Tinea versicolor (TIN-ee-uh vur-si-KUL-ur), also called pityriasis versicolor, is a common fungal infection of the skin. The fungus interferes with the normal pigmentation of the skin, resulting in small, discolored patches.
These patches may be lighter or darker in color than the surrounding skin and most commonly affect the trunk and shoulders. Tinea versicolor occurs most frequently in teens and young adults. Sun exposure may make tinea versicolor more apparent.
Antifungal creams, lotions or shampoos can help treat tinea versicolor. But even after successful treatment, skin color may remain uneven for several weeks. Tinea versicolor often recurs, especially in warm, humid weather.
Tinea versicolor is a type of infection that appears as a tissue-thin coating of fungus on your skin. The infection causes patches of discolored skin that may be:
Colored white, pink, tan or dark brown
Slow-growing, scaly and mildly itchy
More noticeable after sun exposure
Located on the back, chest, neck and upper arms
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if:
Your skin doesn't improve with self-care measures
The fungal infection returns
The patches cover large areas of your body
The fungus that causes tinea versicolor can be found on healthy skin. It only starts causing problems when the fungus overgrows. A number of factors may trigger this growth, including:
Hot, humid weather
Weakened immune system
To help prevent tinea versicolor from returning, your doctor can prescribe a skin or oral treatment that you use once or twice a month. Preventive treatments include:
Selenium sulfide (Selsun) 2.5 percent shampoo
Ketoconazole (Extina, Nizoral, others) foam, gel, cream, shampoo or tablets
Itraconazole (Onmel, Sporanox) tablets or capsules
If tinea versicolor is severe or doesn't respond to over-the-counter antifungal medicine, you may need a prescription-strength medication. Some of these medications are topical preparations that you rub on your skin, while others are pills that you swallow. Examples include:
Ciclopirox (Loprox, Penlac) cream, gel or lotion
Fluconazole (Diflucan) tablets
Itraconazole (Onmel, Sporanox) capsules or tablets
Ketoconazole (Extina, Nizoral, others) cream, foam, gel, shampoo or tablets
Selenium sulfide (Selsun) 2.5 percent lotion or shampoo
Even after successful treatment, your skin color may remain uneven for several weeks, or even months. Also, the infection may return in warm, humid weather. In persistent cases, you may need to take a medication once or twice a month to prevent the infection from recurring.
For a mild case of tinea versicolor, you can apply an over-the-counter antifungal lotion, cream, ointment or shampoo. Most fungal infections respond well to these topical agents, which include:
Clotrimazole (Lotrimin AF, Mycelex) cream or lotion
Miconazole (Monistat, M-Zole) cream
Selenium sulfide (Selsun Blue) 1 percent shampoo
Terbinafine (Lamisil) cream or gel
Wash and dry the affected area. Then, apply a thin layer of the topical agent once or twice a day for at least two weeks. If you're using shampoo, rinse it off after waiting five to 10 minutes. If you don't see an improvement after four weeks, see your doctor. You may need a stronger medication.