Fungal Acne Might Be Why You're Breaking Out — Here's How to Get Rid of It

Don't freakout, it's not as gross as it seems.

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What is Fungal Acne and How Do I Get Rid of It?
Photo: The Good Brigage/Adobe Stock

You've tried exfoliating face washes, clay-based masks, and spot treatments, but the red, itchy breakout on your forehead just won't go away — whether you're using drugstore or expensive skincare brands.

If your pimples don't ever seem to clear up, you might be dealing with fungal acne. But while "fungal" and "acne" sound gross, this condition has nothing to do with fungus or acne at all. Fungal acne looks like regular blemishes, but the bumps are actually caused by overgrown yeast.

However, the good news is fungal acne is easy to treat once you determine you have it.

To find out more, we reached out to two top dermatologists to get all the details on what causes fungal acne, how to treat it, and ways to prevent it.

What Causes Fungal Acne?

As previously mentioned, fungal acne, otherwise known as pityrosporum folliculitis (malassezia folliculitis), isn't a traditional breakout. The red, solid bumps are caused by an overgrowth of malassezia, a yeast commonly found on skin.

"Inflammation caused by the yeast settles in to irritate the follicle, resulting red, inflamed, pimple-like bumps," board-certified dermatologist Dr. Mona Gohara explains.

There are a few factors that contribute to the overgrowth of yeast, including taking antibiotics. "Flares of this condition may be associated with a weakened immune system or the prolonged use of antibiotics," says Dr. Lian Mack, board-certified dermatologist at GlamDerm in New York City.

Sweat, and wearing damp, tight clothing (think your sports bra and leggings post-workout) can also lead to a fungal acne flareup.

What Does Fungal Acne Look Like?

Fungal acne is usually diagnosed by dermatologists based on the uniform appearance of the bumps. However, your dermatologist may take a scraping of skin to study under a microscope in order to get a better look at the yeast.

The location of the breakout on your body is another way to determine whether you have fungal acne. "The breakouts are most commonly seen on the chest, back, posterior arms, and face," Dr. Mack says.

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How Do You Treat Fungal Acne?

Since fungal acne isn't actually acne, the products you'd typically use on whiteheads or blackheads aren't going to cut it. Instead, your dermatologist will prescribe you a topical treatment or other forms of medication. "There are prescription treatments such as ketoconazole cream, or in some cases anti-yeast pills — the same one you would take with a vaginal yeast infection," says Dr. Gohara.

For body flareups, Dr. Mack says shampoos with anti-fungal shampoos like Head and Shoulders or Selsun Blue can help control the yeast imbalance. "I would recommend the over-the-counter washes for the body, once a day, when there is an active infection and weekly to prevent recurrence," she suggests.

When you're experiencing a fungal acne breakout, Dr. Gohara says to leave harsh chemical exfoliants and retinol out of your skincare routine, because while these ingredients can help heal regular breakouts, they can further irritate fungal acne.

How Do You Prevent Fungal Acne?

While fungal acne can be simple to treat, the bad news is that flareups can happen often. To prevent fungal acne, Dr. Mack suggests keeping the anti-fungal shampoos in your shower and regularly using them as body wash.

The other important (and easy) thing you can do? Don't hang out in sweaty clothes.

"Keeping the skin dry and cool helps to prevent the yeast that naturally inhabits our skin from flourishing," Dr. Mack says.

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