Tinea Versicolor

Overview

What is tinea versicolor?

Tinea versicolor is a superficial fungal infection of the skin. It is caused by overgrowth of a yeast that is normally present on the skin. It can cause skin discoloration and, sometimes, mild itching. The infection is also known as pityriasis versicolor.

For many people, doctors treat the condition successfully with topical or oral antifungal medications. With treatment, most people recover fully from this infection.

Who is most at risk for getting tinea versicolor?

Tinea versicolor affects many people worldwide. People living in tropical or subtropical regions are most at risk. It is common during summer months in temperate climates and around puberty when the oil glands of the skin are more active.

You may be at higher risk if your immune system does not function properly. This may occur if you take medications like corticosteroids, have had an organ transplant, or have medical conditions like diabetes. Pregnant women are more susceptible to tinea versicolor.

Is tinea versicolor contagious?

Tinea versicolor is not contagious.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes tinea versicolor?

An overgrowth of yeast on the skin surface causes tinea versicolor. If your skin is warm, moist, and oily enough, naturally occurring yeast may grow in small colonies. These yeast colonies cause the symptoms of tinea versicolor.

What are the symptoms of tinea versicolor?

For most people, tinea versicolor causes mild symptoms. These may include:

  • Skin discoloration, usually on the face, neck, chest and abdomen. Discolored patches can appear anywhere on your body.
  • Itching at or around areas of skin affected by tinea versicolor
  • Excessive sweating
  • Patches of skin that:
    • Have sharply defined edges
    • Are lighter or darker than normal skin and can be pink, yellow-brown or tan
    • May dry out and form scales
    • May not darken in the sun

Diagnosis and Tests

How is tinea versicolor diagnosed?

Doctors can diagnose tinea versicolor with simple skin tests. In one type of test, your doctor scrapes off some loose skin cells he or she believes are infected with tinea versicolor. This skin sample is examined under a microscope for the presence of yeast cells.

Your doctor may also examine your skin using a Wood lamp. This device uses ultraviolet (UV) light to illuminate your skin. Areas of skin where tinea versicolor is present look yellow-green under the UV light.

Management and Treatment

How is tinea versicolor treated?

Doctors treat tinea versicolor with antifungal medications. Your doctor may recommend a topical antifungal medication, such as ketoconazole (Xolegel® or Extina®). You’ll apply this as a cream or wash to areas of your skin affected by the condition.

If your symptoms are severe, your doctor may also prescribe oral antifungals, such as fluconazole (Diflucan®).

What complications are associated with tinea versicolor?

For some people, tinea versicolor causes skin discoloration that lasts for months to years. In most cases, this discoloration fades away gradually after treatment is complete.

What outcomes should I expect from treatment?

Most people completely clear their tinea versicolor with treatment. Proper treatment with antifungal medication is necessary to ensure a complete recovery and prevent recurrences.

Prevention

Can tinea versicolor be prevented?

The best way to prevent tinea versicolor is by practicing good skin hygiene. The yeast that causes this infection occurs naturally on your skin. Bathing and drying of your skin lower the likelihood of infection.

If you have a history of tinea versicolor, your doctor may recommend you use soap containing zinc pyrithione (like Vanicream™ Z-Bar or DermaZinc™ Zinc Therapy Soap), ketoconazole (Nizoral®) or selenium sulfide (Selsun blue). This type of soap may help prevent future infections and overgrowth of yeast.

Outlook / Prognosis

What is the prognosis (outlook) for people with tinea versicolor?

Tinea versicolor is not a harmful infection and only affects the top layer of the skin. People often have more than one episode of tinea versicolor. Because the yeast grows naturally on the skin, it can recur (come back). Using medicated soap a couple of times each week or month can reduce recurrences of tinea versicolor.

Living With

When should I call my doctor?

If you develop symptoms of tinea versicolor, schedule an appointment with your doctor. He or she can determine if you have this condition and recommend further treatment options.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/21/2018.

References

  • American Academy of Dermatology. Tinea versicolor. (https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/color-problems/tinea-versicolor#symptoms) Accessed 3/13/18.
  • American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Tinea versicolor. (http://www.aocd.org/?page=TineaVersicolor) Accessed 3/13/18.
  • Merck Manual Professional Version. Tinea versicolor. (http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/dermatologic-disorders/fungal-skin-infections/tinea-versicolor) Accessed 3/13/18.

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