What does fungal acne look like?

Fungal Acne vs. Regular Acne

If you’ve never heard of “fungal acne” before then you’re not alone! The vast majority of people have no idea that it exists or that the stubborn blemishes that they’ve been suffering with could actually be fungal acne. These two skin concerns are related, but they have some important differences, too. So, what’s the big difference between fungal acne and regular ol’ bacterial acne?

Fungal acne or “Malassezia folliculitis” is caused by yeast that inflames the hair follicles on your skin and causes uniform, pimple-like red bumps. If you want to know more about why we get fungal acne and how to treat it, then check out our super informative, detailed article, "What is fungal acne?".  

Acne, on the other hand, occurs in the pores and is triggered by a buildup of dead skin cells and oil. People who are acne-prone shed many more skin cells than average, causing the extra skin cells to clump together inside the pores and mix with the body’s natural oil, called sebum. This creates an environment where P. Acne bacteria can flourish, and the bacteria inflames the blemishes, causing the red, raised blemishes that we’re all familiar with. 

Now that we know the basic difference between fungal and regular acne, let’s see what each of these types of acne looks like, feels like, and where we typically get it.

Fungal acne

What does it look like?

Fungal acne usually looks like many small red bumps that tend to be all the same size and are clustered together in small groups. This type of blemish can look very similar to an acne closed comedone. Occasionally, a few of the bumps can flare up into full-on cysts or boils, but for the most part, the bumps tend to look pretty uniform. You won’t see blackheads, pustules or deeper, painful nodules and cysts like you would with regular acne. Fungal acne bumps usually do not come to whiteheads, or if they do, the whiteheads are about the size of a pinpoint. See the pictures below for examples of what fungal acne typically looks like.

What does fungal acne look like?

*Fungal acne on the forehead

Malassezia folliculitis

*Extreme fungal acne flare up

fungal acne on back

*Fungal acne on the back


Where do we get it?

You have hair follicles all over your face and body, so you can get fungal acne anywhere, but the most common places are the forehead, chest, butt, thighs, back and anywhere where you tend to sweat. Fungal acne often occurs in areas where people shave, such as the beard, scalp and bikini area, as well as areas of the body where moisture and perspiration are trapped.

What does it feel like? 

The most common symptom that you’ll notice with fungal acne is itchiness of the bumps. Fungal acne is typically pretty itchy but never painful, as regular acne can be when a blemish becomes inflamed.

Regular Acne 

What does it look like?

Regular, bacterial acne can consist of blackheads (open plugged pores), small, red, tender bumps (papules), Pimples (whiteheads), nodules (large, solid, painful lumps under the skin) and painful, pus-filled lumps under the skin (cystic lesions). Regular acne can become very red, inflamed and swollen. This type of acne typically appears in varying sizes that are usually scattered around at random. See images below for reference.


*Blackheads (open plugged pores)


*Papules (small, red, tender bumps)


*Pimples (Whiteheads) 


*Nodules (large, solid, painful lumps under the skin) 


*Cysts (painful, pus-filled lumps under the skin)

Where do we get it?

Acne usually populates in areas of the skin that have the most oil (sebaceous) glands. The most common places for acne to appear is on the face, forehead, chest, upper back, shoulders, and buttocks.

What does it feel like? 

Regular acne never itches like fungal acne does, but it can be extremely hot and painful to the touch. In fact, the reason acne can hurt so bad is because the body is trying to get rid of gunk that doesn’t belong there. 

The bottom line 

The main thing to remember when trying to tell the difference between fungal acne and regular acne is this: fungal acne looks like closed, uniform, pimple-like red bumps that are all in one concentrated location and tend to itch. Regular acne breakouts, on the other hand, vary in size and can range from blackheads and whiteheads to nodules and cysts. These breakouts do not typically itch but can become very inflamed and painful. 

Once you know what type of acne you suffer from, you can then adjust your acne treatment accordingly and feel confident about your skin! If you’re interested in learning about successful treatment options for fungal acne, checkout this article.

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