Conditions & Treatments

Tinea Versicolor

Different fungi, depending on their location on the body, cause ringworm. Ringworm is characterized by ring-shaped, red, scaly patches with clearing centers.

Tinea Versicolor

What is tinea versicolor?

Tinea versicolor is a common fungal skin infection caused by yeast on the skin. It is also called pityriasis versicolor. It is characterized by lighter or darker patches on the skin. Patches are most often found on the chest or back and prevent the skin from tanning evenly. It occurs mostly in adolescence and early adulthood due to oily skin, but it can occur at any time.

What are the symptoms of tinea versicolor?

Usually, the only symptom of tinea versicolor is the white or light brown patches with well-defined borders. Patches may scale slightly, but rarely itch or hurt. Other common characteristics of the rash include the following:

  • White, pink, or reddish-brown patches

  • Infection only on the top layers of the skin

  • The rash usually occurs on the trunk

  • The rash does not usually occur on the face

  • Patches worsen in the heat, humidity, or if you are on steroid therapy or have a weakened immune system

  • Patches are most noticeable in the summer

  • Affected areas do not darken in the sun

The symptoms of tinea versicolor may resemble other skin conditions. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is tinea versicolor diagnosed?

Tinea versicolor is usually diagnosed based on a medical history and physical examination. The patches seen with this condition are unique, and usually allow the diagnosis to be made on physical examination. In addition, your doctor may use an ultraviolet light, called a Woods Lamp, to see the patches more clearly. Also, your doctor may do skin scrapings of the lesions to help confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment for tinea versicolor

Specific treatment for tinea versicolor will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the condition

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the condition

  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment usually includes the use of an antifungal or dandruff shampoo on the skin, as prescribed by your doctor. Tinea versicolor usually recurs, requiring additional treatments. Your doctor may also prescribe topical creams or oral antifungal medications. It is also important to know that improvement in the skin may be only temporary, and a recurrence of the condition is possible. Your doctor may also recommend using the shampoo monthly to help prevent recurrences. The treatment will not bring the normal color back to the skin immediately. This will occur naturally and may take several months. People with this condition should try to avoid excessive heat or sweating.  

Treatment Programs


Massachusetts General Hospital understands that a variety of factors influence patients' health care decisions. That's just one reason why we're dedicated to ensuring patients understand their diagnosis and treatment options. Because a single option might not serve all patients, we offer a wide range of coordinated treatments and related services across the hospital. Patients should consult with their primary care doctor or other qualified health care provider for medical advice and diagnosis information.

Select a treatment program for more information:



Department of Dermatology

  • The Medical Dermatology Program
    The Medical Dermatology program at Massachusetts General Hospital is a full-service dermatology practice that provides care for all skin, hair and nail conditions.

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