Tinea Versicolor (Pityriasis Versicolor)

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Tinea versicolor facts

  • Tinea versicolor is a common infection of healthy people caused by a fungus that is found on normal human skin.
  • There seems to be a genetic predisposition to develop tinea versicolor, the nature of which is poorly understood.
  • Tinea versicolor is easily identified under the microscope.
  • Treatment of tinea versicolor is usually effective, but recurrence is common.

What is tinea versicolor? What are symptoms and signs of tinea versicolor?

Tinea versicolor is a common fungal infection of the skin that often affects adolescents and young adults. The term versicolor refers to the fact that it causes the affected skin to change color and become either lighter or darker than surrounding skin. The most common areas it affects are the shoulders, back, and chest. At times, it can affect folds of skin, such as the crook of the arm, the skin under the breasts, or the groin. The face is usually spared, although sometimes children can have the face affected. There may be just a few spots or so many that it gives the appearance that the affected skin is normal while the unaffected skin around it seems to have a problem.

What causes tinea versicolor?

Tinea versicolor is caused by yeast called Malassezia furfur that normally live on the skin of most adults without causing problems. It exists in two forms, one of which can cause patches of discolored slightly scaly skin. Factors that induce the disease are poorly understood, but high humidity and immune changes may play roles. Most people with this condition are perfectly healthy.

Because the tinea versicolor fungus is part of the normal adult skin flora, this condition is not contagious. It often recurs after treatment, but usually not right away, so that treatment may need to be repeated only every year or two.

Tinea versicolor patches that are brown or reddish-brown go right away after treatment. This fungus produces a chemical, which seems to inhibit the normal production of pigment in the skin resulting in areas of lighter skin. It may take several months for overall color to even out. It always eventually does. Tinea versicolor does not leave permanent skin discoloration.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/4/2015

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