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Tinea Versicolor PDF Print

Tinea versicolor is a common skin condition caused by an overgrowth of yeast on the skin’s surface.  The yeast normally live in the pores of the skin and thrive in oily areas such as the neck, upper chest, and back.  An overgrowth results in a fungal infection that causes uneven skin color, scaling, and sometimes itch.  

What Tinea Versicolor Looks Like

   Small, scaly, white-to-pink or tan-to-dark spots appear, generally scattered over the upper arms, chest, and back and sometimes on the neck and face. Tan-to-pink spots or very faint on light-colored skin, and light or dark spots on dark skin. The fungus prevents the skin from tanning normally, so as the rest of the skin tans, pale spots become more noticeable, especially on dark skin. 

Causes of Tinea Versicolor

      Tinea versicolor usually produces few symptoms.  Slight itching may intensify when a person becomes hot.  Why some people develop tinea versicolor and others do not is not entirely clear.  The yeast which causes tinea versicolor is normally present in small numbers on normal skin, and the yeast can be overgrown on anyone. 

  • Dark- and light-skinned people are equally prone to developing tinea versicolor.
  • People with oily skin may be more susceptible than those with naturally dry skin.
  • Most commonly develops in teenagers and young adults.
  • Children and the elderly rarely develop this condition, except in tropical climates.
  • In areas with high temperatures and humidity, tinea versicolor occurs in individuals of every age, and people in tropical regions can have these spots year round.
  • Tinea versicolor also is more common in temperate climates during the summer when the temperature and humidity are high, with the spots generally fading during the cooler and drier months of the year.


   Although the light- or dark-colored spots can resemble other skin conditions, tinea, versicolor can easily be recognized by a dermatologist.  In most cases, a visual exam of the skin is all that is needed to make the diagnosis.  

To confirm the diagnosis, scale may be gently scraped from the skin so that it can be examined under a microscope for the presence of yeast.  A special light called Wood’s lamp also may be used.  The lamp is held four or five inches from the affected skin.  If tinea versicolor is present on the skin, the affected skin will appear yellowish green in color.

Treatment of Tinea Versicolor

      Each patient is treated by a dermatologist according to the severity and location of the disease, the climate, and the desire of the patient. 

Treatments may include:

  • Topical (shampoos, soaps, creams, or lotions) medications that may contain selenium sulfide, ketoconazole, or pyrithione zinc.
  • Oral medications, including ketoconazole, remembering that due to possible side effects, or interactions with other medications, the use of prescription medicines should be supervised by your dermatologist.
  • Medicated cleansers, use once or twice a month, especially during warm, humid months of the year, may be recommended since tinea versicolor can recur.
     It is important to remember that the yeast is easy to skill, but an take weeks or months for the skin to regain its normal color. 

For more information, please contact your dermatologist or follow the links to the right of this page.