Tinea Versicolor

Tinea versicolor, also known as pityriasis versicolor  is a common skin condition caused by an overgrowth of fungus on the skin’s surface. The term versicolor refers to the fact that affected skin changes color, becoming either lighter or darker than surrounding skin. It is believed to be caused by the yeast Malassezia furfur (formerly called Pityrosporum ovale) or Malassezia globosa, which are normally found on human skin, but can overgrow under certain circumstances including warm, humid environments.

Tinea versicolor tends to be more common in individuals who have seborrheic dermatitis, dandruff, and hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating).

Symptoms of Tinea Versicolor

Tinea versicolor most commonly affects the shoulders, back and chest. However, it can also be found on other areas – the crook of the arm, skin under the breasts or groin. While the face is generally not affected, it can be found there on children. It ranges from just a scattering of a few white-to-pink or tan-to-dark spots to being more widespread. The infection prevents skin from tanning normally so it becomes more noticeable upon sun exposure, especially on dark skin.

Apart from the visible changes in skin color, there are few other symptoms. Itching may occur, especially if an individual becomes hot. Tinea versicolor is not contagious.

Skin conditions that resemble tinea versicolor include:

  • Pityriasis alba: A mild form of  eczema often seen in young people that can produce a mild, patchy lightening of the face, shoulders, or torso.
  • Vitiligo: A skin condition that results in a permanent loss of pigmentation. Vitiligo tends to affect  skin around the eyes and lips or the knuckles and joints. Spots are porcelain-white.

Causes of Tinea Versicolor

It’s still not clear why some people develop tinea versicolor and others do not. The yeast which causes tinea versicolor is normally present in small numbers on normal skin and can overgrow on anyone. The condition tends to be more common in the following situations:

  • Individuals with oily skin
  • Teenagers and young adults. It’s not very common in children and the elderly, except in tropical climates.
  • In tropical locations, with high temperatures and humidity, tinea versicolor can occur in people at any age and the spots can be visible year round.
  • Temperate climates during the summer when the temperature and humidity are high, with the spots generally fading during the cooler and drier months of the year.

Treatment of Tinea Versicolor

Treatment is started to eradicate the yeast associated with the condition. Effective options include:

  • Topical over the counter remedies include shampoos or creams/ lotions that contain selenium sulfide (2.5% or higher as in Versel lotion), ketoconazole (Nizoral shampoo) or clotrimazole.
  • Oral prescription medications, including ketoconazole or itraconazole.

While it is easy to eradicate the yeast, treatment can take weeks. The skin discoloration can last for many months even after the yeast has been eradicated. Though the process can be slow, skin color will eventually blend and look normal. Recurrence of the rash is highly likely and will require treatment again.