What Is Tinea Versicolor?
Tinea versicolor is a common skin infection that develops from a type of fungus.
Everyone's skin has this fungus — it occurs naturally, even on healthy skin.
Only when the fungus grows excessively does it cause a tinea versicolor infection.
The patches of different-colored skin the infection causes aren't painful or contagious, though they may cause itching or irritation.
Tinea versicolor is also known as pityriasis versicolor. ("Pityriasis" is a term used to describe any skin condition in which the scales look grainy, like bran.)
"Versicolor" refers to the many skin colors that can occur with the infection: white, tan, brown, pink, or other colors.
Tinea versicolor is caused by a fungus known as Malassezia.
Of all the known species of the Malassezia, one known as M. globosa is thought to cause most cases of tinea versicolor.
The fungus disrupts the normal pigmentation of the skin, and this results in discolored, scaly patches.
The skin pigment changes in the patches because the Malassezia fungus produces an acid that inhibits the production of melanin, a natural pigment that gives skin its color.
Poor hygiene is not related to the infection at all, nor does it make tinea versicolor more likely to occur.
The primary symptom of tinea versicolor is scaly spots or patches on the skin. These patches are lighter, or sometimes darker, than the skin around them.
Tinea versicolor patches occur most often on the shoulders and trunk, but can appear anywhere on the body. Sometimes patches show up on the neck, abdomen, or face.
The patches often have sharp borders or edges, and they don't darken in the sun.
That explains why the patches may be more visible if you have had recent sun exposure. As the rest of your skin tans and darkens, the patches show up more.
These spots can come and go, especially as seasons change and outside temperatures fluctuate. The spots may be more noticeable when the weather is hot and humid (as in summer), and less noticeable or even disappear in fall and winter.
Other symptoms may include:
- Scaling of the skin
- Increased sweating
Who Is at Risk?
The tinea versicolor fungus is more likely to overgrow on your skin if you live in a humid or hot climate, such as a tropical region.
Up to 50 percent of people living in certain tropical countries have reported the skin infection.
However, in cooler areas like Scandinavia, only about 1 percent of residents are affected.
Teens and young adults are more likely than others to get a tinea versicolor infection, but it can occur in anyone, including children and infants. Both genders can be affected.
The condition is more likely to be a problem if you:
- sweat excessively
- have a compromised immune system
- have oily skin
- have very poor nutrition
- are on birth control pills
- are pregnant
- have diabetes
- are using corticosteroid medicines
Tinea Versicolor Treatment
Many treatments for tinea versicolor are available. Your doctor may suggest over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal creams, lotions, ointment, or shampoos.
Among the choices:
If they don't work, you may need prescription-strength topical remedies, such as:
Many people with tinea versicolor prefer oral medicines, as they are not messy and can be more convenient.
Sometimes a doctor will prescribe both topical and oral medicines to achieve better results.
Commonly used oral medicines are:
Photodynamic therapy, also called light therapy, may also help with tinea versicolor, some research shows.
Applying over-the-counter dandruff shampoos to the skin, for about 10 minutes a day while in the shower, can be a useful home remedy. Ask your doctor if this might help you.
Other home remedies are sometimes suggested, such as aloe vera, tea tree oil, apple cider vinegar, honey, olive oil, and beeswax. Ask your doctor or dermatologist before trying any of them.
In one small study, published in 2004, an application of honey, olive oil, and beeswax helped a majority of patients. They applied the mixture (made of equal parts honey, olive oil, and beeswax) three times a day for about a month.
Preventing Tinea Versicolor
Even when the treatment for tinea versicolor is working, the skin color changes may persist for several months. The condition can come back, and it commonly does.
To reduce the chances that a tinea versicolor infection will recur, your doctor may recommend using a topical or oral treatment once a month or more often.
Some doctors also suggest using a medicated cleanser once or twice a month — especially if you live in a warm, humid location — to prevent the yeast from growing excessively again.
Your doctor may advise you to avoid excessive heat or sweating, if possible, to help prevent the return of a tinea versicolor infection.
Video: Is Tinea Versicolor Contagious?
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