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Although we can’t see it, we all have yeast living on the surface of our skin. When it is hot and humid, yeast tends to grow more quickly. An overgrowth of a certain type of yeast, known as pityriasis versicolor, on the skin can cause a common skin condition known as tinea versicolor.
Tinea versicolor is categorized as a fungal infection because yeast is a type of fungus. Unlike other types of fungal skin infections such as athlete’s foot or ringworm, however, tinea versicolor is not contagious. While it may be persistent, it does not damage the skin.
What does tinea versicolor look like?
While tinea versicolor can appear anywhere on the body, it often occurs on the trunk and arms. The first sign of the condition is most often the appearance of small, light-colored spots on the skin. These spots may be white, brown, tan or pink, and some can be dry or scaly. While they initially may appear faint, these spots can combine as the yeast grows to form patches that are lighter (or sometimes darker) than the surrounding skin. While the fungus may quickly resolve with appropriate treatment, the discoloration may lag behind, taking weeks or months for your skin to return to its normal color.
Who gets tinea versicolor?
The yeast that causes tinea versicolor lives on everyone’s skin. It is not clear why the yeast causes symptoms on some people’s skin and not others.
- Both light-skinned and dark-skinned people can get tinea versicolor, but it may be more noticeable in people with darker skin
- Children and older adults rarely develop tinea
- People who live in tropical areas can have tinea versicolor year-round. People who live in other areas may see their tinea versicolor disappear during the cooler, drier months and reappear in the
How do board-certified dermatologists diagnose tinea versicolor?
A board-certified dermatologist often can diagnose tinea versicolor by looking at the skin. If the doctor needs to confirm the diagnosis, he or she may scrape off a bit of affected skin and take a closer look at it under a microscope.
Another way to confirm a tinea versicolor diagnosis is to look at the skin with a special device called a Wood’s lamp. The dermatologist will hold the Wood’s lamp about 4 or 5 inches from the affected skin. If the patient has tinea versicolor, the affected skin will appear yellowish green when viewed with this device.
How do board-certified dermatologists treat tinea versicolor?
Before recommending treatment for tinea versicolor, your dermatologist will consider several factors, including where
the tinea versicolor appears on your body, how much of your skin is affected and the weather where you live.
Treatment for tinea versicolor may include:
• Topical (applied to the skin) medications
Depending on the severity of your tinea versicolor, your dermatologist may recommend a prescription-strength or over-the-counter antifungal shampoo, cream or lotion that can clear the skin. The active ingredient in these products is usually selenium sulfide, ketoconazole, miconazole, pyrithione zinc or terbinafine.
• Medicated cleansers
Tinea versicolor often returns when it is warm and humid outdoors. During these periods, it can be helpful to use a medicated soap or shampoo with one of the above-listed active ingredients to wash the affected areas once or twice a week.
• Oral (taken by mouth) medications
If your infection covers a large area of your body or frequently returns, your dermatologist may prescribe antifungal pills. Because these pills may cause side effects or interact with other medications, your dermatologist will closely monitor you during this treatment.
Although the yeast can be treated and does not cause scarring, it can take weeks or months for your skin to return to its normal color.
How can I manage my tinea versicolor?
Board-certified dermatologists recommend the following tips to help people with tinea versicolor:
- Use skin care products that say “noncomedogenic” or “non-oily.”
- Wear loose-fitting
- Protect your skin from the sun by seeking shade, wearing protective clothing and using a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or
- Do not use indoor tanning
A board-certified dermatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of skin, hair and nail conditions. To learn more about tinea versicolor or to find a board-certified dermatologist in your area, visit aad.org/tinea-versicolor or call toll-free (888) 462-DERM (3376).
All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology.
Copyright © by the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Academy of Dermatology Association.
Images used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides
American Academy of Dermatology
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AAD Public Information Center: 888.462.DERM (3376) AAD Member Resource Center: 866.503.SKIN (7546) Outside the United States: 847.240.1280