Tinea Versicolor

What is Tinea Versicolor?

Tinea versicolor is a skin condition also called pityriasis versicolor.

This fungal infection is caused by a yeast that lives naturally on the skin. If it gets out of control, tinea versicolor is the result. It will usually occur in people who sweat a lot or have oily skin. A hot climate may also be a contributing factor. People who have a weak immune system are more susceptible to developing this infection.

Tinea versicolor is not contagious and it can affect any race.  It is more common in teens and young adults.

What are the Symptoms of Tinea Versicolor?

When the yeast on the skin gets out of control, acidic bleach causes the skin to become a different color from your normal skin tone.

There may be patches or spots as well and these can be red, pink brown, or white.  Some spots may not tan the way your skin normally does.  This is most commonly found on the back, neck, chest, and arms. This discoloration gets worst when the weather is humid and warm and may go away when it is cool.

Sometimes, but not often, the skin can get itchy or be painful or be dry and scaly.

Tinea Versicolor Causes

Tinea versicolor is caused by a type of yeast called Malassezia furfur. This yeast naturally lives on all human skin. When the yeast overgrows, the skin condition known as tinea versicolor manifests as a rash. Because the fungus behind the condition is a just an element of healthy skin flora, it is not contagious.

It is still not known why some people develop tinea versicolor and others do not, but it is more prevalent in adolescents and young adults than any other demographic. Additionally, tinea versicolor is often exacerbated warm, wet climates.

Those with the condition may find that when they are in cooler, drier climates, the rash disappears. Apart from a hot, humid climate, there are other possible causes.

Possible causes include:

  • Oily skin
  • Excessive perspiration
  • A weakened immune system
  • Fluctuations or changes in hormones.

How is Tinea Versicolor Treated?

Tinea versicolor can be treated with topical anti-fungals that are applied to the skin. These anti-fungals can be shampoos, creams, lotions, soaps, or foams. They help control the growth of the yeast.  They can be over-the-counter or prescription medications.

Anti-fungal pills may be prescribed by your doctor if you have a more problematic case of tinea versicolor of if you it recurring. Some doctors prefer this simply because it is faster acting but they do have side effects.

It can take several months before all the symptoms go away.

Tinea Versicolor Prevention

For many people, tinea versicolor will resurface after it subsides. Persons with the condition will often notice a pattern in what triggers the reoccurrence of the rash. Because the yeast is a fungus which naturally occurs on one’s skin, it can be very helpful to learn to properly maintain and manage the disease, rather than try to totally eliminate it altogether — especially for those that live in a hot, humid climate.

Tinea versicolor can be minimized with the use of medicated cleansers, as well as the avoidance of any skincare products containing oil. Because exposure to sunlight may trigger the appearance of the rash, it is important to try to apply sunblock or avoid exposure to the rash when possible. Additionally, loose, breathable fabrics can help relieve the symptoms of the rash.

If a skin care regimen on its own is unable to reduce the rash or is not convenient, it may also be helpful to talk with a doctor about potential solutions to the condition. Your doctor may be able to prescribe a once-a-month oral treatment. Often times, the medication is only necessary during times when the climate or weather exacerbates the rash.

Last Reviewed:
October 11, 2016
Last Updated:
September 11, 2017