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Tinea Versicolor

Condition Basics

What is tinea versicolor?

Tinea versicolor (say "TIH-nee-uh VER-sih-kuh-ler") is a fungal infection that causes many small, flat spots on the skin. The spots may form patches, usually on parts of the upper body like the chest and neck. In children, this often involves the face. The spots can be lighter or darker than the skin around them.

What causes it?

Tinea versicolor is caused by a fungus. This fungus lives all around us, including on the skin. Normally it doesn't cause a problem. But sometimes it can lead to spots on the skin. This happens more often in hot and humid weather.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include small, flat spots that frequently form patches. They might itch. The patches often occur on the chest, upper arms, or neck. The spots can be lighter or darker than the skin around them. They may be white, pink, red, tan, brown, purple, or gray-black.

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor often can tell if you have tinea versicolor by looking at the spots.

The doctor may look at a sample (scraping) of the infected skin under a microscope. The test used most often for this is the KOH test. Or the doctor may use a special light called a Wood's lamp to look closely at your spots. Both of these tests can show whether the problem is caused by a fungus.

How is tinea versicolor treated?

Tinea versicolor can be treated with medicines put on the skin. Treatment kills the fungi quickly and keeps the rash from spreading. But it can take months for the spots to disappear and for your skin color to return to normal.

Your doctor will talk with you about what kind of product may work best for you. These may include antifungal cream, ointment, foam, or shampoo. You may need to use these products on your skin for 1 to 2 weeks or longer.

Shampoos can be used on the body as well as the head and may be easier to use than creams or foams. Selsun Blue or Head and Shoulders are over-the-counter shampoos that may help treat tinea versicolor. They aren't as strong as prescription medicines and may not work as well.

You may need pills if the rash doesn't get better or covers a lot of your body.

How can you prevent it?

If you have frequent problems with tinea versicolor, there are a couple of things you can do so that it is less likely to come back.

  • Use antifungal skin creams, shampoos, or solutions at least once a month. Ask your doctor if you should use them more often.
  • Talk to your doctor about taking antifungal pills once a month. Most people don't need to do this, but it can help in some cases.


Current as of: November 16, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.


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