What is Tinea Versicolor?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 19 October 2019
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Tinea versicolor is a type of fungal infection that affects the skin, most commonly appearing on the back, chest, neck and upper arms. It is caused by an overgrowth of yeast, which normally lives in skin pores and is often more abundant in areas that are more oily than others. The fungal infection is marked by small, discolored patches of skin that have a thin and scaly appearance. They can be white, pink, tan, or brown. These discolored patches have a scattered appearance and tend to be rather faint on lighter-colored skin and more noticeable on darker skin.

The patchy discoloration of tinea versicolor tends to grow slowly and may cause mild itching. The discoloration issues are more noticeable after exposure to the sun, as the unaffected skin tans while the discolored patches do not, creating a more pronounced effect. Tinea versicolor can affect people at any age, though it is more common in teenagers and young adults. It is also more common in people who live in warm, humid places and during the summer months.


Since healthy skin can harbor the yeast that leads to tinea versicolor, it can be very difficult to predict who will be affected by it. However, those who sweat excessively are more prone to contracting it. Also, those with very oily skin may be more prone to the condition. Additionally, hormonal changes can bring it on, as can immune system impairment, which inhibits the body's ability to protect itself from overgrowth of yeast and other fungi.

In many cases, tinea versicolor can be treated with simple over-the-counter antifungal creams, lotions, and shampoos. It may also help to keep the skin clean and dry and shower more frequently during extremely hot, humid weather. When self-care measures do not work or the patient is very uncomfortable or embarrassed by the condition, a doctor may prescribe medications to treat the condition faster. Prescription topical treatments may include selenium sulfide (Selsun) lotion or ketoconazole (Nizoral) cream. Oral prescription medications may include ketoconazole (Nizoral) tablets and fluconazole (Diflucan) tablets.

Tinea versicolor tends to respond very well to either over-the-counter or prescription treatments. However, killing the yeast is only the first step. Even after the overgrowth has been eliminated, the skin discoloration may linger on for several weeks at a time. In fact, once the weather becomes warm and humid again or the person begins to sweat excessively over a period of time, the infection may return once more. In some cases, a person may have a re-occurring infection, which requires treatment with prescription medications on a monthly or bi-weekly basis.


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