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Tinea versicolor

Definition

Tinea versicolor is a long-term (chronic) fungal infection of the skin.

Alternative Names

Pityriasis versicolor

Causes

Tinea versicolor is fairly common. It is caused by a type of fungus called Malassezia. This fungus is normally found on human skin. It only causes a problem in certain settings.

The condition is most common in adolescents and young adults. It typically occurs in hot climates. It does not spread person to person.

Symptoms

The main symptom is patches of discolored skin that:

  • Have sharp borders (edges) and fine scales
  • Are often dark reddish to tan in color
  • Are found on the back, underarms, upper arms, chest, and neck
  • Do not darken in the sun so may appear lighter than the surrounding healthy skin

African Americans may have a loss of skin color or an increase in skin color.

Other symptoms include:

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider will examine a skin scraping under a microscope to look for the fungus. A skin biopsy may also be performed with a special stain called PAS to identify fungus and yeast.

Treatment

The condition is treated with antifungal medicine that is either applied to the skin or taken by mouth.

Applying over-the-counter dandruff shampoo containing selenium sulfide or ketoconazole to the skin for 10 minutes each day in the shower is another treatment option.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Tinea versicolor is easy to treat. Changes in skin color may last for months. The condition may come back during warm weather.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if you develop symptoms of tinea versicolor.

Prevention

Avoid excessive heat or sweating if you have had this condition in the past. You can also use anti-dandruff shampoo on your skin every month to help prevent the problem.

 

References

Gupta AK, Copper EA, Simpson FC. Tinea versicolor (pityriasis versicolor). In: Lebwohl MG, Heymann WR, Berth-Jones J, Coulson I, eds. Treatment of Skin Disease: Comprehensive Therapeutic Strategies. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 236.

Patterson JW. Mycoses and algal infections. In: Patterson JW, ed. Weedon's Skin Pathology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2015:chap 25.

Review Date:10/31/2016
Reviewed By:Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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