Tinea versicolor is a long-term (chronic) fungal infection of the outer layer of the skin.
Tinea versicolor is fairly common. It is caused by a type of fungus called malassezia. This fungus is normally found on human skin. It only causes a problem in certain settings.
The condition is most common in adolescents and young adults. It typically occurs in hot climates. It does not spread person to person.
The main symptom is patches of discolored skin that:
- Have sharp borders (edges) and fine scales
- Are often dark reddish to tan in color
- Are found on the back, underarms, upper arms, chest, and neck
- Are found on the forehead (in children)
- Do not darken in the sun so may appear lighter than the surrounding healthy skin
African Americans may have a loss of skin color or an increase in skin color.
Other symptoms include:
- Increased sweating
- Mild itching
- Mild swelling
Exams and Tests
The condition is treated with antifungal medicine that is either applied to the skin or taken by mouth.
Applying over-the-counter dandruff shampoo containing selenium sulfide or ketoconazole to the skin for 10 minutes each day in the shower is another treatment option.
Tinea versicolor is easy to treat. Changes in skin color may last for months. The condition may come back during warm weather.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if you develop symptoms of tinea versicolor.
Avoid excessive heat or sweating if you have had this condition in the past. You can also use anti-dandruff shampoo on your skin every month to help prevent the problem.
Chang MW. Disorders of hyperpigmentation. In: Bolognia JL, Schaffer JV, Cerroni L, eds. Dermatology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 67.
Patterson JW. Mycoses and algal infections. In: Patterson JW, ed. Weedon's Skin Pathology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2016:chap 25.
Sutton DA, Patterson TF. Malassezia species. In: Long SS, Prober CG, Fischer M, eds. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 247.
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.