All You Need To Know About Fungal Acne

Written by Annie Jangam

Do you have breakouts on your arms, chest, and back that refuse to clear up? Are the usual acne treatments only making things worse? These stubborn eruptions that cause skin irritation could be fungal acne.

Although it is hard to eliminate fungal acne, there are a few methods to kill the fungus and soothe the inflammation. Here, we discuss the symptoms of fungal acne, its causes, and the best treatment and preventive measures available to combat this condition. Read on.

What Is Fungal Acne (Malassezia Folliculitis)?

Fungal acne is also referred to as pityrosporum folliculitis or Malassezia folliculitis (1). It is non-contagious and non-infective.

Malassezia furfur is a type of yeast naturally found on your skin. During fungal acne, the yeast can grow excessively in the hair follicles. The sebaceous glands over-secrete the oily sebum and clog the pores and the hair follicles in your skin. They trap the yeast and bacteria within and lead to inflammation in your hair follicles.

Fungal acne (Malassezia folliculitis) and regular or bacterial acne (acne vulgaris) are often confused with each other. As fungal acne has a different cause, it does not respond to the usual acne treatment. In fact, using a regular treatment approach can even worsen the symptoms.

Do you suspect you may have this condition? Keep reading to know the symptoms of fungal acne.

What Are The Symptoms Of Fungal Acne?

The following symptoms of fungal acne can help you recognize the condition and seek proper treatment:

  • Equal-sized, pus-filled bumps on the skin
  • Acne-like breakouts, especially on the chest, arms, and back
  • Itchiness of the skin around breakouts
  • Occasional stinging sensation
  • Clustered whitehead appearance

Consult a dermatologist if you have these symptoms. But what causes them?

What Causes Fungal Acne?

The overgrowth of Malassezia furfur (the fungus responsible for fungal acne) is caused by a disturbance in the natural balance between yeast and bacteria. The following factors can create the imbalance:

  • Trapped Moisture

Re-wearing your sweaty workout clothes can cause the moisture to get trapped. This moisture further exposes your skin to both bacterial and fungal overgrowth.

  • Tight Clothes

Tight clothes prevent breathability and can encourage additional sweating and moisture trapping. Synthetic fabrics further create an environment for yeast and fungal growth.

  • Medications

Prescription antibiotics may disrupt the natural skin microbiome (2). This way, they may lead to the overgrowth of opportunistic microorganisms such as fungi. Also, prolonged use of topical steroids may reduce the defensive mechanism of your skin and allow microbial growth (3).

  • Chronic Medical Conditions

Individuals dealing with chronic conditions with a compromised immune system may develop secondary infections such as Malassezia folliculitis. More research is warranted to further understand this phenomenon.

  • Comedogenic Skin Products

Fungal infections on the skin feed on the sebum (a type of oily secretion). Using comedogenic skincare products, such as sunscreens and lotions, may clog the skin pores and trap the sebum. Such products could increase the risk of acne, both bacterial and fungal.

  • Excess Sebum Production

Excess sebum production can also increase your risk of developing fungal acne. Adolescents are more likely to experience excess sebum production and develop fungal acne due to hormonal changes during their puberty.

  • Diet Changes

Carbohydrate-rich food and excess sweets in your diet may exacerbate fungal growth. Balancing your diet may check fungal growth.

  • Climatic Conditions

Yeast (being fungi) multiplies rapidly in hot and humid climates. People living in such climatic conditions are more prone to fungal acne.

As discussed, fungal acne can be mistaken for regular acne. It is best to talk to a healthcare professional to determine what acne you have. Read on to know how your doctor can diagnose the condition.

How Is Fungal Acne Diagnosed?

Your doctor will diagnose fungal acne by taking a detailed medical history and asking you about your symptoms. The characteristics of your symptoms, such as their onset, duration, severity, and treatment methods you may have tried previously, will help your doctor reach a diagnosis.

Specific diagnostic procedures such as skin samples and biopsy can help confirm your diagnosis (4). Your doctor may recommend these procedures, if necessary.

As stated before, the usual acne treatment is ineffective against fungal acne. In the next section, we look at some effective treatment methods for fungal acne.

How Is Fungal Acne Treated?

While curing Malassezia folliculitis could be very difficult, you can manage its symptoms. Here are some common treatments for fungal acne:

Take The Right Medications

Medications help control fungal overgrowth and restore the bacterial flora balance on your skin. Addressing these two concerns may keep the acne from recurring (1), (4). There are two classes of medications used to treat Malassezia folliculitis:

  • Oral Medications

The treatment length of antifungal oral medications depends on the extent of your condition. You can reduce or stop the medications once the itchiness and inflammation subside. You can then switch to topical medications.

  • Topical Medications

These medications help prevent a recurrence of acne. They are available in body wash or shampoo form. You will have to wash the affected area regularly with the product when you have an active breakout. Once the irritation is relieved, you can use the product once a week.

Use Oil-Free Moisturizers

Using oily, comedogenic skin products will invite fungal infections. These products can clog the pores and allow the fungus to breed, further worsening your acne.

Your skin may also develop bouts of irritation and dryness during the course of the treatment. Hence, going for an oil-free gel or water-based moisturizer would be ideal.

Use Multifunctional Serums

Less is more when it comes to taking care of acne-prone skin. Instead of using too many products, switch to a multifunctional serum that can target your breakouts and help fade the dark spots.

Exfoliate Your Skin

Exfoliation clears away dead skin cells, excess sebum, and dirt from your skin. These factors may otherwise promote the growth of bacteria and fungi within the pores of your skin. Regular use of a body exfoliator can reduce the chances of developing fungal acne.

Apply Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is a natural antifungal ingredient with antiseptic properties (5). The oil may help treat fungal acne. Before incorporating the oil into your skincare routine, do a patch test by applying the oil mixture to a small area of your skin and check for any allergic reactions. Tea tree oil is quite potent; hence, dilute it with a carrier oil before use.

Are you wondering how long the symptoms of fungal acne can take to subside? Keep reading.

How Long Does It Take To Reduce Fungal Acne?

While some people claim to notice results in 2 to 3 days, fungal acne may also take months to improve (even with the right treatment). The exact duration depends on the extent and severity of your acne. In some cases, it may not resolve and keep recurring.

As we saw, the total cure of fungal acne is extremely difficult. However, you can reduce the risk of re-infection with some handy tips.

Preventing Fungal Acne: Dos And Don’ts


  • Use antifungal body wash and shampoo at least once each week.
  • Wear breathable clothes made of natural fabrics to let your skin breathe.
  • Wipe your body with wipes after every workout if you are unable to shower immediately.
  • If you live in an area with a very humid climate, consider showering or rinsing frequently.
  • To get rid of fungal acne on the forehead and other areas of the face, avoid wearing make-up. Wash your face frequently.


  • Avoid wearing very tight clothing. It may block sweat and trap the fungi.
  • Change your workout clothes and wash them before wearing them for your next session.
  • Do not use comedogenic products containing coconut or olive oils on your scalp and skin. These may clog your pores and worsen the condition.

Fungal acne often appears similar to acne vulgaris. How are the two different?

How Does Fungal Acne Differ From Regular Acne?

Regular acne usually is scattered on the face and occasionally over the neck, chest, and back. The breakouts may have different lesions involving whiteheads, blackheads, nodules, pustules, papules, etc. These acne breakouts are of varying sizes. Although regular acne begins in adolescents, it can persist and pass into adulthood (6).

Malassezia folliculitis differs in appearance. These breakouts are usually smaller (1 to 2 mm) and are of similar size and shape. The skin condition accompanies itchiness (absent in acne vulgaris).

Unlike regular acne, fungal acne is present over the shoulders, back, chest, and hair roots in clusters (7). Moreover, it typically affects young adults.

When Should I See A Doctor?

If your acne persists for more than 3 weeks, you should consult your dermatologist. Your doctor can prescribe you medications and topical applications for treating the fungal infection. These treatments can be more efficient at reducing infection.

You should also consult your doctor for treating recurring and chronic fungal acne infections.

To Conclude

Fungal acne is an infection in the hair follicles that occurs due to yeast overgrowth. It differs from your regular acne, and treating it with typical anti-acne treatments could be ineffective. Learning to identify the infection and seeking appropriate treatment can help you deal with the symptoms of fungal acne. You can also follow preventive measures to lower the risk of future breakouts. We believe this post has given you enough information to help you manage your fungal acne. Start taking the right measures today – your skin will thank you soon!

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Annie Jangam is a Molecular Biologist with 7 years of research experience in Rice Functional Genomics and Nutrient Signalling with International Publications in Abiotic stress, Nitrogen, and G-protein signaling. She specializes in writing on Health and Wellness. She has been an avid reader since childhood and is passionate about stories that help decipher life and its meaning. She believes in Human Rights for all and that one should "love others like we love ourselves."