Main content
A photo of a woman checking her face for breakouts

SKINCARE

What Is Fungal Acne?

If you’re struggling with persistent blemishes, fungal acne may be to blame. Here, learn what fungal acne is and how to treat it for clearer-looking skin.

If you were to wake up with excessively oily skin and a bunch of small, reddish bumps on your face, you’d probably assume you’re in the midst of an acne breakout. It’s understandable and would probably be most people’s first reaction. After all, nearly everyone struggles with the occasional blemish at some point. Unfortunately, not all blemishes are created equal. If you’re dealing with a particularly stubborn breakout that doesn’t seem to resolve no matter how aggressively you treat it, there’s a chance that your blemishes could be fungal acne.

It doesn’t sound particularly pleasant, but fungal acne is pretty common, especially amongst those who live in hot, humid climates. Here, we’ll explain what fungal acne is and teach you how to tell whether or not it's the cause of your skin concerns. You’ll also learn a few tips for addressing the blemishes at home. Keep reading for your Kiehl’s guide to managing fungal acne on the face and body.

What Is Fungal Acne?

Fungal acne, also known as Malassezia folliculitis, is a skin concern caused by a type of fungus known as Malassezia furur. Despite its name, fungal acne isn’t acne in the traditional sense. True acne—that is, acne vulgaris—has several causes but is usually related to clogged pores and a specific type of bacteria known as P. acnes (hence the name acne). Fungal acne, meanwhile, results from an overgrowth of yeast, without the presence of P. acnes bacteria. With that said, fungal acne and acne vulgaris can look very similar—so much so that professionals frequently misdiagnose fungal acne.

What Causes Fungal Acne?

Backing up a little bit: We all have different microorganisms that live on our skin, including bacteria and fungi. Problems arise when your natural balance is thrown off, allowing the microorganisms to proliferate.

With fungal acne, the primary cause is an overgrowth of the Malassezia furfur yeast (which also happens to be the same fungus that causes dandruff). Many different factors can give rise to this imbalance, including usage of certain medications (especially antibiotics and steroids), issues with your immune system, and even excessive sweating. The yeast responsible for fungal acne feeds primarily on sebum, so fungal acne tends to be common amongst those with oily skin types, especially those who live in hot, humid climates.

How Can You Tell The Difference Between Regular Breakouts and Fungal Acne?

While fungal acne and acne vulgaris can look alike, there are a few ways to distinguish the two. The biggest difference is that fungal acne is itchy—often, overwhelmingly so. It also tends to appear in several areas such as the face, chest, back, and neck, whereas acne vulgaris most commonly occurs on the face (specifically, the T-zone). Lastly, whereas acne vulgaris can include blackheads, whiteheads, and cystic acne blemishes, fungal acne doesn’t usually present with clogged pores, and the blemishes tend to look fairly uniform in size and shape. With that said, fungal acne and acne vulgaris can (and often do) coexist, which can make management challenging.

How To Treat Fungal Acne: 5 Tips

Now that you’re caught up on what fungal acne is—and how to distinguish it from other types of breakouts—you’re ready to learn how to manage it at home. Keep reading for five tips for addressing fungal acne.

Tip #1:

Cleanse To Remove Excess Oil

Since Malassezia feeds on sebum, we recommend using skincare products specifically designed for oily skin; this includes your face and body cleansers.

Tip #2:

Keep Your Skin Moisturized

When your skin is dehydrated, your body’s natural response is to produce more oil to replace lost moisture. Keeping your skin well-hydrated with topical skincare products can help keep your skin’s oil production under control, leaving less for Malassezia to feed on.

Tip #3:

Exfoliate Regularly

While exfoliating alone won’t get rid of fungal acne, it can be useful for addressing the excess sweat and oil that allow fungal acne to proliferate. Exfoliating is also useful for managing acne vulgaris, since it helps remove dead skin cells that can clog pores and lead to blemishes.

Tip #4:

Manage Lingering Hyperpigmentation

Like acne vulgaris, fungal acne can leave the skin with post-blemish marks long after the original breakouts heal. To address these discolorations, we recommend incorporating gentle chemical exfoliants into your skincare routine.

Tip #5:

Spot Treat Individual Blemishes As Needed

As we mentioned earlier, fungal acne and acne vulgaris can occur simultaneously. If you’re struggling with both, try treating your acne breakouts with a spot treatment, such as Breakout Control Targeted Acne Spot Treatment. The unique formula with sulfur and niacinamide helps reduce active acne blemishes. It also helps prevent new breakouts from forming. Apply a small amount to individual spots once to three times daily as needed for visibly clearer skin.

Orientation message
For the best experience, please turn your device