Fungal acne is an infection in the hair follicles of your skin. Most of the time, it looks like small pimples that don’t change much in size or shape, and they often itch.
Whiteheads and skin irritation can be caused by acne caused by fungi. People often mix it up with acne vulgaris. This is the type of acne that causes blackheads and whiteheads most of the time.
But acne caused by fungi and acne caused by bacteria are two different conditions. The same treatment won’t work on them. Using acne treatments too often can make fungal acne worse.
Because of this, it’s important to know what fungal acne looks like and how it happens. Read on to find out what the signs and symptoms of fungal acne are and what you can do to treat and stop breakouts.
What makes acne caused by fungi?
Fungal acne is not quite what it sounds like. Unlike acne, which is mostly caused by oil and bacteria in pores, fungal acne is mostly caused by oil and sebum production, which feeds the bacteria that cause it.
Fungal acne is caused by an overgrowth of yeast, which is a type of fungus. Yeast causes bumps that look like pimples and skin that is red and itchy.
Because of this, acne can sometimes be called “fungal acne.” It is also called Malassezia folliculitis or Pityrosporum folliculitis.
Fungal acne is caused by yeast that is always on your skin. Most of the time, your body can keep the yeast, other fungi, and bacteria that live on your skin in check.
But if that natural balance is thrown off, there can be too much growth. That’s when the infection of the hair follicles gets worse and symptoms that look like acne start to show.
This balance of bacteria and fungi can be thrown off by a number of things or situations, such as:
- Trapped moisture. If you wear sweaty workout clothes for too long, yeast can grow on them. If you wear the same workout clothes more than once without washing them, fungi that have grown on the clothes could get on your skin.
- Medication. If you take antibiotics, you can cut down on the bacteria on your skin. That can make it possible for a fungus to grow too much.
- Suppressed immune system. People whose immune systems aren’t working as well may be more likely to get fungal acne.
- Diet changes. Fungi and yeast eat carbs, so eating a balanced amount of sweets and carb-rich foods may slow the growth of fungi.
- Putting on snug clothes. When you wear clothes that don’t breathe, you might sweat and get wet more often. This can make the skin a good place for yeast to grow.
- Warm, moist environments. People who live in places that are hot and make them sweat a lot may have fungal acne more often.
What are the signs of acne caused by fungi?
One reason fungal acne can last for so long is that it looks like acne vulgaris, which is caused by bacteria.
People with fungal acne who don’t know the difference may try to treat it the same way they would treat regular acne. These treatments don’t work, and they can even make the infection worse.
How to tell the difference between acne caused by fungus and acne caused by bacteria:
- Size. Fungal acne usually causes bumps that are all about the same size and are full of pus. Different sized pimples and whiteheads can be caused by bacterial acne.
- Location. Acne caused by fungi usually appears on the arms, chest, and back. It can also be on the face, which is the most common place for bacterial acne.
- Itching. Itching is often caused by fungal acne. Acne caused by bacteria rarely does.
- Clusters. Acne caused by fungi usually looks like a group of small whiteheads. Bacterial acne is spread out and not as close together.
- Fungal acne is caused by yeast growth, so you may also have psoriasis or dandruff, which are also linked to yeast. This can help you figure out if your zits are caused by yeast or something else.
How do you find out if you have fungal acne?
You might want to see a dermatologist if you think you have signs of fungal acne. Dermatologists are doctors who are trained to find and treat problems with the skin.
A dermatologist will ask you about your symptoms to figure out whether or not they are caused by fungal acne. Probably, this will include:
- how long you’ve had the acne
- how you’ve been treating it
- what kind of symptoms you’re having
In some situations, the provider may also want to do one of the following:
They may do a simple, painless scraping of the skin and look for yeast that causes fungal acne by looking at the scraping under a microscope.
They might take a biopsy or a sample of skin. This is an easy thing to do at the office. The sample will be sent to a lab where it can be tested to make sure that the diagnosis is fungal acne.
How is acne caused by fungi treated?
Because fungal acne looks a lot like regular acne, it is often treated in the wrong way. Many people try to treat it with everyday acne treatments, but those won’t work.
To treat the fungal infection right, you need to bring the yeast and bacteria on the skin back into balance. There are several ways to treat this.
Shower more often.
If you work out often or have a job that makes you sweat, try taking a shower and changing your clothes right after.
This can help get rid of any extra yeast that might have started to grow in the warm, moist environment of sweaty clothes.
Loosen up your clothes.
If you wear tight clothes often, the friction and lack of air flow can cause yeast to grow on your skin.
Choose loose, breathable fabrics more often to improve circulation to your skin and help bacteria and fungi grow in a healthy way.
Use body wash.
You can wash your body with dandruff shampoos made with pyrithione zinc or selenium sulfide. This is not what the shampoos are meant to be used for, but it can work.
When you have a breakout, use these shampoos for dandruff to rinse your skin a few times a week.
You may also want to use it regularly, about once a week, to help keep the yeast and bacteria on your skin in a healthy balance. For best results, let the shampoo sit on your skin for a few minutes before you rinse it off.
Use antifungal acne treatments you can buy over-the-counter (OTC).
There are many over-the-counter antifungal acne creams and ointments, such as those for athlete’s foot and jock itch.
Look for creams with the ingredients ketoconazole, butenafine, or clotrimazole.
Try antifungal medicine that you can take by mouth.
If you can’t get rid of the pimple with home remedies, you might want to see a dermatologist.
Your dermatologist can give you a pill, like itraconazole or fluconazole, that you take by mouth to target the infected hair follicles and get rid of the infection.
How do I keep from getting fungal acne?
Even though fungal acne can’t always be stopped, these steps may make it less likely that it will come back:
Use a shampoo for dandruff often. This rinse could help keep a healthy balance of yeast on your skin if you use it often. Once the pimple is gone, you can use the shampoo as a body wash less often, maybe just once a week.
Wear clothes that let air in. Breathable fabrics let air flow through them, which can reduce the amount of warm, damp places that are good for fungus growth. If wearing different clothes helps treat fungal acne, you might want to wear similar clothes.
Take a shower after you’ve been sweating. If you work out or have a sweaty day at work, giving your hair a quick rinse can help keep yeast from growing.
Eat well-rounded meals. Yeast and other fungi love sugary carbohydrates, so eat a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, and proteins to keep them from taking over.
When do I need to go to the doctor?
If you’ve tried to treat what you think is fungal acne at home and the problem hasn’t gone away after 3 weeks, you should see a dermatologist.
A prescription antifungal medicine may work better than topical treatments to get rid of the infection.
And if the symptoms come back soon after you thought they were gone, you might want to see your dermatologist again.
You might be able to find a treatment that will stop the problem from coming back and keep it from getting worse over time. You can also talk to your doctor about ways to stay healthy.
The main point
Fungal acne is an infection in the hair follicles that is caused by too many yeast cells. Even though it’s called acne, it’s not the same as the kind of acne that causes whiteheads and blackheads.
Normal acne treatments won’t work for acne caused by fungi. Instead, you need to know exactly what kind of infection it is in order to treat it right.
Learning how to spot this type of skin infection can also help you avoid getting it again in the future.