As a teenager, enjoying my final weeks of summer, I remember wanting to show off my sun-tanned skin. However, I began to notice blotchy and sometimes dry patches on my left upper arm.
“Oh it’s just sunburn,” I thought. But these “sun spots,” I came to find, were signs of a stubborn skin condition. My family dermatologist took one look and said something along the lines of, “Yup, that’s tinea versicolor alright.”
Tinea versicolor (** pityriasis versicolor) is more than just ‘sun spots.’** TV is caused by a tiny fungus found on everyone’s skin that simply gets, ‘out of control.’ It creates dry patches that don’t allow skin cells to react normally, especially to the sun. This is why patches remain light or discolored when the rest of your skin starts to tan. I may have had the condition for weeks, maybe months, but never noticed because the sun had yet to expose the discolored areas.
The main symptoms of TV are circular or oval-colored patches on your back, chest, neck and/or arms. In children, these patches may also be seen on their faces. The spots can either show up as white, tan, brown, orange or pink in color, depending on your skin.
Don’t worry, TV is harmless and not contagious. However, it can be annoying or unsightly, depending on intensity and where it occurs on the body. This is especially true when it shows up at the time of the year when we’re wearing sun dresses, shorts, and tank tops.
Sunburn and sun spots: Telling the Difference
As we move into fall, those deep tans from late summer have either begun to fade or have peeled away. If you have TV, a common sign is that these spots will take longer to fade, or won’t go away completely - leaving your skin discolored. Here some other ways to tell if you or your child may have tinea versicolor:
What to do (Treatment)
If you suspect that you or your child may have TV, not to fear! Here are some tips to help get you started with treatment and preventing future outbreaks.
Evaluation by a dermatologist - A proper diagnosis from a dermatologist can determine the best course of treatment for you. Dermatologists can usually tell pretty quickly whether or not you have TV. They may also test for TV by examining skin cells under a microscope.
Anti-fungal medication - If you are diagnosed with TV, your dermatologist will most likely prescribe a topical or oral antifungal medication. Keep in mind, discoloration will not go away immediately, as it takes some time for new skin cells to form and get back to normal.
Anti-fungal diet - I often find that large amounts of sugar in my diet causes all sorts of things in my body - from hormones to digestion, and even skin - to go haywire. This can allow fungal outbreaks to take over. I’ve worked (slowly but surely) toward a cleaner diet, as well as limiting processed sugar. Adding antifungal foods such as raw garlic, onions, coconut oil, olive oil (on salads, pasta or rice), ginger, and fermented foods also help keep fungal outbreaks under control
Minimize sweat - For those who exercise or sweat a lot, wiping away excess sweat, or showering more frequently can help keep fungal counts low, as well as reduce and prevent outbreaks. There are even antifungal laundry aids to help with sensitive skin.
Prevention plan - A major part of your treatment is working with your doctor in creating a future prevention plan, so that the stubborn condition has a harder time making a comeback.
_What to do (Prevention) _
Follow-up - Revisiting with your dermatologist allows you to see how well the treatment has worked, if prolonged treatment is needed, or how well the skin is healing. It’s also important to go for routine physicals to make sure outbreaks aren’t caused by your immune or hormone system. If there is something going on there, your doctor can help you beat the condition from the inside out.
Anti-fungal diet - Don’t stop the diet tweaks once treatment is over, keep them going!
Skin maintenance - OTC antifungal creams, as well as shampoos such as Selsun Blue can be applied directly to skin to help maintain healthy skin, or fight an existing outbreak. Before adding these products to your skin, be sure to talk with your doctor about how often to use them and which products to use. Help moisturize dry skin with oil-based products such as vitamin e oil or olive oil. These also deliver nutrients directly to the affected area. Lastly, if my shoulders were exposed while styling or brushing my hair, it exacerbated the problem. Styling with a large t-shirt on, as well as cleaning and disinfecting hairbrushes are a must for me, and my help you too.
Repeat, repeat, repeat - Sometimes TV can be relentless, especially if it is hereditary or your system is prone to skin irritations. It’s important that any changes to your diet, skincare routine, vitamins and lifestyle, be maintained. Slipping up for a few days or weeks because your skin looks great might be all it takes for the outbreak to strike again.
Although tinea versicolor can’t be cured completely, you can be in total control of how often or how strongly it returns.
Kristina Brooks is a gluten-free digital editor at HealthCentral, with a background in animal biology, ecology, and health science. While studying broadcast journalism, she discovered the great need for health reporters that could translate research to the public. In her work, she hopes to use research to help consumers make smart decisions about their healthcare, and empower patients to stay confident and in charge of their chronic conditions. Kristina works on the HealthySelf newsletter, as well as HealthCentral’s MythWeek.