What Is Tinea Versicolor?
The fungus Pityrosporum ovale is a type of yeast
that’s found on the surface of the skin. It normally doesn’t cause any health
problems. However, sometimes this yeast begins to grow out of control,
affecting the natural color, or pigmentation,
of your skin. When this happens, you may develop patches of skin
that are lighter or darker. This condition is known as tinea versicolor, or
What Causes Tinea Versicolor?
Tinea versicolor occurs when Pityrosporum ovale grows
rapidly on the surface of the skin. Doctors aren’t sure why this happens.
However, there are some factors that may promote the growth of this yeast on
the skin. These factors include:
- hot and humid weather
- excessive sweating
- oily skin
- having a weakened immune system
- hormonal changes
Tinea versicolor can occur in people from all ethnic backgrounds.
However, the condition is more common in adolescents and young adults. Adults
are more likely to develop tinea versicolor if they visit an area with a
What Are the Symptoms of Tinea Versicolor?
The most noticeable symptom of tinea versicolor is the development
of discolored patches of skin. These patches may:
- be lighter (more common) or darker than the
- be pink, red, tan, or brown
- be dry, itchy, and scaly
- be more prominent with tanning
- disappear in cooler, less humid weather
Tinea versicolor that develops in people with dark skin may
result in the loss of skin color. This condition is known as hypopigmentation. If the result is
darkening of skin color, this condition is known as hyperpigmentation
Some individuals who develop tinea versicolor don’t have any
significant changes in their skin color or appearance.
In addition to changes in the skin, you may also experience
increased sweating and itchy skin.
When Should You Contact Your Doctor?
If you develop symptoms of tinea versicolor, you may choose to
treat the condition yourself. Over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal medications may
be effective at eliminating discolored patches of skin. However, you should
contact your doctor if these treatments aren’t effective. You may need a
prescription medication to control your symptoms.
How Is Tinea Versicolor Diagnosed?
If strangely colored patches have developed on your skin and you
can’t treat them at home, see your doctor. Your doctor will examine your skin
and will often be able to tell if you have tinea versicolor just by looking at
If a diagnosis can’t be made just by looking at the skin, your
doctor may take a skin scraping. A skin scraping removes cells from your skin for
testing by scraping the skin gently. The cells will then be viewed under a
microscope to see if they contain the yeast that brings about this condition.
Your doctor may also use a Wood’s lamp to look at your skin. This
special machine, which uses ultraviolet light, will be held 4 to 5 inches from
your skin. If yeast is present, the affected skin will be yellow or green under
How Is Tinea Versicolor Treated?
If your symptoms aren’t severe, you may choose to treat your
condition at home. OTC antifungal creams or shampoos may be effective for
killing the infection. Examples of OTC medications that can be used to treat
tinea versicolor include:
- clotrimazole (Lotrimin AF, Mycelex)
- miconazle (Monistat, M-Zole)
- selenium sulfide (Selsun Blue shampoo)
- terbinafine (Lamisil)
If you seek treatment for tinea versicolor, your doctor may
prescribe different medications to help treat your condition. Some of the
medications are topical creams that can be applied directly to the skin.
- ciclopirox (Loprox, Penlac)
- ketoconazole (Extina, Nizoral)
Your doctor may also prescribe pills to treat tinea versicolor.
Examples of medications include:
- fluconazole (Diflucan)
- Itraconazole (Onmel, Sporanox)
- ketoconazole (Extina, Nizoral)
How Long Will It Take for Your Skin to Return to Normal?
If you’re diagnosed with tinea versicolor, treatment will improve
your long-term outlook. You may even be able to eliminate the infection.
However, your skin may remain discolored for several weeks or months following
treatment. Your infection may also return when the weather becomes warmer and
more humid. If your condition returns, your doctor may prescribe medication
once or twice per month to prevent symptoms.
How Can Tinea Versicolor Be Prevented?
Preventing a recurrence of the condition can be difficult. If
you’re diagnosed with tinea versicolor and you’re successfully treated, there
are steps that you can take to prevent future infections. These include:
- avoiding excessive heat
- avoiding tanning or excessive sun exposure
- avoiding excessive sweating
- taking prescribed medication