Noticing more facial blemishes than usual? Or little bumps on your face and body that just won’t go away? You might have fallen prey to a particular type of skin condition – fungal acne. While this may sound intimidating, it is both normal and treatable. 

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What is fungal acne?

Fungal acne (pityrosporum (malassezia) folliculitis) is very similar in appearance to regular acne (acne vulgaris). While often mistaken for regular acne, the cause is different. 

Sebaceous, or oil glands, naturally keep our skin moist and act as the first line of defense against bacteria. Fungal acne occurs as a response to an overgrowth of yeast within the hair follicles. When there is an imbalance of yeast in the sebaceous glands, your hair follicles may become inflamed, thus leading to fungal acne. Let’s explore what that can look like.

What does fungal acne look like?

fungal acne

Fungal acne usually appears like a typical white head (minus the actual head) surrounded by redness. It commonly appears on oily areas such as the T-zone (forehead, nose, and chin), chest, and back. The bumps may be exacerbated by sweat or over-moisturizing. Additionally, being in a humid climate can increase your likelihood of developing fungal acne, because yeast thrives in this type of environment.

Fungal Acne Vs. Regular Acne 

Although regular acne and fungal acne have some similarities, there are several ways you can try to tell them apart. 

How fungal acne feels vs. regular acne

Fungal acne: itching and burning

Regular acne: neutral to varying degrees of discomfort

How fungal acne looks vs. regular acne

Fungal acne: white bumps with red skin surrounding them; bumps are uniform in size and usually occur in clusters

Regular acne: varying appearances and sizes with any combination of whiteheads, blackheads, skin-colored bumps or cysts depending on the person; blemishes are more spaced out 

Where fungal acne is located vs regular acne

Fungal acne: oily areas such as the T-zone, chest, back, and arms

Regular acne: anywhere on your face (forehead, nose, cheeks, chin, jawlin, hairline, temples), neck, chest, or back

What causes fungal acne vs regular acne 

Fungal Acne: fungus (yeast)

Regular Acne: bacteria

 How fungal acne is treated vs. regular acne

Fungal acne: bentonite clay masks, chemical exfoliants (lactic/salicylic acid), dandruff body wash, antifungal creams or medications, natural antifungals (oil of oregano, clove, walnut), more frequent showering, and looser clothes

Regular acne: change in diet (avoiding inflammation-provoking foods), treatment of hormonal imbalances, increased water intake, bentonite clay masks, salicylic acid, topical retinoids, and oral antibiotics

What causes fungal acne on your face?

Fungal acne appears on your face due to yeast overgrowth, which may be due to hormone imbalance, diet changes, trapped moisture, a suppressed immune system, tight clothes, or humid environments. While having some fungus and bacteria on your skin is essential, an imbalance can lead to an overgrowth of yeast. Yeast can then enter into the sebaceous glands via the hair follicle and cause the inflammation and itchiness that comes with fungal acne.

How is fungal acne diagnosed?

Before treating fungal acne, it’s a good idea to consult a doctor to ensure that you do not have another skin condition. Even if fungal acne is suspected, a doctor or dermatologist may want to conduct a fungal test to rule out other causes before prescribing treatment. 

Although you may want to jump into treatment as soon as possible, consulting a doctor is best. Misdiagnosing your acne could lead to ineffective treatment. For instance, if you start oral antibiotics to treat typical acne, it could aggravate your acne if it turns out you have fungal acne due to a disruption of normal bacteria.

girl washing her face

How is fungal acne on the face treated?

Oral antifungal medication

Oral antifungal medication works by either directly killing or preventing the growth of fungal cells. Azoles are the most commonly used because they interfere with enzymes that help create the fungal cell membrane. This type of medication is taken orally as prescribed by your doctor. 

Antifungal shampoo or body wash

Antifungal shampoo and body wash can help slow down the growth of the fungi that cause infection. Most products can be purchased over-the-counter, but some may require a prescription from a doctor. They are applied to the affected area and rinsed off immediately or after a few minutes. While these products can be very effective, they can lead to side effects such as skin irritation and discoloration, oiliness or dryness of the hair and scalp, or abnormal hair texture.

Prescription topical anti fungal creams

If over-the-counter products do not improve your fungal acne, your doctor may recommend a more potent topical medication. Ketoconazole 2% is commonly prescribed, which is applied twice a day for 2 to 3 weeks to help reduce the overgrowth of yeast on the skin, leading to a significant reduction in fungal acne.

Diet adjustments

An antifungal diet involves reducing the intake of foods that promote yeast growth, such as refined sugar and white flour, or that contain yeast, like vinegar, mushrooms, and beer. While it’s not necessary to completely eliminate these food groups from your diet, finding a balance with other whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and lean meats could make a difference to your skin. 

Oil-free moisturizer

Oil-free moisturizers are great products as they provide moisture to the skin without introducing more oil that could get trapped by hair follicles. These can be purchased over-the-counter and applied as part of your daily skincare routine.

What’s the takeaway?

Fungal acne differs from other types of acne in that it is caused by extra yeast on the skin. While it may initially be mistaken for your typical blemish, acne should ideally be looked at by a doctor, who can help determine the appropriate treatment.

Thankfully, fungal acne is treatable and will likely go away within a short time with proper treatment.

You do not need to feel ashamed or embarrassed if you suddenly notice these irritating small bumps. Sometimes they are simply caused by living your life, and the best thing you can do is consult a doctor. 

How can Pandia Health help?

If you suspect you have fungal acne and would like to get on the road to clearer skin, get started with Pandia Health today!

Acne is a journey, so you’ll want expert guidance along the way. Our expert doctors can prescribe a range of acne treatments based on what’s best for you and your skin.

Already have a prescription? It’s easy to move your prescription across to Pandia Health. Get free delivery straight to your mailbox with automatic refills and free goodies by signing up now.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Fungal Acne

How do you know if it’s fungal acne?

Fungal acne typically appears as a cluster of small, uniform bumps on your cheeks, back, or chest. These bumps are usually painless and do not have blackheads, whiteheads, or cysts.

Additionally, traditional treatments likely won’t work. If you find that nothing seems to make your blemishes go away, you could have fungal acne. 

Can you pop fungal acne?

Fungal acne isn’t filled with pus, so nothing would come out even if you tried to pop it. With that said, popping acne, in general, is not recommended, because it can lead to scarring. 

Is fungal acne itchy?

Fungal acne may cause minor itching or burning. However, it typically feels less intense compared to other types of acne. Regardless, keeping your hands away from your face is the best practice as this prevents you from pushing the fungus or bacteria deeper into the skin and spreading the acne to different parts of your body. 

Is glycerin bad for fungal acne?

Fungal acne has mixed responses to glycerin. In some cases, this treatment causes the fungus to multiply. In other cases, it kills it completely. You should always consult your doctor before trying this method of treating acne.

How long does fungal acne last?

Fungal acne typically lasts until it is treated and may require different treatment methods before it clears up completely. The treatment could take a few weeks to be effective. 

Disclaimer: The above information is for general informational purposes only and is NOT a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your doctor/primary care provider before starting or changing treatment.