Tinea versicolor is a type of dermatomycosis that is caused by a yeast that interferes with normal tanning. Dermatomycosis is a term that includes a variety of superficial skin infections caused by fungi or yeast. These types of infections almost always only affect skin, hair, and/or nails. In people with severe immune problems, these infections can become more serious and invasive.

Tinea versicolor can result in uneven skin color. Tinea versicolor usually affects the back, upper arms, underarms, chest, and neck. It rarely affects the face.

Tinea Versicolor

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The fungus that causes tinea versicolor, Malassezia furfur, is normally present in small numbers on the skin and scalp. Overgrowth of the yeast leads to infection.

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.

Risk factors for tinea versicolor include:

  • Age: more common in adolescents and young adults
  • Sex: more common in men
  • Skin: more common in people with naturally oily or excessively sweaty skin
  • Climate: more common in warm and humid climates


Symptoms include:

  • Uneven skin color, with either white or light brown patches
  • Light scaling on affected areas
  • Slight itching, which is worse when the person is hot
  • Patches most noticeable in summer months


Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. You may need to be referred to a doctor who specializes in skin disorders (a dermatologist).

The doctor may use an ultraviolet light to see the patches more clearly and may scrape the patch to send a sample for testing.


Treatment options for tinea versicolor include the following:

Medications Applied to the Skin

Selenium sulfide lotion (2.5%) or shampoo (1%) applied daily for a week and then monthly for several months to prevent recurrences. Several other medicated creams and ointments are also available.

Medications Taken by Mouth

Prescription antifungal medications taken by mouth have the advantage of convenience and shorter treatment duration. However, they are more expensive and associated with more adverse effects. Some people cannot take antifungal medications. Tell your doctor about any other medications you are taking and any medical problems you have.

Once the infection is successfully treated, your skin will naturally return to its normal color. However, this process usually takes several months. Also, the condition may improve in the winter only to return again in the summer months.


Avoiding excessive heat and sweating may reduce your risk of tinea versicolor.