The fungus Pityrosporum ovale is a type of yeast that’s found on the surface of the skin. It normally doesn’t cause any health problems. However, sometimes this yeast begins to grow out of control, affecting the natural color, or pigmentation, of your skin. When this happens, you may develop patches of skin that are lighter or darker. This condition is known as tinea versicolor, or pityriasis versicolor.
Tinea versicolor occurs when Pityrosporum ovale grows rapidly on the surface of the skin. Doctors aren’t sure why this happens. However, there are some factors that may promote the growth of this yeast on the skin. These factors include:
- hot and humid weather
- excessive sweating
- oily skin
- having a weakened immune system
- hormonal changes
Tinea versicolor can occur in people from all ethnic backgrounds. However, the condition is more common in adolescents and young adults. Adults are more likely to develop tinea versicolor if they visit an area with a subtropical climate.
The most noticeable symptom of tinea versicolor is the development of discolored patches of skin. These patches may:
- be lighter (more common) or darker than the surrounding skin
- be pink, red, tan, or brown
- be dry, itchy, and scaly
- be more prominent with tanning
- disappear in cooler, less humid weather
Tinea versicolor that develops in people with dark skin may result in the loss of skin color. This condition is known as hypopigmentation. If the result is darkening of skin color, this condition is known as hyperpigmentation
Some individuals who develop tinea versicolor don’t have any significant changes in their skin color or appearance.
In addition to changes in the skin, you may also experience increased sweating and itchy skin.
If you develop symptoms of tinea versicolor, you may choose to treat the condition yourself. Over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal medications may be effective at eliminating discolored patches of skin. However, you should contact your doctor if these treatments aren’t effective. You may need a prescription medication to control your symptoms.
If strangely colored patches have developed on your skin and you can’t treat them at home, see your doctor. Your doctor will examine your skin and will often be able to tell if you have tinea versicolor just by looking at the patches.
If a diagnosis can’t be made just by looking at the skin, your doctor may take a skin scraping. A skin scraping removes cells from your skin for testing by scraping the skin gently. The cells will then be viewed under a microscope to see if they contain the yeast that brings about this condition.
Your doctor may also use a Wood’s lamp to look at your skin. This special machine, which uses ultraviolet light, will be held 4 to 5 inches from your skin. If yeast is present, the affected skin will be yellow or green under the light.
If your symptoms aren’t severe, you may choose to treat your condition at home. OTC antifungal creams or shampoos may be effective for killing the infection. Examples of OTC medications that can be used to treat tinea versicolor include:
- clotrimazole (Lotrimin AF, Mycelex)
- miconazle (Monistat, M-Zole)
- selenium sulfide (Selsun Blue shampoo)
- terbinafine (Lamisil)
If you seek treatment for tinea versicolor, your doctor may prescribe different medications to help treat your condition. Some of the medications are topical creams that can be applied directly to the skin. Examples include:
- ciclopirox (Loprox, Penlac)
- ketoconazole (Extina, Nizoral)
Your doctor may also prescribe pills to treat tinea versicolor. Examples of medications include:
- fluconazole (Diflucan)
- Itraconazole (Onmel, Sporanox)
- ketoconazole (Extina, Nizoral)
If you’re diagnosed with tinea versicolor, treatment will improve your long-term outlook. You may even be able to eliminate the infection. However, your skin may remain discolored for several weeks or months following treatment. Your infection may also return when the weather becomes warmer and more humid. If your condition returns, your doctor may prescribe medication once or twice per month to prevent symptoms.
Preventing a recurrence of the condition can be difficult. If you’re diagnosed with tinea versicolor and you’re successfully treated, there are steps that you can take to prevent future infections. These include:
- avoiding excessive heat
- avoiding tanning or excessive sun exposure
- avoiding excessive sweating
- taking prescribed medication