Tinea Versicolor

What Is Tinea Versicolor?

Tinea versicolor is a fungal infection that causes small patches of discolored spots on your skin. It's also called pityriasis versicolor. It results from a type of yeast that naturally lives on your skin. When the yeast grows out of control, the skin disease, which appears as a rash, is the result.

Signs and Symptoms of Tinea Versicolor

Acidic bleach from the growing yeast causes areas of skin to be a different color than the skin around them. These can be individual spots or patches. Specific signs and symptoms of the infection include:

  • Patches that are white, pink, red, or brown and may be lighter or darker than the skin around them.
  • Spots that don’t tan the way the rest of your skin does.
  • Spots that show up more boldly when you do tan.
  • Spots that may occur anywhere on your body but are most commonly seen on your neck, chest, back, and arms.
  • Spots that are dry and scaly and may itch or hurt, although this is rare.

The spots may disappear during cool weather and get worse during warm and humid weather.

Similar conditions

Some skin problems have symptoms that look like tinea versicolor, including:

  • Vitiligo: a disease that makes you lose your skin color
  • Pityriasis rosea: a rash that causes small spots that fan out on your body in the shape of a tree

These conditions have features that clue your doctor in to what you have, such as texture and rash pattern.

Tinea Versicolor Causes

The yeast that causes tinea versicolor, Malassezia, grows on normal, healthy skin. But these things can trigger an overgrowth that causes the infection:

  • Oily skin
  • Living in a hot climate
  • Sweating a lot
  • Hormonal changes
  • A weakened immune system

Because the yeast grows naturally on your skin, tinea versicolor isn’t contagious. The condition can affect people of any skin color. It's more likely to affect teens and young adults. For some people, it can cause emotional distress and feelings of self-consciousness.

Tinea Versicolor Diagnosis

Your doctor can diagnose tinea versicolor by what the rash looks like.

If they need more information, these tests can help:

  • Wood lamp (black light) examination. The doctor uses ultraviolet light, which may make the affected areas appear a fluorescent coppery orange color if they're the result of tinea versicolor.
  • Microscopy using potassium hydroxide (KOH). Your doctor removes cells from your skin, soaks them in potassium hydroxide, then looks at them under a microscope.
  • Skin biopsy. The doctor takes a skin sample by scraping some skin and scales from the affected area to look at under a microscope. With children, the doctor may lift off skin cells by first firmly attaching clear tape to the affected area then removing it. The sample then can be stuck directly onto a slide to look at with a microscope.

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Tinea Versicolor Treatment

Treatment of tinea versicolor can consist of creams, lotions, or shampoos that you put on your skin. It can also include medication given as pills. The type of treatment will depend on the size, location, and thickness of the infected area.

Treatment options include:

  • Topical antifungals. You put these directly to your skin. They may be in the form of lotion, shampoo, cream, foam, or soap. They keep yeast growth under control. Over-the-counter anti-fungal topical products containing ingredients such as clotrimazole, ketoconazole, miconazole, zinc-pyrithione, selenium sulfide, and terbinafine are available. Prescription products are available too.
  • Antifungal pills. These may be used to treat more serious or recurrent cases of tinea versicolor. Sometimes doctors use them because they clear up the infection faster. You’ll need a prescription for these medicines. They can have side effects. Your doctor will keep an eye on you while you’re taking antifungal pills.

Treatment usually gets rid of the fungal infection. But skin discoloration may take several months to resolve.

Lifestyle Tips for Managing Tinea Versicolor

Episodes are very common because the yeast that causes the infection is a normal fungus that lives on your skin. You might use medicated cleansers once a week for 10 minutes at a time for a few months to help prevent tinea versicolor from coming back. You may need to use these cleansers if the infection keeps returning, especially if you live in a warm and humid area.

To help you manage tinea versicolor you can:

  • Avoid using oily skin products.
  • Reduce the time you spend in the sun. It may trigger or worsen an episode, and a tan makes the rash more visible.
  • Use an anti-fungal shampoo daily for a couple of days prior to sun exposure if you do have to go out.
  • Put on sunscreen every day. Use a broad spectrum, nongreasy formula with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 30.
  • Try a dandruff shampoo with selenium sulfide.
  • Wear loose clothing.
  • Choose breathable fabrics, like cotton, to decrease sweating.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on September 26, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Dermatology: "Tinea versicolor."

American Osteopathic College of Dermatology: "Tinea Versicolor."

Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh: "Tinea Versicolor."

The Merck Manual: "Tinea Versicolor."

DermNet NZ: "Pityriasis Versicolor."

Clinical Knowledge Summaries, NHS: "Pityriasis Versicolor."

Mayo Clinic: “Tinea Versicolor.”

PLoS Pathogens: “Malassezia Fungi Are Specialized to Live on Skin and Associated with Dandruff, Eczema, and Other Skin Diseases.”

StatPearls: “Tinea (Pityriasis) Versicolor.”

UpToDate: “Office-based dermatologic diagnostic procedures,” “Tinea versicolor (pityriasis versicolor).”

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