Fungal infections on the skin are caused when yeast begins to multiply and grows out of control. The resultant overgrowth can damage affected skin, causing a wide range of symptoms. Like athlete’s foot and ringworm, versicolor belongs to the tinea group of skin conditions. Although seldom serious, these infections can be uncomfortable and may require medical attention.
As a dermatologist, I treat tinea infections on a regular basis. While tinea versicolor is often less serious than the aforementioned disorders, its symptoms are sometimes more distressing. Because the infection is less common in non-tropical areas, most Americans are quite surprised when it starts to affect their skin.
The most common sign of tinea versicolor is the appearance of discolored spots or patches on the skin. The spots may be:
– Lighter (occasionally darker) than surrounding skin
– Red, tan, brown, pink, or white
– Anywhere on the body
– Scaly, dry, and itchy
– More noticeable when skin tans
– Seasonal, often disappearing in cold weather and reappearing when it gets warm
In more advanced cases, large patches often develop after spots grow together. Patches may continue to enlarge if the yeast is allowed to grow. In addition to changes in skin texture and color, patients may experience increased itching and perspiration.
The good news is that the yeast that causes tinea versicolor is relatively easy to eradicate. More often than not, a dermatologist will prescribe a series of anti-fungal products, including soaps, shampoos, lotions, and creams. When taken as instructed, these products can clear up a minor case of the skin condition. More powerful anti-fugal medications may be prescribed in stubborn cases, where patches cover large areas of the body or continue to return after treatment.
Although professional treatment from a dermatologist is strongly recommended, it is possible to manage minor symptoms without prescription products. Switching to shampoos that contain selenium sulfide and using over-the-counter anti-fungal creams should stop yeast from growing. With that said, if the symptoms of tinea versicolor reappear or become more aggressive, it is important to see a dermatologist.
All patients, regardless of how they are being treated, can get better results if they:
– Wear loose, lightweight clothes
– Stop using oil-based skin care products
– Avoid excessive sun exposure
– Stay as comfortable and as cool as possible
With proper treatment and care, the yeast that causes tinea versicolor can be killed in short order. The skin, however, may take several weeks, even months, to return to normal. It is also possible for spots and patches to return when the weather turns warm again. Dermatologists may prescribe medicated cleansers to patients who experience seasonal skin conditions year after year.
Please contact us directly for more information about tinea versicolor and related fungal infections.
Thanks to Luke Lehrfeld on flickr for the image used in this post.