What is tinea versicolor and why you should know about it

Gina O'Callaghan, PAMost of us are aware of normal skin issues such as rashes from dry skin, or irritations caused by allergens, razor bumps or acne. However, few are familiar with a tinea versicolor. Our certified dermatological PA Gina O’Callaghan says, “This is a very common skin infection in Charleston and, yet, not everyone is aware of it.”

Tinea versicolor is an infection caused by an organism that is part of normal skin flora. The organism is a yeast: Malassezia furfur. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says, “We all have yeast living on our skin. When the yeast grows out of control, a person can get a skin disease called tinea versicolor.” [Click to read the AAD’s full article on tinea versicolor.] While not harmful, it does discolor your skin and many people don’t like that. The ADD also notes, “It is not clear why the yeast overgrows on some people’s skin and not others.”

Excessive heat, humidity and lots of sweating, predispose people to getting the infection as these conditions are perfect for the excessive growth of yeasts. Due to Charleston’s climate, people who live here experience the perfect situation for tinea versicolor.

Treatment of tinea versicolor is typically effective, however, recurrence is common. If you have tinea versicolor, you can spread it if you share your towels or linens with others. People with oily skin are more susceptible than those with dry skin.

What does tinea versicolor look like?

If you have tinea versicolor, you will see numerous, small, circular, white scaling patches or papules on the skin on your trunk, neck, back, chest and upper extremities. The lesions can be hypo or hyper pigmented — meaning the sores may have a whitish appearance or may be darker than your normal skin. Tinea versicolor occurs in people of all skin colors. If you have tinea versicolor you may experience itching in and around the scaly patches on your skin. Sometimes, if the patches are small, you may not even realize that you have this fungal condition. If you are a person who goes outside a lot, you may notice these lighter patches during the summer because, according to the AAD, “Spots become more noticeable as the skin tans. The yeast prevents the skin from tanning.”

How will my dermatologist treat tinea versicolor?

Typically, this condition is treated with topical creams. The ADD says, “Tinea versicolor often returns, especially when a person lives in a place that is warm and humid. Using a medicated cleanser once or twice a month, especially during warm and humid periods, can prevent the yeast from overgrowing again.” Gina adds, “If tinea versicolor is extensive or recurrent, it may be treated with oral medications. These medicines require monitoring as they may interfere with other medicines you take. So, it’s important to tell us about any and all medications and supplements you take.”

Depending on where tinea versicolor is on your body, you may be prescribed a variety of treatments. If it’s on your scalp, you can use over-the-counter Selsun Blue shampoo or Head and Shoulders Shampoo.

If you think you have this skin condition, get an evaluation from a dermatologist or healthcare provider.

If you have persistent tinea versicolor, the AAD suggests:

  • Stop using skin care products that are oily. Use products that say non-oily or non-comedogenic.
  • Wear loose clothes. Nothing should feel tight.
  • Protect your skin from the sun. A tan makes tinea versicolor easier to see.
  • Do not use a tanning bed or sun lamp. Again, a tan makes tinea versicolor easier to see.

Get a consultation if you think you have tinea versicolor

If you have any questions about rashes, scaly patches or unsightly skin issues, make an appointment for a consultation. There is no reason to suffer discomfort or embarrassment, especially when your skin condition might be one which can be easily treated, as it is with tinea versicolor.

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