Can't Get Rid of Tinea Versicolor?
Your Local Dermatologist Can Help

Tinea Versicolor

Tinea versicolor is a condition that results when our skin experiences an overgrowth of a certain type of yeast. We all have yeast that lives on our skin, and when it’s hot and humid, this yeast grows more quickly. Tinea versicolor results from this overgrowth. It’s categorized as a fungal infection, as yeast is a type of fungus. But unlike other fungal infections like ringworm or athlete’s foot, tinea versicolor is not contagious. And while it can be persistent, it doesn’t damage the skin. 

Usually this condition appears on the arms and trunk. If often appears as small, light-colored spots that are white, brown, tan or pink. Sometimes these are dry and scaly. While appearing faint at first, with enough growth, patches that are lighter (or sometimes darker) can appear on the skin. Even if the fungus is taken care of, the discoloration on the skin can remain for weeks or months.

Everyone has yeast living on the surface of their skin, but it’s not clear why some develop tinea versicolor and not others.

  • Both light-skinned and dark-skinned individuals can get this condition, but it can be more noticeable in people with darker skin tones.
  • Children and older adults rarely develop this issue.
  • People who live in tropical climates have a higher risk of getting tinea versicolor year round. Others may see the condition disappear during cooler, drier months. 

Diagnosing and Treating Tinea Versicolor

A board-certified dermatologist can diagnose tinea versicolor by examining your skin. A biopsy may also be necessary. With this, a small amount of the affected skin will be removed to examine under a microscope. This helps ensure an accurate diagnosis. Looking at the skin with a special device called a Wood’s lamp may also occur. By holding the lamp four to five inches from the skin, affected areas can appear yellowish green when viewed with the device. 

Several factors will be considered before treatment is recommended, including where the condition is taking place on the body, how much of the skin is affected and the weather you live in. Treatment options may include:

  • Topical medications can be applied to the skin. Depending on the severity, a prescription-strength or over-the-counter fungal shampoo may be recommended, along with a cream or lotion to clear the skin. The active ingredient in these products is usually selenium sulfide, ketoconazole, miconazole, pyrithione zinc or terbinafine. 
  • Medicated cleansers including special soaps or shampoos may be recommended to wash the affected areas once or twice a week.
  • Oral medications can be recommended for large or frequent infections, like antifungal pills. Because these pills may cause side effects or interact with other medications, your dermatologist will closely monitor you if using this treatment. 

Managing Tinea Versicolor at Home

Board-certified dermatologists recommend the following tips to help manage the condition:

  • Use skincare products that are “non-comedogenic” or “non-oily.”
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing.
  • Protect your skin from the sun by wearing sunscreen that’s at least an SPF 30, seek shade when possible and wear protective clothing.
  • Don’t use indoor tanning beds.

Oral and Topical Medications

Dermatologists are experts in bacterial, viral and fungal infections in the skin and have a deep knowledge of how to best use antibiotics, antiviral and antifungal medications. Learn More

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