Tinea versicolor – symptoms, causes and other risk factors

tinea versicolor symptoms and causes

This is a very common fungal infection of skin. The fungus interferes with the normal pigmentation of our skin which is resulting in small and discolored patches. These patches can be darker or lighter in color that the surrounding skin and they most commonly affect the shoulders and trunk. This fungal infection is most commonly happening in teens and young adults [1]. When people are exposed to sun, then it makes the tinea versicolor more apparent. This condition is also known as pityriasis versicolor. Pityriasis is a term which is used to describe any skin condition in which the scales look grainy and this is compared to bran. The other term which is used – versicolor, is a term which refers to the many skin colors which can happen with the infection, such as pink, brown, tan, white or other colors. It is not contagious or painful condition. But it can lead to self – consciousness or emotional distress [2]. There are antifungal shampoos, lotions and creams which can help in the treatment of tinea versicolor. There are some cases in which is said that even if you had successful treatment, your skin color can remain uneven for several weeks or months. This infection often recurs, especially in warm and humid weather. There are some cases when tinea versicolor can be stubborn to treat.

Symptoms of tinea versicolor

The acidic bleach from the growing yeast is causing some areas of the skin to have a different color that the skin around them. These can be patches or individual spots. Here are specific signs and symptoms of tinea versicolor:

  • Spots that do not tan the way the rest of your skin does
  • Scaling
  • Patches which can be brown, red, pink or white and they can be lighter or darker than the skin around them
  • Mild itching
  • Patches of skin discoloration, usually on the upper arms, neck, chest and back, which may appear darker or lighter than usual

These spots can disappear during the cold weather but they can get worse during humid and warm weather. They can be scaly or dry and they can hurt or itch, but this is not a common condition. You should see your doctor if your skin does not improve with self – care measures or the fungal infection returns. Also you should see your doctor if the patches cover large areas of your body.

tinea versicolor symptoms and causes

Causes for tinea versicolor

The fungus which is the cause for tinea versicolor can be found on healthy skin. This condition is causes by fungus as Malassezia. There are many known species of Malassezia but it is though that one specie known as M. globosa is the reason for the most cases of tinea versicolor. The gunges is disrupting the normal pigmentation of our skin and this can result in scaly and discolored patches. Our skin pigment changes in the patches because the fungus (Malassezia fungus) is producing an acid which inhibits the production of melanin [3]. As we know, melanin is a natural pigment which gives the color of our skin. You should know that the poor hygiene is not related to tinea versicolor, nor does it make this fungal infection more likely to happen. When the fungus overgrows, then it starts to cause problems. There are many factors which can trigger this growth such as

  • You have a weakened immune system
  • There are some hormonal changes which are happening in your body
  • You are using corticosteroid medicines
  • You have oily skin
  • Have very poor nutrition
  • You are pregnant
  • If you sweat a lot
  • You live in a hot, humid weather
  • You have diabetes
  • You are on birth control pills

The yeast grows naturally on your skin and this is a reason why tinea versicolor is not a contagious infection. Tinea versicolor can affect people of any skin color. It is more likely to affect young adults and teens.

Risk factors: People who live in a humid or hot climate, such as tropical region, are having increased chances of developing tinea versicolor fungus. Up to 50% of people who live in certain tropical countries have reported that they have tinea versicolor [4]. On the other hand, people who live in cooler areas like Scandinavia have decreased chances to get tinea versicolor and it is reported that only about 1% of people have this skin condition [5].


[1] Michigan Medicine. Tinea versicolor. Retrieved from www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/hw166595

[2] Bamford JTM, Flores-Genuino RNS, Ray S, et al. Interventions for the treatment of pityriasis versicolor. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2018;2018(6):CD011208.

[3] Sayed C. Tinea versicolor. Medscape. Retrieved from emedicine.medscape.com/article/1091575-overview

[4] Karray M, McKinney WP. Tinea versicolor. In Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing. 2020.

[5] Hald M, Arendrup MC, Svejgaard EL, et al. Evidence-based Danish guidelines for the treatment of malassezia-related skin diseases. Acta Dermato-Venereologica. 95(1).


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