Although the word “dandruff” is associated with diseases of the scalp, it can also affect other parts of the body and does not have to take the classic form of exfoliating epidermis. But what does tinea versicolor look like and what to use to get rid of unsightly spots on the skin?

Pityriasis versicolor – what is it?

Tinea versicolor in men and women is similarly common, while tinea versicolor in children is rarely diagnosed. As dandruff yeasts feed on sebum and epidermis, Tinea versicolor is a condition that mainly affects adolescents. For example, adults with oily skin, or those living in a warm and humid climate. Dandruff becomes particularly troublesome in summer, as sweating promotes the multiplication of fungi present on the skin.

A person who has suffered from tinea versicolor at least once,  must take into account, that recurrences of tinea versicolor are observed in as many as 4 out of 5 people. A popular method for diagnosing tinea versicolor is spreading the skin with iodine – then the yellow-brown spots on the skin become more visible.

Is it contagious?

Many people wonder if tinea versicolor is contagious. It is impossible to give a clear answer to this question. Mallasezia yeasts occur naturally on human skin, so simply transferring these fungi from the skin of a dandruff sufferer does, not cause infection.

Only in the states of reduced immunity, these yeasts can cause tinea versicolor. So it all depends on your individual susceptibility to getting infected. Mallasezia yeasts are most easily transferred to your skin through a visit at a hairdresser and beauty salons, massage parlors, solariums, swimming pools, saunas, hotels or gyms.

An increased risk of contracting tinea versicolor also occurs when using the same hairbrush, towel, bedding or headgear, therefore hygiene is extremely important in this regard.

What does tinea versicolor look like?

Symptoms of Tinea versicolor are light, red or brown patches on the skin, that most often appear on the head, face, legs, back, abdomen, arms, neck, and around joint bends. It is also worth knowing that sometimes dandruff causes such delicate skin changes that they may go unnoticed.

In the initial stage, the symptoms of Tinea versicolor are usually small patches of beige or pale pink color, resembling a rash or allergy. At a later stage, they can turn into scaly patches, even about 3-4 mm in diameter, with irregular, bright edges. Tinea versicolor rarely causes itchy skin. If left untreated, dandruff can leave the skin with permanent traces of infection in the form of discoloured “motley” spots.

pityriasis versicolor on the back

pityriasis versicolor on the back

The causes of dandruff

The cause of tinea versicolor is Malassezia yeast, which can cause pigmentation disorders on the skin, i.e. skin colour. Tinea versicolor is a type of superficial ringworm. The developing mycelium produces chemicals, that affect the production of melanin – the natural pigment of the skin. As a result, spots are visible on the skin. Factors contributing to the formation of tinea versicolor are:

  • obesity,
  • greasy skin,
  • excessive sweating,
  • use of oral contraception.

What about pityriasis versicolor?

Treatment of tinea versicolor can involve a variety of measures, including:

  • oral antifungal medication – this is a method of treating tinea versicolor, which is used in advanced cases of the disease. Antifungal pills work well when the dandruff has a thick layer, covering a large part of the body or when it comes back frequently;
  • antifungal medicines for use on the skin – such as antifungal ointments (e.g. with clotrimazole) and antifungal creams. Some of them can be purchased without a prescription. Topical treatment is recommended for pregnant women with tinea versicolor;
  • anti-fungal hygiene products – such as anti-fungal soap, anti-fungal shampoo with zink sulphide, and medical skin washes;
  • proper skin care – the use of emollients that will help rebuild the proper lipid layer of the skin.

It is worth remembering that the affected skin should not be exposed to sunlight. Only after applying the appropriate treatment, it is possible to expose the skin to the sun, which will then help to even out the skin tone.

Pityriasis versicolor is a troublesome disease that, by affecting our appearance, can also affect our well-being. Remember that in order to prevent tinea versicolor, it is important to take care of hygiene, but also of the proper immunity of the body.

Dr Piotr Turkowski

About Dr Piotr Turkowski

Aesthetic medicine doctor, specialist and enthusiastic surgery, completing the specialization in plastic surgery. The only officially registered member of the international hair restoration surgery (ISHRS) in Warsaw, which brings together the world's best specialists in this field.