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Fungal Acne: Causes, Treatment, and Tips to Keep Your Skin Clear

What Is Fungal Acne?

Fungal acne isn’t actually a type of acne. It is known as pityrosporum folliculitis, which is a skin condition that affects hair follicles and causes infection. It is often confused for acne because the condition can look similar to pimples.

Fungal acne is one of the many types of folliculitis as well. As the name implies, folliculitis affects hair follicles specifically. Any type of this condition can happen anywhere on the body, including pityrosporum folliculitis.

Fungal acne will appear in clusters

However, because of the confusion with acne vulgaris, typical acne treatments don’t make the folliculitis go away.

This condition is called fungal acne due to being a fungal infection as well. This means that typical acne treatments cannot treat fungal acne properly. There are topical treatments for this condition, however, so continue reading to learn more about how you can prevent and treat fungal acne.

Fungal Acne vs. Regular Acne

Fungal acne will also consist of whiteheads

The main difference between fungal acne and acne vulgaris is that fungal acne is a skin infection, while regular acne is often a chronic skin condition caused by blocked follicles.

Fungal acne causes skin irritation and whiteheads, similar to cases of regular acne. But regular acne is more often associated with blackheads and whiteheads. How a dermatologist would treat fungal acne would not work for regular acne.

Unlike regular acne, fungal acne isn’t caused by oils and dead skin trapped in pores but is actually caused by yeast growth. Yeast is a type of fungus that is a common infection in the human body, hence why fungal acne is considered a fungal infection.

What Causes Fungal Acne?


Any kind of trapped moisture from sweating can create an ideal environment for developing fungal acne. Going too long with cleaning the moist area will allow yeast growth.

Tight Clothing

Tight clothing can include sports equipment and accessories

Wearing tight clothing, specifically made of non-breathable fabric, encourages sweating. Such fabrics include any synthetic materials, including polyester.


Chafing can happen once a combination of moisture and fabric comes together. Skin irritation also plays a part in chafing, as the skin pores become more open, creating a perfect area for fungal acne to start.

Dietary Changes

Whole foods will provide the nutrition your skin needs to heal

Carbohydrates are the primary source of food for fungal infections and yeast. If your diet consists of a high intake of carbs and sweets, then you are at a higher risk of developing fungal acne.

Suppressed Immune System

A weakened immune system can do more than make fungal acne worse, but it does make it easier for fungal infection and fungal folliculitis to take hold.


Not all bacteria are bad, and taking antibiotics can actually kill off some of the good bacteria that would normally keep fungal infections away.

What Does Fungal Acne Look Like?

Ointments and creams exist to treat acne

Fungal acne is known by that name because it creates bumps on the skin that look similar to pimples. The affected area will also have irritation and commonly appears on the arms, chest, and back. It is possible for fungal acne to appear on the face, too.

The bumps will be filled with pus (whiteheads), and all bumps will be a similar size, often occurring in clusters. Lastly, fungal acne causes the skin to itch, unlike regular acne. You might even notice potentially related conditions happening at the same time, including psoriasis and dandruff.

How Do I Know If I Have Fungal Acne?

To be absolutely sure, it is best to visit a dermatologist, as they are trained to know exactly what to look for. However, the key differences between regular acne and fungal acne are the itchiness and clustering of bumps.

Regular acne vulgaris does not often appear in close clusters and does not itch. If you are experiencing either or both of these criteria, you may have fungal acne. Also, treating fungal acne with a standard acne treatment will not work, so that could be another sign.

A dermatologist will diagnose fungal acne based on how long you’ve had the condition, what you’ve used as treatment, and what other symptoms you have. They might want to run a few noninvasive tests, such as skin scraping, to observe what could be causing the fungal acne breakout.

Fungal Acne treatments

Change Clothing Regularly

Letting the sweat-coated clothing constantly touch your skin afterward can create a breeding ground for yeast and harmful bacteria. Change your clothes after work, after going to the gym, and even if you’ve stayed home all day in the same outfit.

Shower Post-workout

Showering is key in reversing this condition

Shower regularly and thoroughly every day and always after a workout. Even if you’ve only spent the day doing some light cleaning, you may sweat more than expected. Sweaty clothing becomes a warm, moist environment for yeast, so wash your gym clothes regularly, too.

Avoid Tight Clothing

Tight clothing, including leggings, skinny jeans, and undershirts, can create friction, which contributes to chafing and sweating. Clothing made of synthetic fabrics also is more apt to create friction and irritation.

Skin Exfoliation

Exfoliating your skin helps to remove dirt, dead skin, and other impurities from your hair follicles and pores. You also do not have, or should, exfoliate too often. Opt for exfoliating your skin once or twice a week at first, and more if necessary.

Topically Use Tea Tree Oil

Tea tree oil is potent; use with caution

Tea tree oil is an essential oil that should only be used when properly diluted, as it is strong. When diluted with a carrier oil, tea tree oil can help to clear oily skin and itchiness as it contains anti-inflammatory properties.

Tea tree oil is also good for clearing infections and has been used in treating acne and psoriasis as well.


Over-the-counter products and oral antifungal medication are available for when fungal acne occurs. You can try antifungal ointments and creams, or ask your dermatologist or general doctor to prescribe an antifungal medication.

If you are looking for an ointment to ease the symptoms, look for the ingredients butenafine, clotrimazole, or ketoconazole. These are common ingredients in athlete’s foot and jock itch creams.

Anti-dandruff Shampoo

Those who develop fungal acne may also develop dandruff, which is relatively common. When you are treating fungal acne, you may want to use a dandruff shampoo to help the hair follicle or two that are also affected.

These shampoos can help ease itchiness when the fungal acne reaches the hair follicle line.

Fungal Acne Symptoms

As briefly mentioned and covered earlier, there are a few symptoms that are staples in diagnosing fungal acne. These symptoms include:

  • Itchy skin
  • Small red bumps that form in clusters
  • Spots on the face and/or body, including back, chest, and arms
  • Acne doesn’t ease after treatment
  • Irritated skin and hair follicles

With fungal acne, you typically will not see blackheads. Standard acne will also not cluster as this condition does, although both may look similar at a quick glance.

Fungal Acne Frequently Asked Questions

When Should I See a Dermatologist for Fungal Acne?

If you have been treating what you thought was normal acne with no success, you should see a dermatologist as soon as possible. Fungal acne can spread or cause severe irritation.

Those who experience fungal acne in addition to other skin conditions or health concerns especially should see a doctor sooner rather than later.

How Is Fungal Acne Related to Folliculitis?

Fungal acne is a type of folliculitis, called pityrosporum folliculitis. It is commonly confused with standard bacterial acne due to their similarities in symptoms, but the causes of their existence are different.

It is also common for people who have been diagnosed with fungal acne to have another type of fungal infection, including seborrheic dermatitis or tinea versicolor. However, fungal acne can last a long time due to the nature of being commonly misdiagnosed.

How Is Fungal Acne Diagnosed?

A doctor's opinion will help speed up the recovery process

The primary symptoms that doctors pay attention to are itchiness and affected areas. Normal acne does not typically itch, as fungal acne does, so that will be one of the first red flags they will notice.

To make a positive diagnosis, a dermatologist will run a few tests. One way they might test your skin is by scraping an infected area and observing the sample underneath a microscope. The other test involves taking a skin sample and sending the sample to the lab to be tested for infection.

Your dermatologist will also look at the spots and clusters. Unlike acne, which contains blackheads, fungal acne only creates whiteheads or pimple-like bumps filled with pus. The combination of itchy skin and clusters will be a strong indicator of fungal acnesh.

How to Prevent Fungal Acne?

Wear Breathable Fabrics

Natural fibers and fabrics are the best options when it comes to clothing, including cotton, nylon, rayon, linen, and silk. Unlike synthetic fibers that contain plastics and lack absorbency, these breathable fabrics allow your skin to breathe and release sweat.

Shower After Sweating

As mentioned before, showering is one of the best ways to keep all areas of the body clear from patches of sweat, dirt blockages, and anything that can create a yeast infection and fungal folliculitis. Always shower after working out, and always wash your face in the morning and at night to ensure yeast isn’t building up in hair follicles and pores.

Eat a Balanced Diet

Cut back on artificial sugars and carbohydrates! As mentioned before, sweets and carbs are fuel for and trigger fungal acne. A balanced diet will help to balance your skin, and eating unprocessed foods will restore balance.

This involves increasing your intake of simple ingredients and your intake of vitamins B and D. Collagen, iron, and vitamins E and K will also help in clearing your skin and maintaining a great balance naturally.

Use Dandruff Shampoo

Because of the ingredients found in dandruff shampoo, it helps relieve fungal acne. Instead of using it as a shampoo, you can also use dandruff shampoo as a body wash, as a way to treat acne wherever it might be on the body.

This treatment for fungal acne can help keep your symptoms in check before you visit your doctor. Dandruff shampoo is also good to have on hand in case fungal acne affects your scalp.

Key Takeaways

Fungal acne is different from regular acne and cannot be treated as such. Standard acne treatments, such as salicylic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and others, won’t be able to penetrate and clean the skin in ways that fungal acne needs to be treated.

It is the best course of action to see a dermatologist as early as possible to avoid the fungal acne worsening. Properly washing the infected areas, and using antifungal creams or antifungal treatments, will help to speed up your recovery.

Remember, however, that your skin is sensitive to drying and other damage in the process and always speak to your doctor before using a new treatment option.

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