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Tinea Versicolor

Tinea Versicolor Quick Overview

Tinea versicolor is a common fungal infection of the skin in adolescents and young adults and leads to discolored patches of skin, usually pale (hypopigmented) spots on the upper back and shoulders. It is caused by a yeast (Malassezia furfur), which produces a substance that suppresses color production in the skin, leading to the pale spots. On lighter skin, it may appear pink or light brown in color.

Pityriasis versicolor is an alternative name for tinea versicolor (TV) and one preferred by some specialists because tinea technically refers to non-yeast, dermatophyte fungal infections, the type of fungus that affects the body (tinea corporis, commonly known as ringworm), feet (tinea pedis, also called athlete's foot), or groin (tinea cruris, referred to as jock itch). Since the cause of tinea versicolor is a yeast rather than a true dermatophyte fungus, the term pityriasis versicolor (spots of different colors) is technically more accurate. Though technically imprecise "tinea versicolor" is much more widely used.

Picture of Malassezia furfur
Picture of Malassezia furfur. SOURCE: Wikicommons.

What Is Tinea Versicolor?

Tinea versicolor is a superficial infection resulting from a normal body yeast. It normally affects the back, shoulders, and upper chest, although it can involve the neck, upper arms, and rarely, the face. It produces a substance that leads to bleaching of the skin and pale patches that last for weeks, even after effective treatment.

What Causes Tinea Versicolor?

Malassezia furfur, a common human yeast carried by most people, can start to act more like tinea corporis (ringworm). While most people are never bothered by this yeast, it is also is felt to be responsible for dandruff (seborrhea), which explains why some of the treatments used for dandruff also help tinea versicolor.

What Are Tinea Versicolor Symptoms and Signs?

Discolored patches of skin are the hallmark of tinea versicolor. Versicolor means color variations, and characteristically it will appear dark or red on light skin, and light on dark skin. On the same patient, the appearance may vary over the course of the year depending upon whether the skin is winter pale or summer tanned. On the same patient, the appearance may vary with body location, being pink/brown on the mid back and pale on a tanned neck.

Picture of pale spots and patches on darker skin, a characteristic of tinea versicolor
Picture of pale spots and patches on darker skin, a characteristic of tinea versicolor. SOURCE: Wikicommons

The rash is usually confined to shoulders, mid-back, and chest, but occasionally it will extend further down the arms. Facial involvement is only occasionally seen, usually in African-Americans and other darker-skinned patients.

Other skin findings such as severe itching, enlarging lumps, skin ulceration, hair loss, and swollen lymph nodes are not symptoms of tinea versicolor and should prompt a search for another diagnosis.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/23/2016
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Patient Comments & Reviews

The eMedicineHealth doctors ask about Tinea Versicolor:

Tinea Versicolor - Treatment

Please describe treatment(s) you have received for tinea versicolor.

Tinea Versicolor - Home Remedies

What home remedies have you tried for tinea versicolor? Were any effective?

Tinea Versicolor Treatment

Products that you put on your skin (topical treatments) are the most common treatment for tinea versicolor.

  • These may include antifungal shampoos, creams, and foams. Shampoos can be used on the body as well as the head and may be easier to use than creams or foams.
  • Depending on how strong the medicine is, you may or may not need a prescription for these products. For example, shampoos used to treat tinea versicolor usually contain selenium sulfide. They are available in 2.5% strength with a prescription and in 1% strength without a prescription (for example, Selsun Blue, Head and Shoulders).

SOURCE: Healthwise



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