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Tinea versicolor: Facts and fundamentals

Tinea versicolor is a fungal infection of the skin that disrupts pigment cells, causing small patches of discolouration to develop. This condition commonly develops in the teenage years, and can also occur in early adulthood. Like other forms of pigmentation, tinea versicolor does not cause physical pain or harm, but it does affect the emotional state of the sufferer. Sometimes an antifungal treatment can clear symptoms of this condition. However, severe cases often require a medical assessment and prescribed treatment. If treatment is successful, the sufferer’s skin colour might remain uneven for several weeks, or even months after treatment has ceased. 

Tinea versicolor in a nutshell

Symptoms

Tinea versicolor causes patches of skin discolouration, typically on the back, chest, neck and upper arms. The patches can appear either lighter or darker than the rest of the skin. Unlike other forms of pigmentation, tinea versicolor can be mildly itchy, and scaling isn’t uncommon. 

Causes

Tinea versicolor gets triggered by the production of yeast, found on normal, healthy skin. This yeast is Malassezia. It helps protect the skin from infections and pathogens that can cause harm or disease. It serves a valuable purpose when growing at a normal rate, but becomes a problem if it overgrows and causes a tinea versicolor fungal infection to develop. Possible triggers for the growth of the yeast include hot, humid weather, oily skin, hormonal changes, and a weakened immune system. 

Treatments

Prescription medication

Severe cases of tinea versicolor may require prescription medication, some of which are topical creams and gels, and some oral medication. These include:

  • Ketoconazole cream, gel or shampoo
  • Ciclopirox cream, gel or shampoo
  • Fluconazole tablets or oral solution
  • Itraconazole tablets, capsules or oral solution
  • Selenium sulfide 2.5 percent lotion or shampoo

Unfortunately, even if the condition disappears with the use of these medications, it still has the possibility of returning in hot, humid weather. Some sufferers have to take medication on an ongoing basis (once or twice per month) to prevent the infection from recurring.

Home remedies

With less severe cases of tinea versicolor, the sufferer can apply an over-the-counter antifungal lotion, ointment or shampoo, twice a day for a minimum of two weeks. If symptoms don’t improve, sufferers are generally advised to consult with a medical professional. Non-prescription remedies available for tinea versicolor include: 

  • Clotrimazole cream or lotion
  • Miconazole cream
  • Selenium sulfide 1 percent lotion
  • Terbinafine cream or gel
  • Zinc pyrithione soap

Lifestyle changes

Sufferers can improve their conditions by keeping their skin out of the sun’s rays and artificial sources of UV light. And many sufferers find that their skin tone evens out over time.

Preventative treatments

If treatment is successful, it’s still possible that symptoms may recur. So doctors often prescribe preventative treatments for sufferers to take during hot and humid months, some of which include: 

  • Selenium sulfide 2.5 percent lotion or shampoo
  • Ketoconazole cream, gel or shampoo
  • Itraconazole tablets, capsules or oral solution
  • Fluconazole tablets or oral solution

Get your skin assessed by a medical professional

Are you experiencing symptoms of tinea versicolor? Book a consultation with Dr Noks. She will give you a proper skin assessment and advise a suitable treatment plan for your specific condition.

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