There are two main types of fungi (singular ~ fungus) that affect the human skin :
- Dermatophytes (also called ringworm)
- Skin yeasts (also called thrush or candida)
Both types of fungi (mold-like and yeast link fungi) are not threatening to human skin unless there is damage or irritation of the area or the health of the skin cannot be maintained due to poor circulation, lowered immunity or use of toxic chemicals.
A skin fungus can occur on any part of the body but it is prevalent in areas that are covered (dark), warm and moist.
Fungal Infection of the Feet
Athlete’s Foot (Tinea pedis)
By far, athlete’s foot is the most common form of skin fungus affecting most people throughout the world. The prevalence (high rate) of athlete’s foot is a combination of multiple factors, including a covered (socks & shoes), warm (body heat) and moist (perspiration or foot sweat) area which is the perfect breeding ground for a skin fungus. More importantly though is that feet are a hard working part of the body, prone to injury and damage and a skin fungus will quickly set in once there is a break in the skin.
Fungal Infection of the Groin
Jock Itch (Tinea cruris)
Jock itch (also referred to as dhobi’s itch) is the fungal infection of the skin between the testicles and thigh, often spreading to the testicles, thigh, buttock, anus or lower abdomen. Jock itch is so named because of its prevalence among athletes and sports persons. This is due to a combination of factors including tight clothing, protective gear to protect the genitals as well as increased heat and perspiration from strenuous physical activity. A fungal infection of the groin is more common in men than women and particularly in men who wear tight fitting underwear like briefs compared to boxer shorts.
Fungal Infection of the Breasts
Breast Fungus (Submammary candidiasis)
A skin fungus under the breast is fairly common in women with large busts or those that regularly use tight fitting brassieres. The gap between the breast and the chest in women with large breasts creates the ideal warm, moist and dark environment for the fungus to thrive. Coupled with incorrectly fitting or tight bras and the skin under the breast may cut allowing the fungus to quickly invade the tissue.
A breast fungus is more common in warm tropical environments, breast feeding women or after breast augmentation (enlargement). Long term, untreated fungal infections under the breast will quickly result in skin discoloration, usually darkening. Unlike most fungal infections of the skin, a fungus under the breast is caused by yeasts like Candida albicans rather than dermatophytes (ringwom).
Fungal Infection of the Armpits
Armpit fungus (Tinea axillae)
A fungal infection of the armpit is not as common as other areas of the body but can occur in cases where the skin of the armpits are irritated, especially by perfumes, deodarants and anti-perspirants (contact dermatitis). Often a fungal infection of the armpit occurs as a result of secondary spread from another infected area of the body due to scratching and cross contamination. Armpit skin is sensitive and excessive scratching will easily cause breaks in the skin (cuts) and skin discoloration (darkening of the armpits).
Fungal Infections of the Head
Head Fungus / Dandruff (Tinea capitis)
Contrary to popular belief, dandruff is not solely due to dry skin of the scalp or seborrheic dermatitis. A large number of dandruff cases are due to a fungal infection of the scalp caused by the yeast Pityrosporum ovale. and anti-dandruff shampoos may not be effective in a head fungus unless they utilize anti-fungal compounds. Moisturizing the scalp may further aggravate the fungus by providing a water supply for the fungus to thrive and excessive hair brushing may irritate other areas of the scalp thereby allowing the fungus to spread.
Fungal Infection of the Bottom (Buttock)
Fungal infections of the bottom is not as common as the affected areas above but can occur in certain cases. Many cases on nappy or diaper rash is a skin rash (dermatitis) complicated with a fungal infection. Baby’s with a severe and persistent nappy rash may actually have an yeast like skin fungus (Candida albicans) and an antifungal application is required along with very regular changes of baby’s diaper.
In adults, a fungal infection of the buttock may occur in cases of excessive scratching of the bottom and using public toilets with cleaning the seat. While it is thought that persons with larger bottoms or excessive cellulite on the bottom are more prone to a ‘bum fungus’, there is no conclusive evidence to verify this.
Other Skin Fungal Infections
Fungal infections on other areas of the skin are less prevalent but can occur on the hands (tinea manuum) and face (tinea versicola). These areas are often infected as a secondary site due to a pre-existing infection elsewhere on the body. Tinea versicola is closely related to skin applications (beauty creams, make up, face washes) that cause excessive dryness or irritation of the skin. It may also commonly occur in children who frequently use a swimming pool (chlorine exposure) without showering immediately.