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Tinea Versicolor

(Pityriasis Versicolor)

By

Denise M. Aaron

, MD, Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine

Reviewed/Revised Sep 2023
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Tinea versicolor is a fungal infection of the topmost layer of the skin that causes scaly, discolored patches.

  • This infection is caused by a type of fungus.

  • Typically, people have tan, brown, salmon, or white scaly patches of skin.

  • The diagnosis is based on appearance and skin scrapings.

  • Antifungal skin products, shampoos, and sometimes medications taken by mouth are used to treat the infection.

  • Tinea versicolor infection often returns.

The infection is caused by Malassezia furfur. Malassezia furfur is a type of fungus that can exist as both a yeast and a mold. Yeast and mold are terms that are used to describe what the fungus looks like under a microscope.

Malassezia furfur is typically harmless and normally lives on the skin but in some people causes tinea versicolor. Most affected people are healthy. Some people may be genetically predisposed to overgrowth of this fungus.

Other risk factors for tinea versicolor include heat and humidity and an immune system weakened by corticosteroid use, pregnancy, undernutrition, diabetes, or other disorders.

Tinea versicolor is a mild infection and is not considered contagious. It is quite common, especially among young adults.

Symptoms of Tinea Versicolor

Tinea versicolor causes many tan, brown, salmon, or white scaly patches to appear on the trunk, neck, abdomen, and occasionally the face. The patches may join to form larger patches. The patches do not tan, so in summer, when the surrounding skin tans, the patches may become obvious. People with naturally dark skin may notice lighter patches. People with naturally fair skin may develop darker or lighter patches.

Tinea versicolor usually does not cause other symptoms.

Examples of Tinea Versicolor

Diagnosis of Tinea Versicolor

Treatment of Tinea Versicolor

  • Antifungal medications applied to the affected areas or sometimes taken by mouth

Any antifungal medications applied directly to the affected areas (topical) may be used to treat tinea versicolor. Prescription-strength selenium sulfide shampoo is effective if applied to affected skin (not just the scalp) for 10 minutes a day for 1 week or for one 24-hour application each week for one month. Other treatments include applying topical ketoconazole daily for 2 weeks and bathing with pyrithione zinc soap or applying sodium thiosulfate/salicylic acid shampoo to the skin daily for 1 to 2 weeks. (See also table .)

Antifungal medications taken by mouth, such as fluconazole, are sometimes used to treat people who have a widespread infection (see table ) or frequent infections.

To lower the chance of the infection coming back, many doctors recommend practicing meticulous hygiene and using pyrithione zinc soap regularly or one of the other topical treatments monthly.

Prognosis for Tinea Versicolor

The skin may not regain its normal pigmentation for many months or years after the infection is gone.

Tinea versicolor commonly comes back after successful treatment because the yeast that causes it normally lives on the skin.

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