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Heather Hanks
Written by Heather Hanks

Reviewed by Physician Chu I Ta and Dr Jessica Gunawan on February 17, 2023

Tips For Caring For Your Skin If You Have Tinea Versicolor

Tinea versicolor is a fungal skin infection that may occur if you spend time in a moist, humid environment. It can look a lot like eczema or psoriasis, making it hard to identify. Here's how to tell if you have it and treatment options that work.

Pityriasis versicolor min scaled

Tinea versicolor is a fungal skin disease that can easily be mistaken for other conditions, such as psoriasis and eczema.

It’s most common if you spend a lot of time in a moist and humid environment. The condition can lead to a ringworm type of infection due to an overgrowth of yeast on the skin. After the initial rash appears on your skin, it can become dry and crusty.

In this guide, we’ll explain the difference between tinea versicolor and other types of skin rashes. We’ll also provide natural remedies to help treat the condition at home.

What Is Tinea Versicolor?

A man itching his arm
Tinea versicolor is a fungal skin infection that causes your skin to change colors and can sometimes itch.

Tinea versicolor is a common fungal infection that causes your skin to change colors. It’ll lead to a crusted rash on body parts that frequently produce sweat.

  • The rash shows up as well-defined, brown, white, or pink patches on the skin. It’s caused by an overgrowth of yeast that’s naturally found on the skin.
  • Most infections occur on the upper chest, shoulders, and back. It’s not contagious, but it may cause skin itching or discomfort.
  • The primary risk factors of tinea versicolor are warm, moist, or oily environments. It can cause an overgrowth of Malassezia spp yeast on the skin’s surface.

A hormonal imbalance, diabetes, medications like corticosteroids , and a weakened immune system can also make a person vulnerable to the condition’s onset.

Is Your Rash Tinea Versicolor Or Something Else?

To the untrained eye, tinea versicolor can be mistaken for other skin conditions, including: 

  • Psoriasis 
  • Urticaria 
  • Vitiligo 
  • Nummular eczema 

Here’s how to tell the difference between each skin condition.

Psoriasis

Tinea versicolor is a fungal infection while psoriasis is an autoimmune condition. The latter is incurable, but the former typically resolves a few days after treatment.

With tinea versicolor, a clear patch of skin is visible in the middle of a ringworm rash spot, but psoriatic skin lacks this feature.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believes that psoriasis stems from excess Heat, which can manifest as blood, Dryness, or Stasis. It’s characterized by skin lesions of varying sizes, erythema — a type of skin rash caused by inflamed blood capillaries — and silvery white scales with distinct borders.

Vitiligo 

Like psoriasis, vitiligo is an autoimmune skin disease. It destroys the cells (melanocytes) that produce melanin, the pigment that gives a person’s skin color.

The skin disorder and its subtypes will first appear as a white spot. It progresses to a loss of color and can whiten or grey hair in the affected area.

TCM classifies the reasons behind vitiligo as negative emotional stress, prolonged exposure to Wind (an exogenous pathogenic factor), and Kidney and Liver Yin (passive energy) Deficiencies.

“A high-paced lifestyle and stressful work environment provoke Liver Blood and Qi Stagnation, impairing the circulation of both substances in the body. It’ll also happen if Wind penetrates the skin, blocking and stagnating the meridians. A Deficiency of Kidney and Liver Yin will result in malnourished blood in the skin, triggering an onset of vitiligo.”

TCM Senior Physician Chu I Ta

Urticaria 

Close-up of tinea versicolor infection on the skin
Tinea versicolor causes white patches on the skin due to an overproduction of yeast on the skin.

Skin redness and wheals (swollen flesh marks) are the two notable signs of urticaria. These will usually subside within a 24-hour period.

Tinea versicolor often leaves dry, scaly patches while urticaria skin usually appears normal until there’s a reaction and the skin forms small hives.

According to TCM, urticaria can happen if there are Deficiencies in the vital viscera. These include Blood Stasis, poor blood circulation, or a lack of blood, qi and yin.

Pathogenic factors like Cold, Heat, Wind, Dryness and Dampness may also contribute to the onset of urticaria.

Nummular eczema 

Tinea versicolor is a contagious condition, but nummular eczema isn’t. Nummular eczema can also be seen as multiple skin patches. These can happen within weeks after experiencing a traumatic injury, burns, or bites. 

The treatment regimen for the condition may take up to a year, though it can recur if it doesn’t heal completely. In extreme situations, it can scar or darken the affected skin area.

TCM differentiates the occurrence of eczema into three types: 

  • Internal accumulation of Damp-Heat 
  • Blood Deficiency and excessive Wind 
  • Spleen Deficiency and excessive Dampness 

How Is It Diagnosed?

A clinical specialist will perform skin tests to diagnose tinea versicolor. One of these involves scraping off loose skin cells and examining them under a microscope. The presence of yeast is an indicator of the condition.

Alternatively, the skin can also be examined with a Wood’s lamp. The device uses ultraviolet rays to illuminate different areas of the skin. If the skin shows up a yellowish-green shade, it’s another clear sign of tinea versicolor.

Tinea Versicolor Treatment Options

There are several ways to treat tinea versicolor:

Antifungal medications 

You can purchase antifungal creams, lotions, or shampoos from a pharmacy without a prescription. Yes, you read that right; antifungal shampoos. Examples of these are: 

  • Clotrimazole 
  • Miconazole 
  • Terbinafine 
  • Zinc pyrithione shampoo 
  • Selenium-based dandruff shampoo 

The primary mode of action of these remedies is to kill or stop fungus growth. Doing so will ensure complete recovery and lower the risk of re-infection.

A healthcare provider may also prescribe topical options like ketoconazole or ciclopirox, or oral medications like fluconazole and itraconazole for severe symptoms.

Herbal medicines 

A pair of man's hands holding a small container of natural skincare moisturizer
Applying herbal medicine to your skin topically can help fight fungal infections and soothe inflammation.

The alternative approach to treating tinea versicolor focuses on expelling toxins and clearing Heat and Dampness. To achieve these objectives, a licensed TCM practitioner will propose herbal formulas like Long Dan Xie Gan decoction, Jing Fang Bai Du powder, and Qu Feng Huan Fu pills.

Cleansing the skin’s surface with herbal pastes helps with soothing and treating the condition. Individual herbal ingredients to be considered include

Topical and oral solutions are key to providing holistic treatment of tinea versicolor. Applying a calming relief herbal moisturizer to skin can help reduce inflammation and expel pathogens that lead to fungal infections. It also helps to keep skin clean with a gentle, non-irritating cleanser.

Tinea Versicolor Prevention Tips

Preventive measures will help avoid repeat infections. Keep away from hot and humid environments and maintain the hygiene of your hair, skin, and fingernails.

Wear loose-fitting or cotton clothing to reduce sweating. If you’re considering alternative remedies, do seek consultation with a licensed practitioner. It’ll help ensure the safety of the formulas or ingredients used for your body’s constitution.

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