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Diseases and Conditions
Tinea versicolor
From MayoClinic.com
Special to CNN.com


Tinea versicolor, also called pityriasis versicolor, is a common fungal infection of the skin. The fungus interferes with the normal tanning of the skin. This results in small areas that are lighter than surrounding skin.

Antifungal creams, lotions or shampoos can help treat tinea versicolor. But even after successful treatment, skin color may remain uneven for several weeks, and the infection may return, especially in warm, humid weather.

Signs and symptoms

Tinea versicolor is a type of infection that appears as a tissue-thin coating of fungus on your skin. The only signs are patches of discolored skin that grow slowly and prevent the skin from tanning. The small scaly patches can be various colors, including white, pink, tan or dark brown. The patches may be more noticeable in the summer months when the variation in your normal skin color becomes apparent.

The infection, which is most common in warm, humid temperatures, usually affects the back, chest, neck or upper arms and can cause mild itching.


Healthy skin may normally have the fungus that causes this disorder growing in its pores (the opening of the hair follicles). Tinea versicolor occurs when the fungus becomes overgrown. A number of factors may trigger this growth, including:

  • Hot, humid weather
  • Excessive sweating
  • Oily skin
  • Hormonal changes
  • Immunosuppression — when the immune system is unable to protect the body from the growth of yeast or fungus on the skin or elsewhere.

When to seek medical advice

See your doctor if your skin doesn't improve with self-care measures, if the fungal infection returns or if the patches cover large areas of your body. You may need a stronger medication to treat the infection.

Screening and diagnosis

Your doctor may need only to examine your skin to make the diagnosis of tinea versicolor. If there's any doubt, he or she may take skin scrapings from the infected area and view them under a microscope.


If tinea versicolor is severe or doesn't respond to over-the-counter medicine, you may need a prescription-strength topical or oral medication. These include:


  • Selenium sulfide (Selsun, Exsel) 2.5 percent lotion
  • Ciclopirox (Loprox) cream, gel or lotion
  • Ketoconazole (Nizoral) cream or shampoo


  • Ketoconazole (Nizoral) tablets
  • Itraconazole (Sporanox) capsules
  • Fluconazole (Diflucan) tablets

Even after successful treatment, your skin color may remain uneven for several weeks. Also, the infection may return in warm, humid weather. In rare cases, you may need to take a medication once or twice a month to prevent the infection from recurring.


Avoid applying oil or oily products to your skin or wearing tight, restrictive or nonventilated clothing. Sun exposure makes the fungal infection more apparent.

To help prevent tinea versicolor from returning, your doctor can prescribe a topical or oral treatment that you take once or twice a month. Preventive treatments include:

  • Selenium sulfide (Selsun) lotion applied to the affected areas every two to three weeks
  • Ketoconazole (Nizoral) tablets once a month
  • Itraconazole (Sporanox) capsules twice daily for one day a month


For a mild case of tinea versicolor, you can apply an over-the-counter antifungal lotion, cream or ointment. Most fungal infections respond well to these topical agents, which include:

  • Selenium sulfide shampoo (Selsun Blue)
  • Miconazole (Micatin)
  • Clotrimazole (Lotrimin)
  • Terbinafine (Lamisil)

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 don't see an improvement after four weeks, see your doctor. You may need a stronger medication.

February 24, 2006

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