Everything You Need to Know About Fungal Acne, According to a Dermatologist

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Acne is a very complex skin condition. While any search on the internet will present you with all kinds of different ways to treat your acne, and there are plenty of over-the-counter options on the market, the truth is that not all treatments are universal and one product won't work across every type of blemish. Take fungal acne, for example. It's a common skin condition that's often mistaken for other forms of acne, though you can sometimes tell if this is the kind you're dealing with when your topical products aren't responding.

Here's everything you need to know about fungal acne — plus, exactly how to treat it.

What Is Fungal Acne?

Fungal acne isn't actually acne but a condition that mimics acne. "It's an acne-like condition that is caused by overgrowth of a common yeast that lives on the skin surface," dermatologist Claire Chang, M.D., told POPSUGAR. That yeast is referred to as malassezia furfur or pityrosporum ovale by most dermatologists, and it's not uncommon for it to be found on the skin regularly. "Malassezia actually lives on everyone's skin surface, but overgrowth in the hair follicles may lead to inflammation."

According to Dr. Chang, fungal acne presents itself as itchy blemishes on the face, chest, back, upper arms, and neck, and occurs more among people with oily skin, adolescents, men, and those who live in hot or humid climates. Use of use of antibiotics or steroids as well as having a history of immunosuppression can also increase one's risk of developing fungal acne. It's a common skin condition, though it often goes undiagnosed.

How Does Fungal Acne Differ From Bacterial Acne?
Getty | Lorella Furleo Semeraro

How Does Fungal Acne Differ From Bacterial Acne?

Fungal acne is often misdiagnosed and mistaken for acne vulgaris, but a key difference is that both conditions respond differently to the use of antibiotics. "Unlike acne vulgaris and bacterial folliculitis, fungal acne does not typically respond to topical or oral antibiotics," Dr. Chang said. "The treatment for fungal acne is, instead, antifungals."

It's worth noting here that a person can experience fungal and bacterial acne at the same time, in which case, a treatment for both conditions would obviously be necessary.

How to Tell If You Have Fungal Acne

How to Tell If You Have Fungal Acne

Again, fungal acne can easily be mistaken for acne vulgaris, but a good way to differentiate between the two is just paying attention to how the condition behaves. Fungal acne is usually itchy, and it doesn't respond to topical or oral antibiotics. If your acne isn't responding or improving after the use of traditional acne medications, you should make an appointment with a dermatologist (who can perform a skin test in-office) and consider the possibility of your acne being a result of a fungus.

How to Treat Fungal Acne

How to Treat Fungal Acne

If you know for sure that fungal acne is what you're dealing with, your best bet is to treat it by seeking help from a dermatologist. "Fungal acne is best treated with oral antifungal medications that can be prescribed by your board-certified dermatologist," Dr. Chang said. "Your doctor may first prescribe an antifungal cream or shampoo to use as a body wash. If your skin does not clear with topicals, then you may require oral antifungal treatment. Topical antifungal creams and shampoos can help with preventing recurrence of fungal acne."

Dr. Chang recommends using Nizoral Anti Dandruff Shampoo ($15) as a body wash and letting it sit on your skin or a minute or two before rinsing it off.

"You can also use over-the-counter selenium sulfide shampoos, like Selsun Blue Medicated With Menthol Dandruff Shampoo ($7), that have fungus-fighting activity," she said. "Benzoyl peroxide can help reduce inflammation and destroy both fungus and bacteria."

For anyone dealing with acne vulgaris and fungal acne at the same time, a good choice would also be a benzoyl peroxide cleanser like Differin Daily Deep Cleanser ($10), which Dr. Chang recommends because it's works without being too harsh on the skin.