Tinea versicolor, also referred to as pityriasis versicolor, is a skin condition characterized by patches of lighter or darker skin. It is caused by a type of yeast (fungus) that is found on most people’s skin. It is generally not harmful and it isn’t contagious.
With the soaring temperatures and humidity that summer brings, also come annoying skin infections. Tinea versicolor, caused by a type of yeast called Malassezia. Celebrity Cosmetologist and Director at Flawless Cosmetic Clinics, Dr Monica Kapoor, says, “The fungus Malassezia is found on the surface of the skin. It actually helps protect the skin from infections and harmful diseases, but when the yeast growth goes out of control, it causes pigmentation, i.e., patches on the skin that can be lighter or darker than the natural skin colour.
Tinea versicolor patches mostly appear on the trunk, back and arm area. It occurs mostly in teens and young adults, and can be more visible under sun exposure. Tinea versicolor is not contagious or painful, but it can suppress the immune system of the body and cause emotional distress.”
Topical treatments (applied directly to the affected area), such as special creams or shampoos, are usually effective.
In tinea versicolor, small round or oval patches of skin appear at first, and later merge into larger patches with irregular shapes. They are especially common on the back, chest, neck and/or arms. They may occur on the face as well, particularly in children.
The patches may be yellow or brownish, or sometimes red or pink. They are usually lighter or darker than the surrounding healthy skin. Because these patches hardly change color in the sun, they are more noticeable if you have a suntan. The affected areas of skin may also be somewhat scaly. They rarely itch. If they do, then they only itch a little.
Tinea versicolor on the upper body
Causes Of Tinea Versicolor
As mentioned, the yeast that causes tinea versicolor is normally present on the skin; it’s the overgrowth of this fungus that leads to the infection. Malassezia can overgrow especially in hot and humid weather. Other things that can trigger tinea versicolor are oily skin, sweat, hormonal changes, weak immune system. The condition can affect people of any skin colour and skin type.
Various factors can increase your chances of developing tinea versicolor. These include
- a warm and humid climate,
- sweating a lot (for instance in people who generally sweat more or who do a lot of sports) and
- the use of oils or cosmetics that may clog the skin pores.
Genes probably play an important role too.
People who have a weakened immune system are generally more susceptible to infections, so they are also more likely to develop tinea versicolor. The immune system may be weakened by things like certain types of cancer or medication that suppresses the immune system – for instance, following an organ transplant.
Tinea versicolor is a common skin condition. In countries with a more moderate climate it affects about 1% of the population, and in some tropical countries it affects about 40%. It is just as common in men as it is in women. Most people first get it at a young age.
Doctors can often recognize tinea versicolor just by looking at the typical groups of light or dark patches on the upper body and/or arms. To rule out other possible skin conditions, your doctor might use a strip of clear adhesive tape to take a sample of the scaly skin and look at it under a microscope. This is usually enough to determine whether it is tinea versicolor.
Treatment Of Tinea Versicolor
Over-the-counter products such as shampoos that contain selenium sulfide and antifungal creams, ointments containing miconazole, clotrimazole or terbinafine are helpful in treating tinea versicolor. In severe cases, your dermatologist may prescribe antifungal pills to kill the yeast. Oral treatments can have a few side-effects, so always consult your dermatologist before taking pills. Other topical ointments, creams or lotions to treat pigmentation can also be used.
Precautions For Tinea Versicolor
Here are a few things you can do to prevent tinea versicolor:
- Wear loose-fitting clothes so that the skin can breathe. Tight clothes create a breeding ground for yeast.
- Avoid using products that can make the skin oily – the presence of moisture on the body for a long time can cause fungal infection.
- Always shower immediately after working out to prevent yeast growth.
- Avoid going out in harsh sunlight. Keeping an antifungal shampoo or cream handy helps.
- Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a non-greasy formula before stepping out in the sun. This can help protect the skin against any rash or infection caused by sun damage.
- Use antifungal shampoo or cream once or twice a month, especially in the hot months.