by Erika Fonseca 6 min read


Here at Paradox, we're focused on treating and bringing attention to a surplus of skin conditions. As such, an important condition to tackle is fungal acne.

Yes, it sounds gross, but fungal acne really is not as bad as it sounds!

Everyone has fungus and bacteria growing all over their skin and it’s not a problem until there’s an imbalance. If your current skin care routine is not improving your acne, there is a chance that you don’t actually have traditional acne. Instead, you may have an entirely different condition that is called fungal acne.

It’s totally okay to go grab a mirror and check yourself out anytime during this article, we get it. But, we’re here to help. This definitive guide is your one stop for all things fungal acne. We all want flawless glass skin and figuring out exactly what is causing your breakouts is the vital first step towards improvements. As icky as the science is, it is necessary to understand everything about this condition so you are prepared to tackle it head on and with the appropriate tools.


Surprisingly, fungal acne is actually not acne! The scientific name for this condition is Malassezia Folliculitis (which will be referred to as MF throughout the rest of this guide). MF is caused by an imbalance of yeast in your skin and shows up as annoying little bumps on your forehead and other oily areas. If your bumps refuse to go away with topical acne creams and antibiotics like benzoyl peroxide and Accutane, your problem may be fungus!

MF occurs naturally on our skin so it is technically impossible to avoid. However, there are ways to treat and avoid outbreaks caused by an influx of the fungus, which will be discussed later in this guide. 


There are over a dozen species of this facial yeast and as a fungus, effective treatments differ greatly from traditional acne. The yeast feeds on sebum, the oily secretions from your pores (as explained  here), so the oiliest parts of your face and chest are the most prone to growing the pimple-like bumps. Since acne also loves oily spots, these two culprits are often confused.

Acne is caused by bacteria and can be treated with antibacterial medications. Topical and oral antibacterial treatments work wonders for acne but they can actually make MF worse. Your skin needs a healthy balance of fungus and bacteria, so when the wrong medication kills too much bacteria, the result is an excess of MF. Acne ranges in size and painfulness, whereas MF shows up similarly across cases.


MF is historically difficult to diagnose from acne and other similar skin conditions.


Check out the following list of symptoms to see if MF is the root of your skin issues:

  • Tiny AND uniform red bumps of pus
  • Flares up after exposure to humidity or sweat
  • VERY itchy but not painful
  • Gets worse when the temperature increases
  • Antibacterial medication doesn’t help or makes it worse
  • Mostly on your forehead, chest, shoulders, and back
  • Everything causes breakouts (sunscreen, moisturizers, etc.)

If you somehow have a blacklight lying around, you can CAREFULLY shine it on your skin and see what color your bumps glow. Orangey-red results mean you likely have bacterial acne. Blueish-white and yellow results mean fungus is the cause of your itchy skin. This method is called “wood lamp examination.” 

These are methods to self-diagnose, but the best way to figure out exactly what is causing your breakouts is to visit a dermatologist. They will take a shave biopsy (totally painless) from your problem areas and check the sample under a microscope to perform a fungal infection check. Seeing a professional will save you the time and energy of squinting at your skin for hours in front of your bathroom mirror. 


We hate the word “moist,” but we have to say it. Moist environments will cause MF to flare up because fungus grows best in humid conditions. Yes, that’s super gross. We cringed too. Here are some likely explanations for breakouts:

  • Sweat! Wipe your sweat off after working out so the fungus does not have a chance to grow
  • Sticky work out clothes. Your favorite Lululemon sports bra may be advertised as ultra breathable, but the areas where the fabric presses against your skin can still cause sweat and humidity to result in flare ups
  • Antibacterial medication use can lead to an increase of fungus in the absence of bacteria
  • Hot weather, love to hate it
  • Many types of oils (we will explain!)


Again, you will never be completely free of MF, but there are measures you can take to limit your breakouts.


MF is known to reappear many times,especially after a period of clear skin. Dermatologists recommend continuing to use anti-fungal products in the shower to reduce the chances of the fungus making a comeback. Try out any or all of these tips to treat MF:

  • Topical sulfur wash: Usually a simple over-the-counter body wash can treat MF considering that sulfur is antibacterial and antifungal.
  • Dandruff shampoo with Zinc Pyrithione: Yup, the active ingredients in dandruff shampoos like Selsun Blue and Head and Shoulders work to reduce MF. Lather up and let sit on your face for 30 seconds (and up to 5 minutes like a mask) to let the ingredients work their magic before washing off.
  • Athlete’s foot cream: Products containing 2% ketoconazole, econazole nitrate, or 1% clotrimazole are antifungal.
  • Honey and green tea extracts and Salicylic Acid (BHA) have antifungal properties. Try some of the Paradox recommended remedies  in this post. 

If these home remedies aren’t working after 3-4 weeks, go see a dermatologist! You can be prescribed an antifungal medication that is taken orally which can help your skin from the inside out. It is more potent and can provide significant improvements in less time than topical treatments.


In addition to trying out topical and oral treatments, implement these simple steps into your daily routine to make sure that the fungus does not have a chance to thrive:

  • Wear breathable clothing
  • Keep your skin as clean and as dry as possible
  • Change your clothes ASAP after each workout
  • Use salicylic acid wipes to remove oil and dirt  
  • Even better, take a shower after exercising!
  • Maintain a cool body temperature (no saunas!)

The most important thing to remember is “moist.” Avoid moist situations like you avoid the word and you will see improvements in your skin.


Fungus is very nondiscriminatory when it comes to what causes it to flourish. Unfortunately, that means many of the products you have in your skin care and bath collection may be hindering your path to clear skin. Check out the following products and avoid them at all costs:

  • OILS: Not all of them, just... most
  • Fatty acids: Look for lauric, linoleic, myristic, oleic, palmitic, and stearic acids in the ingredient lists of your products.
  • Esters: Fatty acid + alcohol or glycerol = esters. Chemistry is hard, so look for "-ate" compounds and avoid them.
  • Some ceramides: Ceramides are hit or miss since they are made of fatty acids but not all cause growth of MF. Spot test ceramide products!
  • Coconut oil: It is not good for your skin. Period.
  • White petroleum: Vaseline and similar products are hit or miss for most skin types and in the case of MF, it’s better to remove petroleum from your routine than be sorry
  • High pH products: MF grows well in pH of 5.5-7.5 but healthy human skin is usually around pH 4.7. Keep your skin pH balanced without stripping it with acids.

Yikes, that’s a lot to keep an eye out for. Not to worry, there are many options that you still have to keep your skin moisturized and limit fungal growth.


Luckily, some oils are not going to harm you!

  • Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCT) oil
  • Fragrance-less mineral oil (in moderation)
  • Squalane oil

Here is a fantastic compilation of safe products. Finding products that are MF-safe is important, so make sure to use natural products and safe oils (like Paradox's  facial oil) that won’t worsen the bacterial build-up.

Everyone’s skin is different so the best way to figure out what works and what doesn’t is to test the product on a small area of your skin to start. Definitely check out the linked list to see what products are fan favorites of people that have also struggled with MF.


Now that you’re an expert on fungal acne, or MF as the pros call it, you have a better understanding of your skin and what exactly is keeping you from having perfectly textureless skin. Try out the dermatologist recommended tips and tricks and share your newfound knowledge (and this article) with your friends and family. Everyone deserves a shot at unproblematic skin and finding the ideal balance with the fungus and bacteria that live on you! 

If you have personal experience with MF, we would love to hear about it! Feel free to leave a comment to offer your suggestions. If you enjoyed this guide about your skin, you will definitely enjoy this Guide to Dehydrated Skin and this Guide to Skin Texture. Be sure to follow us on Instagram and Pinterest for more beauty and skincare content!

by Emma Chang


Erika Fonseca
Erika Fonseca

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