Learn about the symptoms, causes, treatments of this common skin infection that usually responds to treatment.
Tinea versicolor is a common fungal infection of the skin. The fungus interferes with the normal pigmentation of the skin, resulting in small, discolored patches. These patches may be lighter or darker in color than the surrounding skin and most commonly affect the trunk and shoulders.
Tinea versicolor (TIN-ee-uh vur-si-KUL-ur) occurs most frequently in teens and young adults. Sun exposure may make tinea versicolor more apparent. Tinea versicolor, which is also called pityriasis versicolor, is not painful or contagious. But it can lead to emotional distress or self-consciousness.
Antifungal creams, lotions or shampoos can help treat tinea versicolor. But even after successful treatment, skin color may remain uneven for several weeks or months. Tinea versicolor often recurs, especially in warm, humid weather.
The overgrowth of fungus that causes tinea versicolor interferes with the normal pigment production of the skin. This creates an uneven skin pigment.
Tinea versicolor signs and symptoms include:
See your doctor if:
The fungus that causes tinea versicolor can be found on healthy skin. It only starts causing problems when the fungus overgrows. A number of factors may trigger this growth, including:
To help prevent tinea versicolor from returning, your doctor can prescribe a skin or oral treatment that you use once or twice a month. You may need to use these just during warm and humid months. Preventive treatments include:
Your doctor can diagnose tinea versicolor by looking at it. If there's any doubt, he or she may take skin scrapings from the infected area and view them under a microscope.
If tinea versicolor is severe or doesn't respond to over-the-counter antifungal medicine, you may need a prescription-strength medication. Some of these medications are topical preparations that you rub on your skin. Others are drugs that you swallow. Examples include:
Even after successful treatment, your skin color may remain uneven for several weeks, or even months. Also, the infection may return in hot, humid weather. In persistent cases, you may need to take a medication once or twice a month to prevent the infection from recurring.
For a mild case of tinea versicolor, you can apply an over-the-counter antifungal lotion, cream, ointment or shampoo. Most fungal infections respond well to these topical agents, which include:
When using creams, ointments or lotions, wash and dry the affected area. Then apply a thin layer of the product once or twice a day for at least two weeks. If you're using shampoo, rinse it off after waiting five to 10 minutes. If you don't see an improvement after four weeks, see your doctor. You may need a stronger medication.
It also helps to protect your skin from the sun and artificial sources of UV light. Usually, the skin tone evens out eventually.
You're likely to start by first seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. He or she may treat you or refer you to a specialist in skin disorders (dermatologist).
Preparing a list of questions beforehand can help you make the most of your time with your doctor. For tinea versicolor, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as: