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Tinea Versicolor

Reviewed by: Amy W. Anzilotti, MD
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What Is Tinea Versicolor?

Tinea versicolor is a fungal skin infection caused by a type of yeast. It's a common cause of skin rash in teens and young adults. It causes lots of round and oval-shaped patches on the skin, especially on the chest, back, and upper arms.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Tinea Versicolor?

Tinea versicolor (TIN-ee-uh VUR-si-kul-ur) skin patches usually affect the torso and upper arms. But they can also appear on the face and neck, especially in younger kids. The patches can be white, brown, red, or pink.

The patches are dry, flaky, or scaly, and can be flat or slightly raised. They may be a little itchy but often aren't felt at all. They can start off small and round, then join to make much larger patches.

The yeast prevents the skin from tanning, so the patches can look lighter than the surrounding skin, especially in the summer.

What Causes Tinea Versicolor?

Tinea versicolor — also called pityriasis (pit-uh-RYE-uh-sis) versicolor — is caused by a type of yeast that normally lives on the skin. When the environment it lives in gets warm and moist, it can grow out of control and cause symptoms.

Is Tinea Versicolor Contagious?

Tinea versicolor does not spread from person to person.

How Do People Get Tinea Versicolor?

Hot, humid weather and lots of sweating can create a warm, moist environment for the yeast to overgrow. That's why the infection is more common in tropical countries.

Sometimes tinea versicolor runs in families. It's also more likely to affect people who have a weak immune system or who are malnourished.

How Is Tinea Versicolor Diagnosed?

Doctors often can diagnose tinea versicolor just by looking at it. They'll also ask about the symptoms and the child's lifestyle. Sometimes a doctor will scrape off a small sample of the flaky infected skin to look at under a microscope or to test in a lab.

How Is Tinea Versicolor Treated?

Over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal creams, lotions, or shampoos (used as a body wash) may clear up a mild infection. More serious infections may need prescription medicine, either applied to the skin or taken as a pill or syrup.

Treatment usually takes 1–2 weeks. Sometimes the infection comes back. If that happens, treatment is repeated.

How Long Does Tinea Versicolor Last?

With treatment, the fungus usually clears up 1–2 weeks. But the skin patches may stay discolored for weeks or months. To make them less noticeable, it's important to use sunscreen to prevent the skin from tanning or burning.

Can Tinea Versicolor Be Prevented?

Someone who keeps getting tinea versicolor might need to use a medicated skin shampoo once or twice a month to prevent the infection from coming back.

Reviewed by: Amy W. Anzilotti, MD
Date reviewed: September 2022