How to Recognize And Treat Tinea Versicolor

By Contributor

Many people are troubled by a skin rash located on the chest, neck and back called tinea versicolor. It's caused by a fungus which normally lives on our skin; however, for people with tinea versicolor the amount of fungus present is excessive resulting in a rash. Tinea versicolor is harmless and causes very minimal symptoms such as itching; however, it is also a nuisance because it is so difficult to eliminate. What should you know about tinea versicolor? How do you treat tinea versicolor?

The skin rash of tinea versicolor is a distinct scaly oval lesion usually grouped together on the neck, shoulder and back. The size of the skin lesions may fluctuate and they can coalesce to form patches. The face is rarely involved. Most people notice the rash when they are unable to sun tan evenly in warmer weather. The skin where the fungus has infected will not tan while unaffected areas do. The result is blotchy irregular skin color. In dark or tanned individuals the rash appears white; in untanned skin the rash appears brown.

It's uncertain why some people are susceptible to tinea versicolor infection while others are not. Tinea versicolor grows best in sweaty individuals who live in warmer climates. The application of greasy ointments such as cocoa butter increase the likelihood of infection. Certain medications such as oral contraceptives as well as topical and oral steroids can increase the likelihood for tinea versicolor infection.

Though tinea versicolor is caused by a fungus it is not contagious between people. When the skin rash is lightly scraped and examined under a microscope the fungus creates a classic "spaghetti and meatball" picture since the round fungus produces linear hyphae filaments.

The fungus responsible for tinea versicolor is very stubborn and difficult to treat. The OTC dandruff shampoos Selsun Blue and Nizoral contain medications which are useful in controlling the tinea versicolor; unfortunately, they may not be strong enough to completely cure the infection. OTC anti-fungal creams have also had mixed results with curing tinea versicolor. Avoiding greasy topical lubricants such as baby oil or cocoa butter as well as topical cortisone cream helps to treat tinea versicolor. Reducing sweating or perspiration by avoiding hot humid weather also can help treat tinea versicolor infection.

There are several prescription anti-fungal creams, lotions and pills which when used together can successfully treat tinea versicolor. Combination therapies are usually suggested due to the extensive skin areas involved. Among the most effective option is ketoconazole tablets. This oral medication is taken prior to daily exercise for several days. With exercise the ketoconazole is excreted in sweat where it can eradicate the tinea versicolor fungus. Bathing should be delayed till the following morning for maximum benefit.


Tinea versicolor has a high recurrence rate. Tinea versicolor is most common in adolescents and young adults. Even if tinea versicolor is treated successfully the loss of skin color can linger for several weeks as color-producing melanocytes in the skin begin working again.

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