to fungal acne. One cause of this is the prolonged use of topical or oral antibiotics.

4. Direct Contact:

It is possible to get fungal acne from someone who is already experiencing this condition since it is contagious.

5. Immunocompromisation:

With a weak immune system, you are more likely to suffer from fungal acne. This type of acne is common in people who recently have had surgeries, transplants, etc. These treatments could have weakened their immunity against fungal acne.

6. Irregular Diet Changes:

While no specific diets could cause this condition, this disorder can aggravate by an excess of sugar or carbohydrates in your diet. Both of those substances are ideal food for fungi growth.

7. Face Masks:

women with white mask

Face masks are a necessity nowadays due to the ongoing pandemic. Most of these masks are for single-use only and made of a material that traps heat and humidity under it. Therefore, they cultivate the ideal grounds for fungal acne to grow.

8. Steroid Induced Acne:

Steroids such as corticosteroids, steroid inhalation, topical steroid creams, and other bodybuilding drugs cause fungal acne. It is because when you take steroids, your body’s sebaceous glands release more oils, which the yeast feeds on.

When Should You Visit A Doctor For Your Acne?


Acne is a common problem and nearly everyone experiences it once in his or her life. Consequently, you do not have to see a doctor about an issue so trivial. Nevertheless, if the breakout has not responded to your topical treatment in over 3 weeks, it is time to give your dermatologist a call.

Another reason for concern: the breakout subsides temporarily but returns to the same location shortly after. It might seem unnecessary at the time but a good antifungal treatment will not only cure the disorder but will also help prevent further breakouts.

Treating Fungal Acne:

fungal acne

Fungal acne is easy enough to treat, yet most people get late to start the therapy at the right time. Fungal acne is very similar to regular acne and is often mistaken for it. So, most people often try to treat it like normal acne. Those treatments do not, however, work on fungal acne, and can end up making it worse.

The suitable way of dealing with fungal acne is by restoring balance to the skin’s flora. There are several ways to do this. While you could administer some of the treatments yourself, it is best to get a doctor’s opinion on the others.

1. Anti Dandruff shampoos:

shmapo bolttles on a tabel

Anti-dandruff shampoos usually contain antifungal substances known as zinc pyrithione or selenium sulfide. A more potent antifungal chemical is ketoconazole. Shampoos and creams with this ingredient are only available as a prescription. Nevertheless, they are more effective than regular anti-dandruff shampoos. All in all, shampoos featuring such ingredients are great for combating fungal acne outbreaks. What you need to do is apply the shampoo to your skin and let it sit for a few minutes. Lather and rinse it off. You could make a habit of using it once a week as a preventive measure too.

2. Over the counter ointments:

Many OTC creams will specifically fight fungal growth. Products with ingredients such as ketoconazole, butenafine, or clotrimazole treat fungal diseases like athlete’s foot, jock’s itch, and others. You can use these to deal with fungal acne, as well. The skin on your face is more sensitive than that on the rest of your body. So, be a little more careful with what you use on your face.

3. Oral medication:

orange medicine

Drugs such as itraconazole or fluconazole target hair follicles and eliminate the infections in them. These are effective treatments but you might need a proper prescription for them.

4. Tea Tree Oil:

Tea tree oil is well-known for its antiseptic and antifungal properties. Hence, it is no surprise that it is a popular treatment option for fungal acne. To apply topically, you have to mix the tea tree oil with a carrier oil in a 1-2:12 proportion. The carrier oil can be any of your choosing such as olive oil, coconut oil, etc.

Since oils aren’t suitable for fungal acne, it is better to combine the tea tree oil with salicylic acid. You can also combine it with benzoyl peroxide. It will increase the penetrative ability of the oil into the clogged pores. Tea tree oil can cause an allergic reaction to certain people, so make sure to perform a patch test before using it.

How Long Does Fungal Acne Last?

fungal acne

Left untreated, fungal acne can last weeks, months, and even years. With the right treatment, you will notice your skin healing within the first few days. Moderate occurrences of fungal acne will improve significantly in a matter of weeks but more severe cases can take longer.

How to Prevent Fungal Acne?

washing hands with water

While there is no surefire technique to avoid fungal acne in its entirety, there are ways to lower the chances of getting it.

Maintain a Balanced Diet:

Avoid overconsumption of food rich in carbohydrates and sugar. Fungi such as yeast feed on carbohydrates, so having an excess of those will help the fungi grow. Balance your diet by consuming more fruits, vegetables, and proteins.

Use Oil-Free Moisturizer:

Yeast thrives on oils, so anything that is rich in oil or is oil-based will promote fungal growth. Steer clear of any skin products that feel too greasy or target people with dry skin because those will likely be very oily.


Exfoliating regularly will remove excess dirt and oils from your skin. It will also keep your pores clean. Since fungi mostly grow in regions that are excessively oily or moist, your skin will no longer be a suitable ground for its growth.

Use Natural Anti-fungals:

Oregano, black walnut, garlic, cloves, etc. are naturally rich in antifungal compounds. While incorporating these in your diet is effective, you can also consume them in capsule or essential oil form. Since these ingredients can be a little harsh, it is best to consult an expert before using them as essential oils.

Keep proper hygiene:

It is vital to shower regularly, especially if you have an active lifestyle. You should also change your clothes often and not wear sweaty clothes without properly airing or washing them. While washing, make sure to use an antiseptic wash to kill off any microbial growth in the fabric.

Avoid tight-fitting clothes:

Clothes that boost the buildup of moisture due to restricted airflow will lead to yeast growth on the skin. Wearing breathable fabric combats this and prevents excessive moisture accumulation. If avoiding tight clothing is not an option, you should make a habit of changing them immediately after use.  Also, wipe off excessive sweat before changing into more comfortable clothes.



Fungal acne can be both painful and uncomfortable. It is a result of a disturbance in your skin’s microbiome, which then leads to fungi growing out of control. It is possible to tell fungal acne apart from regular one by paying attention to its appearance and the symptoms associated with it. While this type of acne can occur to anyone at any time, mostly it triggers due to moisture, heat, or bad hygiene. It is also possible to get fungal acne from someone who is already experiencing the condition.

You can combat fungal acne in different ways, the most popular of which is anti-dandruff shampoo. You can also lower your chances of getting this disorder by eating healthy food and paying more attention to your general cleanliness.

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Suhail Ajmal
Suhail is a blogger, an editor, and a researcher, who writes for various lifestyle publications. He creates blog posts around his interests, hobbies, and daily activities. Connect with him on Twitter.