Last reviewed by Editorial Team on August 13th, 2018.
What is Tinea Versicolor?
Tinea versicolor is also known as Pityriasis versicolor and is characterized by the appearance of small discolored skin patches. It usually affects the trunk and shoulders and appears with multiple colors thus, the term versicolor in its name.
Tinea versicolor is a common and benign fungal infection of the superficial layer of the skin. It is a skin condition that is commonly found in the chest, back and shoulders and can sometimes develop in the folds of the skin such as the skin folds below the chest. It does not affect the face although children sometimes have their face affected.
Tinea versicolor can affect many people regardless of race although the skin pigmentation is more obvious in people with dark skin tone. It equally affects both men and women and seldom in children before the age of puberty and in people older than 65 years of age. The frequency of age in tropical places varies and usually affects children aged 10 to 19 years. In some countries such as in the United States, Tinea versicolor is more common among individuals between the ages of 15 to 24 years. This benign skin condition is often apparent during the hot and humid condition and improves or disappears during the cold months. Tinea versicolor is also common in places with hot and humid climates. Constant exposure under the sun also makes tinea versicolor more apparent.
Tinea versicolor is a harmless skin condition that no mortality or morbidity can be associated with the disease. It is a common fungal skin infection that can affect healthy individuals. It is usually responsive to treatment although recurrence is frequent. Although harmless, tinea versicolor can cause cosmetic disturbance thus resulting to embarrassment and psychological stress affecting the quality of life.
Tinea Versicolor Symptoms
Tinea versicolor is marked by the onset of discolored skin patches that usually appears on the trunk, chest, back, shoulders and in the skin folds including the proximal extremities. Some patients get to experience mild itchiness and the skin may be dry and scaly. Pin prick itchiness is usually felt when feeling hot and humid or when exposed in warm environment but no sweating has occurred yet. The pin prick itchiness subsides when sweating is initiated.
The characteristics of the skin patches in Tinea versicolor which make it distinct are:
- The onset or development of the skin patches is rather gradual or slow growing
- The skin patches are often seen on the chest, back, trunk, neck and the upper arms
- The skin patches may be lighter or darker than the surrounding skin
- The color of the skin patches may be in white, pink, red, brown or tan
- The skin patches become noticeable when exposed under the sun and during the hot and humid months
- The skin patches usually disappear during the cold months
The skin patches in Tinea versicolor may develop into a faint color that the presence sometimes goes unnoticed. The faint color of the skin patches makes it appear like vitiligo.
Tinea versicolor may appear in any 4 forms which mainly describe the characteristic of the skin patches. The different forms of Tinea versicolor are the following:
Form 1 is described as the most common form of Tinea versicolor. This form is characterized by the roundish shape of the patches that are well-marginalized with fine scaly appearance. The skin patches appear in variant hues and are scattered in the trunk and chest and may be seen in the areas of the lower abdomen, neck and the upper extremities.
Form 2 is the opposite variety of Tinea versicolor which appear in the area not usual in Tinea versicolor. It tends to be scattered in the face and other areas of the extremities not common in Tinea versicolor. The skin patches in this form are similar to the appearance of seborrheic dermatitis and psoriasis.
Form 3 is usually found at the back, chest and extremities. It involves the hair follicles and is rather hard to distinguish from bacterial folliculitis.
Form 4 is the asymptomatic form and commonly appears on the torso. The skin patches are characterized as firm and with a size of about 2 to 3 mm in diameter. The color is reddish brown and appears as inflamed papules which may or may not have fine scales of a whitish color.
Tinea versicolor is caused by a fungus that is normally found or inhabits the skin of a healthy individual without a compromised immune system. Several factors however are being considered to predispose an individual from an infection to a certain fungus that causes Tinea versicolor.
Malassezia is also known as Pityrosporum is a genus of fungi that normally thrives on the surface of the skin of animals and humans. It can cause a hypopigmentation in human when opportunistic infection sets in.
Malassezia globosa fungus is responsible for most cases of Tinea versicolor while a small number of cases are implicated on Malassezia furfur. Not all people get to suffer from Tinea versicolor despite the presence of Malassezia fungus in the skin. The exact cause of Tinea versicolor from the genus Malassezia remains unclear although not all Malassezia species thriving on the skin surface can cause Tinea versicolor at all. Malassezia fungi basically inhabit the seborrheic areas such as the scalp, chest and face but not necessarily cause the skin patches. When triggered by certain factors, this Malassezia fungus can cause the disease.
The light type of Tinea versicolor is believed to be due to the chemical being produced by Malassezia. The chemical produced by this fungus is believed to impair the function of the pigment cells found in the layers of the skin.
Several factors are considered to trigger the Malassezia fungus which in turn causes Tinea versicolor and such factors include the following:
- Hot and humid weather or environment is mostly implicated in the onset of Tinea versicolor which make people living in countries with this type of climate prone for developing the disease
- Extreme sweating is believed to trigger Tinea versicolor
- Individuals with oily skin are believed to be prone from developing Tinea versicolor
- Weakened immune system is considered a factor in Tinea versicolor where individuals with compromised immune system are potential for the disease
- Changes in the hormone are among the factors considered to trigger Tinea versicolor
Tinea versicolor can be treated with topical antifungal medications or oral antifungal drugs. Tinea versicolor that is mild can be treated with over-the-counter medications. Those with severe symptoms of Tinea versicolor can be treated with drugs such as:
- Selenium sulfide
Tinea versicolor that is severe remains unresponsive to over-the-counter treatment can be prescribed with broad spectrum drugs such as:
- Fluconazole tablets
- Selenium sulfide
Is Tinea Versicolor contagious?
Tinea versicolor is not considered a contagious skin condition that can be passed on to an unaffected person. It is a benign and a common skin condition that cannot be spread to others. The disease is due to a fungus that normally thrives and is part of the normal flora of the skin of a healthy individual without a compromised immune system.
A vigorous exercise or activity may be necessary to release sweating which is beneficial in combination with the medicine as the skin patches usually come out after the sweat has been released. It is also recommended to avoid staying for too long under the sun as this can aggravate Tinea versicolor even more.