The yeast that causes tinea versicolor lives on everyone’s skin. It is not clear why the yeast overgrows on some people’s skin and not others. Although there is much unknown about tinea versicolor, we do know that teens and young adults are most susceptible because they have oily skin. People of all skin colors are affected by tinea versicolor, but older adults and children rarely get it unless they live in a tropical or subtropical area. People who live in non-tropical areas often see tinea versicolor disappear during the cool, dry months.
The first sign of tinea versicolor is often spots on the skin. These spots:
- grow slowly
- are lighter (sometimes darker) than the surrounding skin
- can be white, pink, salmon, red, tan, or brown
- can appear anywhere on the body
- can be dry and scaly
- may itch where they appear
- become more noticeable as the skin tans (yeast prevents the affected skin from tanning)
- may disappear when the temperature drops and return in the spring or summer when the air gets warm and humid
As the yeast grows, the spots can combine and form patches of lighter (or darker) skin. Sometimes the spots are so faint that people do not realize they have tinea versicolor. If tinea versicolor causes light spots on the skin, it can be mistaken for vitiligo. Vitiligo is a skin disease that causes the skin to lose its color.
What Causes It?
Yeast normally live on our skin. When the yeast overgrows, it causes the skin disease tinea versicolor. It is believed that hot, humid weather, sweating, oily skin and a weakened immune system can cause the yeast to overgrow.
A dermatologist can often look at the skin and tell whether a patient has tinea versicolor. If there is any doubt, the dermatologist may gently scrape off a bit of the skin to examine it under a microscope.
If tinea versicolor is diagnosed, your dermatologist may describe anti-fungal shampoo, soap, cream or lotion to keep the yeast under control. There are are also medicated cleansers and anti-fungal pills that can treat severe or recurrent cases.
With treatment, the yeast is easy to kill. The skin, however, may stay lighter (or darker) for weeks or months. The skin will eventually return to its normal color. To help even out your skin tone, you should protect your skin from the sun and not tan.