Tinea versicolor is a common skin condition caused by an overgrowth of yeast on the skin’s surface. The yeast that causes tinea versicolor is present in small numbers on normal skin. When it is not causing a problem, the yeast lives in the pores of the skin in oily areas such as the scalp, central chest, and back.
In conditions when temperature and humidity are higher, like during the summer months or in tropical regions, the yeast has a better chance of overgrowing and causing a rash. Small, slightly scaly, pink, tan, or dark spots appear on the upper chest and back. Sometimes this rash extends to the neck, upper arms, underarms, and more rarely the face. The rash can be itchy. The yeast prevents the skin from tanning normally, so as the rest of the skin tans, pale spots become more noticeable, especially on dark skin. This pale change in color can even persist for months after the yeast is cured. Many people think that they still have active infection because their skin is still discolored. With time, the skin discoloration should improve to normal.
Tinea versicolor can be easily recognized by a dermatologist. In most cases, a visual examination of the skin is all that is needed to make the diagnosis. However, it is important to accurately determine that the yeast is the cause of the rash, since other more serious rashes can look similar. The dermatologist can confirm the diagnosis by doing a gentle scraping of the scaly spots to examine flakes of skin under the microscope for the presence of the yeast.
Once the diagnosis of tinea versicolor is certain, treatment is relatively simple. Topical creams, lotions, and shampoos can be used that fight the yeast. Oral medications may be necessary in more widespread cases. Use of the oral medications needs to be supervised by your dermatologist because of possible side effects or interactions with other medicines. The yeast is easy to kill, but since it is a normal inhabitant of the skin, recurrence is possible. Medicated cleansers are often recommended once or twice a month to prevent recurrence, especially during warm, humid months of the year.