Tinea Versicolor – Causes, Symptoms &Treatment

Tinea Versicolor – Causes, Symptoms

Tinea versicolor is a fungal skin infection.

What is Fungal Infection?

Fungal infection is called mycosis. This disease is caused by fungus. Many species of fungi exist on this planet, most of them are beneficial, but some might cause disease in plants or humans.

Symptoms of Fungal Infection

Every fungal infection has its symptoms, but here the symptoms of skin fungal infection will be discussed:

  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Irritation
  • Swelling
  • Blisters
  • Scaly skin
  • Bumping

Fungi Causing Diseases in Human

As we have established, there are many fungi from which humans benefit. So, what are the fungi that are causing diseases? One of the fungi is Claviceps purpurea. This fungus attacks the rye plant. There are two ways through which this pathogen finds its way to humans. One way is through the flour made from the contaminated rye plant that is used to make bread. Another way is if cattle graze on the rye plant and human consumes the meat of those cattle.

Other diseases caused by fungi are athlete’s foot, ringworm, aspergillosis, histoplasmosis, coccidioidomycosis, and tinea versicolor.

What is Tinea Versicolor?

Tinea versicolor is a skin infection caused by the Malassezia family. This is a family of fungi. In normal conditions, these fungi do not cause any disease. It is a part of microbiota that lives on human skin. The microorganisms that make up the microbiota are in a symbiotic relationship with the human cell. Through this symbiotic relationship, both the fungi and the human cells benefit equally and support each other.

When this fungus grows out of control, it affects the skin complexion and causes skin pigmentation. This happens when the fungi start to cause infection or suppresses the human immune system so that pathogens from the outside can cause diseases. People of all ethnic backgrounds are susceptible to this disease, but young adults are more prone to it.

What is Malassezia?

Malassezia is lipid dependent fungi. They are commonly found in the skin or mucosa of humans or other warm-blooded animals. They also make up a large part of the microbiome. Although they are in a symbiotic relationship, they are still associated with many diseases. They are associated with different diseases such as pityriasis Versicolor, Malassezia folliculitis, dandruff, and atopic dermatitis. Furthermore, the usage of catheters in immunocompromised patients and premature infants can lead the fungus into the bloodstream.

On healthy human skin, the fungi are low compared to bacteria, but Malassezia makes about 50-50% of skin microbiota.

Causes of Tinea Versicolor

Malassezia is already on the skin’s surface, but how they get out of control remains a mystery. The doctors have provided us with some of the reasons why this might happen:

  • Excessive oil on the skin
  • Humid and hot weather
  • Excessive sweating
  • Weak immune system
  • Changes in the hormone system

Symptoms of Tinea Versicolor

The most prominent symptom of this disease is the spot that manifests because of skin pigmentation. These are either darker or lighter than the skin complexion.

  • Pink, red, tan, or brown
  • Itch, scaly spots
  • Prominent due to tanning
  • Disappear in cooler weather

Hypo Pigmentation- People who have darker skin complexion might get lighter skin spots.

Hyper Pigmentation- People who have lighter skin complexion might get darker skin spots.

Many people do not get pigmentation changes of any kind.


Vitiligo is somewhat similar to the disease. Therefore, there is a misdiagnosis sometimes. The differences between these two conditions are:

  • Tinea Versicolor affects the skin texture
  • The spots caused by tinea versicolor are symmetrical.

Diagnosis of Tinea Versicolor

First of all, if you see any patches or spots on your skin that are lighter or darker than the skin complexion. The doctor will be able to diagnose the disease just by taking a look at the patches. Sometimes it isn’t easy to diagnose just by looking, so the doctor will prescribe tests. Some of these tests are skin scraping, biopsy, and Wood’s lamp.

Skin scraping

As the name suggests, the physician will scrape your skin gently so that some skin can be taken and viewed under a microscope. During this procedure, the doctor takes the skin and then adds the solution of KOH to the slide. Then he views the slide for the fungi.


Sample tissue is taken, and then it is tested to see under the fungi culture for any fungus that might be responsible for the condition.

Wood’s lamp

Wood’s lamp is specialized machinery. This machine uses ultraviolet light to check the presence of fungi on the skin. It is held 3-4 inches away from the skin. If there are fungi present on the skin, they will appear yellow or green under UV light.


The treatment depends upon the severity of the symptoms. If the symptoms are not severe, you can use over-the-counter drugs to treat them. Some OTC drugs used for the treatment of tinea versicolor are:

  • Clotrimazole
  • Miconazole
  • Selenium sulfide
  • Terbinafine

If the disease is severe and cannot be treated through these medicines, then it is better to consult the doctor; the doctor might prescribe one or all of the following drugs:

  • Ciclopirox
  • Ketoconazole

The medications mentioned above can be applied directly to the skin as they are topical formulations. The physicians will also advise you to take antifungal drugs in tablet/capsule forms such as ketoconazole, itraconazole, and fluconazole.

The treatment remains for long periods, and the disease may return if the weather is humid or hot. Even the treatment does not take effect immediately. It takes weeks or months for the patches to disappear.


The disease can be prevented, but it is important to note that there is no definite way to prevent it. You can avoid excessive sweating by not staying in the heat. Avoid tanning and sun exposure as much as you can.  Remain indoors as much as you can during the summer to avoid the heat.


This disease can be treated, but it is better to follow the prevention tactics as there is still debate about how the microbiota gets out of control. Consult your physician before starting any treatment by yourself.

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