If you’ve noticed small, red bumps dotting your face and upper body that don’t go away when using normal anti-acne products, you could be experiencing fungal acne.
Fungal acne, or Malassezia (Pityrosporum) folliculitis, differs from traditional acne. In fact, it’s not real acne at all but a fungal infection that causes your hair follicles to become inflamed.1
If you know what fungal acne is and why it flares up, you can understand how you can treat it efficiently. Read on to find out if the skin blemishes you thought were acne are actually a fungal infection, and if so, how to treat them to restore smooth, radiant skin.
What is Fungal Acne?
If you’ve ever baked a homemade loaf of bread, yeast was probably a key ingredient. But did you know that yeast is also a fungus that can lead to fungal acne?
Worry not: the yeasts that cause blemishes are from completely different species than the yeast we use to make bread. The one that can cause a fungal acne breakout is called Malassezia yeast.
Malassezia yeast occurs naturally as a healthy part of your skin’s diverse flora. But when your hair follicles become infected and a yeast overgrowth occurs, you can end up with Malassezia folliculitis, commonly referred to as fungal acne.
Now we’ve answered the central question: what is fungal acne? But even when you know the science behind what causes this skin condition, it can be hard to tell whether you have it.
Next, we’ll review some telltale signs to look for to determine if a fungal infection is to blame for your blemishes.
Identifying Fungal Acne Symptoms
Recognizing the trademark signs of fungal acne early on can help you seek proper treatment and restore your skin to its previous smoothness.
Properly identifying the symptoms of fungal acne also helps prevent mistreating the acne, which can lead to aggravated skin and pores.
Look for these signs and symptoms:
- Location – When inspecting what you believe to be fungal acne, look for the location of the pimples or breakouts. Fungal acne most commonly appears on the face, scalp, chest, back, neck, shoulders, or arms. That said, because folliculitis is related to hair follicles, fungal acne can appear anywhere that you have hair follicles.
- Itchiness – Fungal acne blemishes typically feel itchy. Sometimes they can even burn or emit a painful sensation.
- Appearance – Unlike normal acne, bumps caused by fungal infection have a largely uniform appearance in their shape and size. These bumps tend to congregate near the forehead, hairline, and sometimes the chin. They are often filled with pus. If you notice clusters of small red bumps that seem irritated and give off a rash-like appearance, that is a strong indicator that you may be dealing with a case of fungal acne.
Understanding the Causes of Fungal Acne
Just as you wouldn’t water weeds, you must avoid habits that might exacerbate a fungal infection if you’re trying to actively reduce and prevent fungal acne.
Treating fungal acne starts with understanding the behavior of the fungal infection. The following factors often cause fungal infections:
- Heat and moisture – When skin is hot and damp, the perfect conditions are created for fungi to thrive. Warm and wet flesh is easily damaged, which causes inflammation in the hair follicle and lets germs in, leading to infection. Because of this, someone who lives in a tropical climate may be more likely to develop fungal acne. However, individuals who sweat excessively also create the ideal environment for yeast overgrowth.
- Health issues – People who have diabetes or a weakened immune system are more likely to succumb to the effects of fungal acne. Additionally, if you regularly take antibiotics, you could be worsening your fungal acne. This is because reducing the bacteria on your skin can allow the overgrowth of fungus.2
- Age and gender – Adolescents are more often affected by fungal acne, especially those who are male.3 Because of the extra oil that teenage skin typically produces, the skin of individuals at this stage in life is particularly susceptible to the growth of fungi.
If any of these factors sound like they fit your current lifestyle and situation, it might be time to look into solutions for fungal acne treatment—which we’ll cover below.
Differentiating Fungal Acne from Other Types
When discussing acne, most people refer to skin blemishes as if they’re all part of the same category. But you may be surprised to learn that all acne is not created equal: types of acne are caused by different underlying factors.
The two most common categories of acne are:
- Bacterial acne – Bacteria such as Propionibacterium acne live on our skin naturally. However, just as fungus that is typically harmless can overgrow and cause hair follicles to become infected, this bacteria can cause inflammation when it is present in excessive amounts. This condition may cause swollen cysts and lesions that are filled with pus.
- Hormonal acne – It’s easy to mix up hormonal acne and fungal acne, even though they are different. Changes in the hormone levels within our bodies spur these blemishes. Hormonal acne is common during significant hormonal fluctuations, such as puberty, pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause. It is instigated when hormones cause our sebaceous glands to go into overdrive and produce excessive sebum. Normally, this natural oil serves to lubricate the skin, but too much of it can quickly clog your pores.
If your acne or breakout symptoms relate to both the bacteria and the hormonal category, know that it is possible to experience both kinds simultaneously. This can make it more difficult to treat the acne at the root.
In these cases, consulting with your healthcare provider or a dermatologist may be helpful to understand your unique complexion and symptoms better. A dermatologist or other skin expert may also be able to test a sample of your skin for fungus to diagnose the condition with more certainty.2
Effective Treatments for Fungal Acne
If you think your blemishes may result from an epidermal yeast infection, you can use proven strategies to reduce your symptoms.
The most popular techniques utilized by fungal infection patients today include:
- Antifungal medication – Commonly administered as a topical cream or an ingestible pill, this form of treatment aims to reduce the fungal infection on your skin. Antifungal medication aims to treat the skin condition from the inside out to relieve your skin of the infection and leave cleaned pores.
- Anti-dandruff shampoo or treatment – To help balance the yeast and bacteria on your skin, try using an anti-dandruff shampoo to wash the areas where a fungal acne breakout is present. Look for products containing pyrithione zinc or selenium sulfide.2
- Non-comedogenic skincare products – Adopting a consistent cleansing regimen that keeps your skin clear of sweat and other contaminants is possible with non-comedogenic skincare products that are specifically designed to clean, not clog, pores. These skincare products should be free of pore-clogging ingredients and chemicals.
Preventive Measures and Skincare Tips
We know that fungal infections thrive on hot, damp skin. Though you might not be able to pack your bags and move if you happen to live in a humid climate, there are practical steps you can take to ward off fungal growth:
- Cleanse your skin thoroughly after sweating. If you undergo a strenuous workout session that leads to heavy perspiration, clean your face shortly afterward to reduce the amount of time sweat and oil sit atop the surface of your skin.
- Avoid wearing clothing or equipment that is overly tight and form-fitting. Restrictive materials can often reduce the amount of airflow that makes contact with your skin and allows it to breathe. Instead, wear loose-fitting clothing in textiles like cotton, especially if you live in a humid climate or work out frequently.
- Test to see if you have fungal acne. If you suspect that a fungal infection might cause your blemishes, ensure you don’t touch or scratch your skin too much. Doing so can spread the infection and make your fungal acne breakout worse.
- Reduce your intake of sugar and carbs. Fungi feed on these nutrients in particular, so by cutting down on how much you consume, you can help deter the overgrowth of fungus.
Achieve Clear Skin With CLEARSTEM
We hope this guide to Malassezia folliculitis, or fungal acne, helps you determine if the bumps on your skin result from regular acne, a fungal infection, or perhaps a mix of both. And if you have identified it as such, know that effective solutions are available.
With the right skincare solutions on your side, you can combat any blemishes no matter what their underlying cause may be. Our skin experts at CLEARSTEM have formulated a line of skincare for acne-prone skin specifically crafted to clear even the most stubborn hormonal acne.
Browse our advanced skincare solutions to support your skin on the journey toward acne recovery.
- WebMD. What Is Fungal Acne? https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/acne/what-is-fungal_acne
- Cleveland Clinic. Fungal Acne. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/24341-fungal-acne
- Cleveland Clinic. Malassezia (Pityrosporum) Folliculitis. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/22833-pityrosporum-folliculitis