What Is Tinea Versicolor?
Tinea Versicolor Overview
Tinea versicolor is an infection that causes discoloration of your skin. Most humans have a yeast fungus, called Pityrosporum ovale, on the surface of his or her skin. When this fungus starts to grow too much, the skin becomes infected. The overgrowth of yeast interferes with the skin’s normal pigment. Tinea versicolor is common, and can be a chronic challenge that comes and goes throughout your life.
The main symptom of tinea versicolor is areas of skin that do not match the rest of your skin in color. The patches vary from your normal skin tone, and are usually a reddish-brown color. People who have dark skin, including African-Americans, can have a loss of skin color or an increase of skin color in affected areas. Those with fair skin tend to suffer from a darkening of skin only. Your skin may be dry, flaky, and itchy due to the overgrowth of fungal yeast. Common locations for tinea versicolor infection include:
- upper arms
- under your arms
The spots can appear singly like a mole, or grouped close together, similar to a rash.
The rapid and excessive growth of yeast fungus is the root cause of tinea versicolor, but other factors also come into play. Fungi thrive in moist, dark environments. Therefore, you are more likely to develop the skin infection in hot, humid weather. You might also throw off the balance of healthy vs. unhealthy yeast by sweating heavily in the warm weather or after strenuous workouts. Other possible triggers of tinea versicolor include hormonal changes in your body, having greasy skin, or a weakened immune system.
Who Is Most at Risk?
People of all ages, colors, and genders can get tinea versicolor. However, younger adults and teens, particularly males, are at increased risk for the skin infection. The American Academy of Dermatology explains that younger generations are more likely to have an overgrowth of fungus because their skin is generally oilier than that of older adults. Middle-aged adults and senior citizens don’t often develop this type of fungal infection unless they live in a tropical climate.
Diagnosing Tinea Versicolor
Tinea versicolor is fairly straightforward in terms of diagnosis. Your doctor will perform a physical exam, and may be able to diagnose the condition just by looking at the discolored areas of skin. You might be asked to give a skin sample. The fungal infection is visible and easily identifiable under a microscope or a special light called a Wood’s lamp. A Wood’s lamp tints the infected spots with a yellow-green color.
Topical and oral antifungal medications treat tinea versicolor. Topicals are a type of medicine that you apply to your skin. They come in the form of a cream, shampoo, or ointment. Oral antifungal medications include tablets or pills, and are used when the topical treatments do not eliminate the problem.
Both types of treatment take some time to work, however. Your skin color won’t resolve itself right away, even after the infection has cleared. Skin discoloration can last for weeks or even months. Continue taking your medicines as directed even if you don’t think they are working. Tinea versicolor often disappears when the weather cools off, but may come back when the heat and humidity returns.
Your doctor might prescribe antifungal medications on a preventive basis if you are prone to frequent or lingering fungal infections. These are likely to be the same drugs used to treat an active tinea versicolor infection, but you’ll only take them once or twice a month. You can also help prevent symptoms by limiting your sweating. Wear lightweight layers that are easy to remove when you get hot, or choose moisture-wicking materials that keep sweat away from your skin.
Tinea versicolor can be cured. However, when environmental factors crop up once again, many patients find that the infection comes back. Chronic skin infections can change your skin color for months at a time, which may impact self-esteem and make you more self-conscious. Speak to your doctor about ways in which you can cover up your rash, if needed, without exacerbating your condition. Cosmetics may help you feel better about your appearance as you undergo treatment.
- Tinea versicolor. (2013). American Academy of Dermatology. Retrieved September 10, 2013, from http://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/diseases-and-treatments/q---t/tinea-versicolor
- Tinea versicolor. (2012, May 2). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved September 10, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/tinea-versicolor/DS00635
- Tinea versicolor. (2012, November 20). National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved September 10, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0002436/