Discolored round spots on your upper body?

Tinea versicolor affecting the face of a patient. Here it presents as light spots against the pigmented skin. Photo credit: Grook Da Oger
Tinea versicolor affecting the face of a patient. Here it presents as light spots against the pigmented skin. Photo credit: Grook Da Oger

If you’ve noticed the appearance of discolored, round/oval-ish spots on your body, especially during the humid seasons, you may be dealing with tinea versicolor, aka pityriasis versicolor.  This is a condition where a yeast called Malassezia grows in the top layer of your skin.  This yeast especially likes warmth and humidity, so it is more common during the humid summer months or in those who work our a lot (e.g. athletes).  You may notice that this rash goes away during the dry cool months only to return when summer returns.  The spots may be light or dark, pink, tan, or brown, depending on your skin type.  They may be slightly scaly and itchy.  The rash favors the upper back/chest, shoulders, upper arms and neck but may also affect other areas such as the face.

How do you diagnose tinea versicolor? Your physician can make the diagnosis by examining your rash. She/he may also scrape the rash and look at the scrapings under a microscope.  If you have tinea versicolor, it will be easy for your physician to see the organism under the microscope.

This is a skin scraping from a patient with tinea versicolor showing the yeast Malassezia.
This is a skin scraping from a patient with tinea versicolor showing the yeast Malassezia.

So how do you treat tinea versicolor?  Your physician may recommend a topical shampoo, lotion or cream. Some of these are available over the counter, e.g. Selsun Blue shampoo, Nizoral shampoo, pyrithione zinc containing washes or soap bars, etc.  Several of these products are marketed as anti-dandruff shampoos, washes, soaps at your local drugstore.  You may also be prescribed a topical shampoo/wash, lotion or cream. If severe, your physician may prescribe a pill for you to take.  Also, taking care to towel off and shower after sweating or exercising is a good idea.