Tinea versicolor

Alternative Names

Pityriasis versicolor

Definition of Tinea versicolor

Tinea versicolor is a long-term (chronic) fungal infection of the skin.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Tinea versicolor is relatively common. It is caused by the fungus a type of yeast that is normally found on human skin. It only causes problems under certain circumstances.


The main symptom is patches of discolored skin with sharp borders (edges) and fine scales. The patches are often dark reddish-tan in color. The most common sites are the back, underarms, upper arms, chest, and neck. Affected areas do not darken in the sun (skin may appear lighter than surrounding healthy skin)

Signs and tests

A skin scraping that is examined under a microscope should show the yeast.


Treatment consists of applying antifungal medicines to the skin. These medications include clotrimazole, ketoconazole, and miconazole.

Expectations (prognosis)

Though tinea versicolor is easily treated, pigment changes may last for months after treatment. The condition may come back during the warm months.


Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc. – 10/10/2010

Tinea versicolor - close-up
Tinea versicolor - shoulders
Tinea versicolor - close-up
Tinea versicolor on the back
Tinea versicolor - back

ADAM Medical Encyclopedia

Article written by

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability.