Could You Have Fungal Acne? A Derm Weighs In

January 21, 2022
Tembe Denton-Hurst
By: Tembe Denton-Hurst | by L'Oréal
person touching cheek and looking off camera

Fungal acne may sound a little ick-inducing at first, but it’s much more common than you might think. Formally known as pityrosporum or malassezia folliculitis, it’s caused by a yeast that inflames the hair follicles on your skin and causes pimple-like bumps, says Dr. Hadley King, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. Although this type of yeast normally lives on the skin, when it isn’t controlled, it can lead to fungal acne outbreaks. This typically occurs due to environmental factors or medications like antibiotics that may deplete the bacteria that keeps the yeast in check. Luckily, it’s usually treatable with over-the-counter products and a few lifestyle changes. Keep reading for more info about fungal acne and how to fight it.

How Do I Know if My Acne Is Fungal?

According to Dr. King, regular acne (think traditional whiteheads and blackheads) tends to vary in size and shape. It typically occurs on the face and isn’t particularly itchy. Fungal acne, however, is uniform in size and commonly appears as red bumps and small pustules on the chest, upper arms and back. In fact, it rarely involves the face. It also doesn’t produce a head and is often itchy.

person touching cheek and looking off camera

What Triggers Fungal Acne?


“Some people are genetically predisposed to overgrowths of yeast,” says Dr. King, which can result in consistent cases of fungal acne. “If you have a chronic condition that affects your immune system like HIV or diabetes, that can make you more susceptible to yeast overgrowth too.”


Regardless of your genetic makeup, it’s important to shower and change clothes after you hit the gym to avoid a fungal acne outbreak in the first place. Fungal acne thrives in warm, moist conditions, which can be caused by wearing tight and sweaty workout wear for an extended period of time.

Does Fungal Acne Go Away?

OTC Products Can Help

If an outbreak occurs, Dr. King suggests reaching for an anti-fungal cream that’s formulated with econazole nitrate, ketoconazole or clotrimazole and applying twice daily, or washing with a dandruff shampoo that contains pyrithione zinc or selenium sulfide and allowing it to sit on the skin for five minutes before rinsing it off.

When to See a Derm

If at-home methods aren’t effective, make an appointment with your dermatologist who can confirm the diagnosis and prescribe an oral medication if necessary.

Photographer: Chaunte Vaughn

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