Tinea versicolor is a fungal infection of the skin. It's also called pityriasis versicolor and is caused by 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.
The infection can happen for any of the following reasons:
- You have oily skin
- You live in a hot climate
- You sweat a lot
- Hormonal changes
- You have a weakened immune system
Because the yeast grows naturally on your skin, tinea versicolor is not contagious. The condition can affect people of any skin color. It's more likely to affect teens and young adults.
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 may be white, pink, red, or brown and can be lighter or darker than the skin around them.
- Spots that do not tan the way the rest of your skin does.
- Spots that may occur anywhere on your body but are most commonly seen on your neck, chest, back, and arms.
The spots may disappear during cool weather and get worse during warm and humid weather. They may be dry and scaly and may itch or hurt, although this is not common.
How Tinea Versicolor Is Diagnosed
Your doctor can diagnose tinea versicolor by what the rash looks like. Occasionally, the doctor may use ultraviolet light, which may make the affected areas appear a fluorescent coppery orange color if they're the result of tinea versicolor.
Your doctor may also take 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 and then removing it. The sample then can be stuck directly onto a slide to be looked at with a microscope.
How Tinea Versicolor Is Treated
Treatment of tinea versicolor can consist of creams, lotions, or shampoos that are put on the 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 anti-fungals. These products are applied directly to your skin and may be in the form of lotion, shampoo, cream, foam, or soap. They keep the growth of the yeast under control. Over-the-counter anti-fungal topical products containing ingredients such as clotrimazole, ketoconazole, miconazole, zinc-pyrithione, selenium sulfide, and terbinafine are available. But sometimes prescription medications may be needed.
- Anti-fungal pills. These may be used to treat more serious or recurrent cases of tinea versicolor. Or in some cases they may be used because they can provide a simpler and quicker resolution of the infection. These medicines are given by prescription and can have side effects. So it's important to be monitored by your doctor while using anti-fungal pills.
Treatment usually eliminates the fungal infection. However, the discoloration of the skin may take up to several months to resolve.
Lifestyle Tips for Managing Tinea Versicolor
Recurrent episodes are very common because the yeast that causes the infection is a normal fungus that lives on skin. Medicated cleansers may be used 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.
Here are some tips to help you manage tinea versicolor:
- Avoid using oily skin products.
- Reduce your exposure to the sun. Exposure to the sun may trigger or worsen an episode, and a tan makes the rash more visible.
- If you have to go out in the sun, consider using an anti-fungal shampoo daily for a couple of days prior to sun exposure.
- Put on sunscreen every day. Use a broad spectrum, non-greasy formula with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 30.
- Do not wear tight clothing.
- Wear breathable fabrics, such as cotton, to decrease sweating.