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What is Fungal Acne? Causes, Symptoms And How To Treat It

February 26, 2021

Dealing with itchy, painful breakouts on your body or underneath your protective face mask is an unwelcome burden, to say the least. But it can be absolutely scary if you’re not sure why. As it turns out, you could be suffering from a fungal acne flare up. Acne is triggered by bacteria buildup in your pores, whereas fungal acne is caused by a yeast imbalance in the hair follicles on your skin. This skin disturbance gets even more irritated when paired with sweat. Just like traditional acne (as we know it), fungal acne can be managed; it’s just that your standard skin care products may not cut it. Below, we’re giving you the 4-1-1 on all things fungal acne, including its causes, how it differs from other types of acne, and how you can keep it under control.


Fungal acne (also known as malassezia—formerly pityrosporum—folliculitis), is caused by an overgrowth of yeast that is present within the hair follicles and thrives on the production of sweat. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), fungal acne arises in small, itchy papules on the face, back, chest, arms, and sometimes the neck before slowly enlarging and becoming pustular. The yeast responsible for fungal acne is naturally present in everyone’s skin, but if it becomes distrurbed and comes into contact with sweat, fungal acne can flourish. Other causes of fungal acne, as noted by the NCBI, include immunosuppression as well as oral corticosteroid and antibiotic use. Fungal acne is common in adolescents, likely due to increased sebaceous gland activity. It is also commonly found in people living in hot, humid climates and those affected by excessive sweating.

If you’re unsure if you’re experiencing fungal acne, a few changes in your skin may clue you in to what’s actually going on. If you notice that your skin is not responding to the skin care products you regularly use to treat acne, you may have fungal acne. According to the Mayo Clinic, traditional acne can typically feel tender with redness or painful with pus-filled bumps and lumps. The NCBI shared that in a recent study, a woman tackling fungal acne characterized her symptoms as itchy skin that burns to the touch.

Editor’s note: With any skin care concern the only way to know for sure what’s going on with your complexion is to visit a board-certified dermatologist—fungal acne is no exception. If you think you may be experiencing a case of this skin condition, book a derm appointment to get to the bottom of what’s going on and receive a treatment plan.


How you manage your fungal acne will depend a great deal on the severity of your breakouts. Since fungal acne is caused by the imbalance of the yeast in your skin and sweat irritation, simple lifestyle changes may improve your skin’s appearance. The NCBI shares that topical antifungal treatments may work, but oral antifungals are the most effective for rapid improvement in symptoms. We suggest showering and changing your clothes right after a workout, washing protective face masks after the first use or discarding disposable masks immediately. If you’re going to wear makeup, always look for non-comedogenic formulas that won’t clog the pores, like L’Oreal Paris Infallible 24 Hour Fresh Wear Foundation.

No matter what, you’ll want to visit your dermatologist to find out the right way to manage your particular case of fungal acne, discuss treatment options, and get answers to any questions you may have.

Photo: Chaunte Vaughn

Next: What to Do When You Have a Pimple

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