Read this if conventional acne treatments simply aren't helping your breakouts.

If you have ever broken out only to find that traditional treatments aren't getting the job done, fungal acne may be to blame. According to board-certified nurse practitioner and aesthetic specialist, Vanessa Coppola, FNP-BC, fungal acne is a form of folliculitis caused by an overgrowth of naturally occurring yeast on the body. While the skin condition is incredibly common—it's a form of inflammation of the hair follicle—Coppola, who is the owner of Bare Aesthetic Medical Spa, says that it's often unresponsive to conventional acne regimens. As such, it can be incredibly frustrating, given many people often assume it's a regular breakout (when it's actually quite different). With this in mind, Coppola walked us through the differences between fungal and normal (or bacterial) acne, along with how to stop the former in its tracks.

group of skincare cleaning products on counter
Credit: Olesia Bekh / getty images

Fungal vs. Bacterial Acne

The most disconcerting thing about fungal acne? It often looks very similar to its bacterial counterpart. That said, Coppola notes there are ways to differentiate the two. "Fungal acne often presents as a uniform distribution of red bumps or small pustules that are similar in size and often occur on areas such as the arms, chest, and back," she explains. "Bacterial acne, by comparison, usually ranges in size and commonly occurs on the face." Beyond appearance, Coppola points out that fungal acne also typically itches and most often occurs in a warm, humid environment—and that doesn't just pertain to where you live. "Regularly sweating in gym clothes is an example," she shares. "Often, the presentation of bumps or pustules will occur in areas covered by clothing where we perspire the most, causing the yeast to thrive."


Since fungal acne thrives in moist environments, Coppola says that showering and bathing regularly isn't enough—you'll want to shower immediately following sweaty activities. "Doing so will remove excess sebum and oil production from the skin, which is a very good habit to prevent the development of fungal acne," she explains. "Trying to keep your skin clean and dry when working out is helpful, as well." And never re-wear sweaty workout clothing before laundering it ("Yeast can harbor within the clothing and multiply," she warns, noting to promptly wash your athletic wear, as well as your facial masks) or share towels or washcloths (yeast can be spread, which means you could easily transmit or contract a fungal breakout).


Given that fungal acne is largely the result of not bathing enough—especially following excessive exposure to humid environments—Coppola says that one of the best ways to treat a fungal acne breakout is to switch up your lifestyle. "Try to keep your skin clean and dry when working out and don't lounge in your athletic gear after you're done," she suggests. "Shower after exercising or spending time outside in a warm, humid environment, change your clothes when they are moist with sweat, and make sure to launder them promptly to prevent the growth of yeast within clothing." If, after three or four weeks, this doesn't work, prescription medication may be your next option. "More severe forms of fungal acne may require oral systemic anti-fungal treatments and warrant evaluation by your primary care provider or dermatologist," Coppola explains. "It is important to note that fungal acne can often recur and sometimes maintenance therapy is required."


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