4th March, 20214 min read

What is fungal acne?

Medical reviewer:
Dr Ann Nainan
Dr Ann Nainan
Kathryn Reilly
Kathryn Reilly
Last reviewed: 03/03/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

If you’ve been using acne treatments for a while and not seen any improvement, it could be because you have fungal acne.

Your skin is your body’s largest organ and it’s covered in tiny living things you can’t see, called ‘microorganisms’.

This delicate balance of microorganisms includes bacteria, yeast and other fungi, many of which help protect you and stop you from getting ill.

If this balance is disrupted, however, it can cause skin problems – including fungal acne. Read on to learn more, including possible causes and how to get rid of fungal acne.

What is fungal acne?

Fungal acne occurs when the balance of microorganisms on your skin is disrupted and too much yeast (a type of fungus) grows.

This leads to your skin’s hair follicles getting infected, which causes small pimples and whiteheads, often with itchiness and irritation.

What does fungal acne look like? It can sometimes look similar to what we think of as ‘regular’ acne – known as ‘acne vulgaris’. But fungal acne doesn’t cause blackheads, and the pimples tend to be all the same shape and size.

Fungal acne needs different treatment from acne vulgaris, so it’s important to know which type you have (see below).

What causes fungal acne?

There are various things that can upset the balance of fungi and bacteria on your skin, including:

  • warm, moist environments
  • trapped sweat and moisture – caused by wearing tight, non-breathable clothes or not changing out of sweaty clothes after working out
  • antibiotics – these can reduce the bacteria on your skin
  • diet – too much sugar and carbohydrates may encourage yeast to grow
  • problems with your immune system – this may allow more fungi to grow
  • hormonal changes during puberty – this can lead to an increase in skin oil, which yeast feeds off

Girl in grey top scratching spots on her back

How do I know if it’s fungal acne?

It can be difficult to tell the difference between fungal acne and acne vulgaris. But you’re likely to have fungal acne if the pimples:

  • are all the same size
  • appear in clusters
  • are very itchy
  • are on your arms, chest or back

If you're not sure, or if you’ve been using acne treatments for a while and not seen any improvement, it’s a good idea to speak to your doctor or a skin specialist (dermatologist).

They'll be able to look at your skin and symptoms, and may do some tests to check for the presence of yeast.

Fungal acne treatment

Fungal acne can be treated with antifungal medication, which is either taken as a tablet (oral) or applied to the skin (topical). Your doctor will be able to advise about what’s most suitable for you.

Oral antifungals are usually the most effective, but can have side effects, including sickness, tummy pain and loose poos (diarrhoea). Topical treatments include creams, shampoos, sprays and powders.

How long you need to use an antifungal for will depend on the severity of your acne and how it responds to treatment.

Other things you can do to help get rid of fungal acne include:

  • keeping your skin clean and dry
  • showering straight after exercising
  • wearing loose-fitting, breathable clothes

Tube with white cream or ointment on blue background

Key points

  • fungal acne is caused by an overgrowth of yeast on your skin
  • the pimples are usually the same size, appear in clusters and can be very itchy
  • they’re sometimes confused with ‘regular’ acne – but acne treatments won’t help
  • a doctor or dermatologist can check if it’s fungal acne and suggest treatment
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