Tinea versicolor, now called pityriasis versicolor, is one of the most common skin infections in tropical and subtropical areas of the world. It is a fungal infection where an overgrowth of yeast leads to discolored patches on the body.
While the infection is not dangerous or contagious, it can be embarrassing for those dealing with it.
This common fungal infection disrupts the normal pigmentation of the skin. This results in small patches of skin that may be lighter or darker in color than surrounding skin. Tinea versicolor most commonly affects a person's trunk and shoulders.
The infection is caused by the fungus Malassezia furfur. This fungus occurs naturally on the skin and can multiply in a yeast-like fashion, leading to tinea versicolor.
A person is likely to notice tinea versicolor only when spots start to appear on the skin. These spots may be lighter or darker than the surrounding the skin, and are often more noticeable when the surrounding skin is tan.
Though most common around the trunk and neck, these spots may appear anywhere on the body.
Further symptoms may include:
- Itchy patches of spots
- Spots that grow slowly over time, potentially forming into patches
Symptoms may disappear or become reduced in cooler weather and may return when the weather becomes hot and humid.
In tinea versicolor, a fungus that lives on healthy skin grows too quickly and causes the discolored patches of skin.
This overgrowth can be triggered by a combination of environmental and biological factors. These factors include the following:
- Oily skin
- Living in a hot, humid climate
- A weakened immune system
- Hormonal fluctuations
Teenagers often experience hormonal fluctuations, so teens may be more at risk of developing tinea versicolor. However, this infection can happen to people of all ages, ethnicities, and genders.
Tinea versicolor is not dangerous. However, anyone who develops a persistent skin rash should check with a doctor to rule out other more serious conditions.
Diagnosing tinea versicolor is often very straightforward. A doctor can diagnose it simply by looking at it.
If an adequate determination cannot be made with a simple exam, the dermatologist may try either scraping off a bit of infected skin to examine under a microscope or looking at the skin under a special lamp known as a Wood's lamp.
When a dermatologist suspects tinea versicolor and examines the skin under a Wood's lamp, they are looking for a distinct greenish skin color. It is this greenish color that confirms the infection.
A patient with diagnosed tinea versicolor should also check with a doctor if any of the following occur:
- Over-the-counter and self-care measures do not help the rash
- The rash spreads and covers a large area of the body
- The infection recurs
Many treatment options are available for tinea versicolor. What a doctor uses to treat tinea versicolor depends on factors such as climate, area infected, thickness of the infection, and where on the body the infection appears.
The most typical treatment options include:
- Creams and lotions containing selenium sulfide, ketoconazole, or pyrithione zinc
- Medicated shampoos and body washes for use during times when flares are expected, such as during periods of very hot, humid weather
- Oral antifungal medication for use when large areas of the body are infected
It is important for people to follow all instructions on how to use the medicine. Failure to use the full amount or inconsistency in the usage may cause the infection to grow back quickly.
Home remedies and lifestyle tips
Tinea versicolor can be prevented and managed with some simple home remedies and lifestyle changes. Keeping the skin clean and oil-free is the most important thing that can be done to keep a tinea versicolor infection from occurring.
Over-the-counter lotions and creams can help both prevent and treat mild flare-ups. Some example products include:
- Clotrimazole cream or lotion
- Terbinafine cream or gel
- Miconazole cream
- Selenium sulfide 1 percent lotion
- Zinc pyrithione soap
Keeping the skin covered and avoiding prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light is also important. This includes ultraviolet light from being outside and from using a tanning bed.
The most effective method of prevention is hygiene. Removing excess oils and dirt from the skin can help protect someone from contracting this infection.
Antifungal lotions and shampoos that are available over the counter offer a good means of prevention. These same products can also help keep a mild infection under control.
Additionally, taking some extra steps to keep dry in hot and humid weather and avoiding excessive exposure to sunlight may help to stop the growth of tinea versicolor.
The outlook for people who contract tinea versicolor is very good. It is not generally painful, only mildly itchy, and is not contagious.
Despite being generally responsive to treatments, it is an easily recurring infection and difficult to get completely under control.