Fungal Acne Explained: Causes, Symptoms and Care Strategies

24 Mar 2024, by

Dr. Anna Nersisyan

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Fungal acne, often mistaken for bacterial acne, is caused by an overgrowth of yeast in hair follicles. This condition presents as uniform, itchy bumps, typically in areas prone to sweat such as the forehead, back, and chest. Unlike traditional acne, which varies in size and includes blackheads and whiteheads, fungal acne requires distinct treatments, including antifungal medications and specific skincare routines. Recognizing and treating fungal acne effectively necessitates understanding its unique symptoms and triggers, emphasizing the importance of professional diagnosis.

fungal acne

What Is Fungal Acne?

Understanding Fungal Acne

Fungal acne, medically known as Pityrosporum folliculitis or Malassezia folliculitis, is not acne at all in the traditional sense. It's caused by an overgrowth of yeast that inflames the hair follicles on your skin and creates pimple-like bumps. 

According to The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), nearly 95% of individuals encounter acne before turning 30, and among these, approximately 27% are affected by fungal acne. This condition is often misunderstood because it looks quite similar to bacterial acne, which leads people to treat it incorrectly. Fungal acne manifests as uniform small, itchy bumps and can occur on areas like the forehead, chest, and back. Unlike traditional acne, fungal acne is provoked by heat, humidity, and the presence of oils on the skin, which can encourage yeast overgrowth.

What Does Fungal Acne Look Like?

Fungal acne is characterized by small, red, and sometimes itchy bumps on the skin's surface. These bumps are often quite similar in size and appear in clusters. You might mistake them for traditional acne because of their appearance. However, fungal acne bumps are typically accompanied by itching, which is not common with regular acne. They are most likely to appear in areas where you sweat a lot, like the forehead, chest, and back. Recognizing these signs is crucial for effective treatment because fungal acne won't respond well to typical acne treatments.

What Causes Fungal Acne?

Excessive Yeast Growth

One of the primary causes of fungal acne is an overgrowth of Malassezia yeast. This yeast is a part of the normal skin flora, but under certain conditions, it can grow excessively and infiltrate the hair follicles. This can lead to inflammation and the development of acne-like bumps on the skin.

Imbalanced Skin Microbiome

Our skin is home to a complex community of microorganisms, including bacteria and fungi, which usually live in harmony. However, when this balance is disrupted, possibly by harsh skincare products, antibiotics, or changes in the environment, Malassezia yeast can dominate, leading to fungal acne.

Trapped Moisture and Heat

Trapped moisture and heat create an ideal environment for yeast overgrowth. Wearing tight, non-breathable clothing, especially in warm, humid climates, can significantly contribute to the development of fungal acne.

Recognizing Fungal Acne: Symptoms and Signs

Identifying fungal acne correctly is crucial for effective treatment. Unlike traditional acne, which is caused by bacteria and often presents with a mix of whiteheads, blackheads, and inflamed pimples, fungal acne has distinct characteristics.

Symptoms of Fungal Acne

Fungal acne appears as small, uniform red bumps that can be found in clusters, primarily in areas prone to sweating or where skin rubs together, such as the face, forehead, cheeks, back, and jawline. Some key symptoms include:

  • Uniformity in Size: Bumps caused by fungal acne tend to be similar in size.
  • Itchiness: A distinguishing factor of fungal acne is the itchiness that accompanies the bumps, which is less common in bacterial acne.
  • Location: Fungal acne is often found in areas like the forehead, back, and chest — places that can trap moisture and heat.

Fungal Acne on Different Parts of the Body

  • Fungal acne on the face: It manifests as clusters of small, itchy bumps, often on the forehead, cheeks, and along the jawline. Unlike regular acne, fungal acne on the face does not typically include blackheads or whiteheads.
  • Fungal acne on the forehead: This area is especially prone to fungal acne due to sweat and oils that can accumulate, creating an environment where yeast can thrive.
  • Fungal infection chest acne: The chest area can also be a common site for fungal acne, characterized by small, itchy, red bumps. The condition here is often exacerbated by tight clothing and sweat, making it crucial to wear loose-fitting and breathable fabrics to mitigate the risk.
  • Cheeks: Similar to the forehead, the cheeks can harbor fungal acne, particularly in individuals with oily skin types.
  • Back and Jawline: These areas are susceptible due to the combination of sweat, heat, and friction from clothing.

Differentiating Fungal Acne from Other Skin Conditions

Fungal acne is often confused with bacterial acne, but there are key differences. Fungal acne's uniform itchy bumps and preference for sweaty areas are distinctive features. Moreover, fungal acne does not respond to bacterial acne treatments, which can actually exacerbate the condition. Recognizing these signs is vital for seeking appropriate fungal acne treatment.

If you're experiencing persistent small, itchy bumps and suspect it might be fungal acne, consider using Docus Symptom Checker for an initial assessment. However, it's important to consult a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Online assistants are valuable tools, but they cannot replace professional medical advice.

Incorporating treatments that specifically target fungal infections is key in how to get rid of fungal acne. Over-the-counter and prescribed antifungal treatments can be effective, but diagnosis by a healthcare professional is essential due to the similarity of symptoms with other skin conditions.

Complications of Fungal Acne

If not properly treated, fungal acne can lead to several complications. Awareness and early treatment can help avoid these issues:

  • Persistent Itching: One of the most common complications, which can lead to scratching and further skin irritation or infection.
  • Skin Discoloration: Fungal acne can cause hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation, leaving behind spots or patches of discolored skin.
  • Scarring: Repeated scratching or severe cases of fungal acne can lead to scarring or changes in skin texture.
  • Spread of Infection: Without proper treatment, the fungal infection can spread to other parts of the body or even to other individuals through direct skin contact or shared items like towels.
  • Psychological Impact: The appearance and persistent nature of fungal acne can affect self-esteem and mental well-being.


For individuals experiencing symptoms of fungal acne, it's crucial to get an accurate diagnosis. The Symptom Checker can help provide an initial assessment. However, consulting with a healthcare professional is essential for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan.

Risk Factors

Several factors can increase your risk of developing fungal acne, making it essential to understand what changes you can make to reduce your chances of experiencing this condition.

  • Humid Environment: Living in a hot and humid environment provides the perfect breeding ground for Malassezia yeast.
  • Excessive Sweating: Individuals who sweat a lot, whether due to exercise or a specific health condition, are at higher risk.
  • Tight Clothing: Wearing tight, non-breathable fabrics can trap moisture and heat against the skin, facilitating yeast growth.
  • Oily Skin: Excess oil can trap moisture and create a fertile environment for yeast overgrowth.
  • Compromised Immune System: A weakened immune system may not be able to regulate the skin's microbiome effectively, allowing yeast to proliferate.


Understanding these risk factors is the first step in preventing fungal acne. By making simple changes, like choosing loose-fitting clothes made of breathable materials and maintaining a balanced skin care routine, you can significantly reduce your risk of developing this condition.

How to Treat Fungal Acne

Successfully treating fungal acne begins with a correct diagnosis. Due to its similarity to bacterial acne, fungal acne is often misdiagnosed and mistreated with conventional acne treatments, which can worsen the condition. This emphasizes the importance of consulting with a healthcare professional to confirm that your symptoms are indeed due to a fungal infection. Once diagnosed, there are several effective fungal acne treatment options available, including both medical treatments and at-home care.

Fungal Acne Treatment at Home

While professional medical advice is crucial, there are also practical steps and lifestyle adjustments you can make at home to manage and help treat fungal acne:

  • Maintain a Clean Skin Routine: Use gentle, non-oily cleansers to keep the skin clean without stripping it of natural oils, which can lead to increased oil production and worsen fungal acne.
  • Choose the Right Skincare Products: Opt for products that are oil-free and labeled as "non-comedogenic" to avoid clogging pores. Look for ingredients that are known to be antifungal, such as tea tree oil, though be cautious as natural remedies can vary in effectiveness.
  • Wear Breathable Clothing: To reduce moisture and heat on the skin, wear loose, breathable fabrics, especially in hot or humid conditions.
  • Change Out of Wet Clothes Promptly: After exercising or sweating, change into dry clothes as soon as possible to prevent the moist environment that fungi thrive in.
  • Adjust Your Diet: While more research is needed, some believe that reducing sugar and yeast-containing foods may help manage fungal acne by limiting the food source for yeast.

Preventing Fungal Acne

Preventing fungal acne involves strategies that reduce the conditions fungi thrive in—moisture, warmth, and oily environments. Here are some tips to minimize the risk of developing fungal acne and prevent its recurrence:

  • Shower Regularly: Especially after sweating, to remove excess oil and sweat that can create a breeding ground for yeast.
  • Use Antifungal Body Washes: Consider incorporating an antifungal body wash into your routine, particularly if you're prone to fungal infections.
  • Wear Loose, Breathable Clothing: This reduces the chance of creating moist, warm environments on your skin where yeast can proliferate.
  • Manage Stress: High-stress levels can disrupt hormonal balance and oil production, potentially exacerbating skin conditions, including fungal acne.
  • Keep Your Living Environment Clean: Regularly wash bedding, towels, and workout clothes to remove sweat, oils, and potential fungal spores.

Key Takeaways

  • Fungal acne is caused by an overgrowth of yeast, specifically the Malassezia species, rather than bacteria.
  • It presents as uniform, itchy bumps, often in areas prone to sweat and oil, such as the forehead, chest, and back.
  • Proper diagnosis by a healthcare professional is crucial, as fungal acne requires different treatment than bacterial acne.
  • Over-the-counter and prescribed antifungal treatments are effective, but home care practices and lifestyle adjustments can support prevention and management.
  • Keeping the skin clean, wearing breathable clothing, and maintaining a balanced diet may help manage and prevent fungal acne.
  • Always follow up with a healthcare professional before starting any new treatment to ensure it's appropriate for your condition.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is fungal acne?

Fungal acne is a condition caused by the overgrowth of yeast in the hair follicles, leading to inflammation and acne-like bumps.

How can I effectively treat fungal acne?

Effective treatment often involves antifungal medications prescribed by a healthcare professional, alongside supportive skincare routines.

What are some ways to get rid of fungal acne at home?

At-home care includes using non-comedogenic products, wearing breathable clothing, and applying antifungal topical treatments as directed by a healthcare provider.

Can fungal acne appear on the face?

Yes, fungal acne can appear on the face, typically presenting as small, uniform, itchy bumps on the forehead, cheeks, and jawline.

How does fungal acne differ in appearance from other acne?

Fungal acne looks like uniform small bumps that are often itchy, unlike bacterial acne which can have varied sizes and includes blackheads and whiteheads.

Is there a simple explanation for what causes fungal acne?

Fungal acne is caused by an overgrowth of yeast within the skin's hair follicles, often triggered by excess moisture, heat, and an imbalanced skin microbiome.

Are there any effective fungal acne treatments available at home?

Yes, maintaining a clean and balanced skincare routine, using antifungal products, and making lifestyle adjustments can help manage fungal acne at home.

What's the best way to treat fungal acne?

The best approach is a combination of professional medical treatments and supportive home care practices, based on a healthcare professional's advice.

Why does fungal acne often occur on the forehead?

The forehead can be prone to fungal acne due to oiliness and sweat, creating an environment that encourages yeast growth.

Can chest acne be a form of fungal infection?

Yes, acne on the chest can sometimes be fungal, especially if it consists of itchy, uniform bumps in sweaty areas.

Why might fungal acne develop along the jawline?

The jawline can trap sweat and oils beneath the skin, creating a conducive environment for fungal growth.

Is fungal acne on the forehead common?

Yes, due to the oiliness and sweating common in this area, the forehead is a frequent site for fungal acne outbreaks.

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