Tinea Versicolor Treatment Options

These antifungals can help clear up your skin

Treatment for tinea versicolor, a yeast-like fungal infection of the skin, can include topical over-the-counter (OTC) anti-fungal medications and prescription anti-fungal creams and oral medication. The condition itself won't lead to any serious issues if left alone, but these treatments can help improve the patches of discolored skin and itching that tinea versicolor causes.

Also known as pityriasis versicolor, a tinea rash is neither contagious nor dangerous. But it can be persistent, recurring, and bothersome. Some people may need to use a tinea versicolor treatment every month to keep the infection at bay.

This article discusses types of tinea versicolor treatments, various options, and when they are used.

How to Treat Tinea Versicolor Skin Infection
Verywell / JR Bee

What Is Tinea Versicolor?

Tinea versicolor is a common fungal skin infection caused by yeast-like fungi called Malassezia. The infection targets pigment-producing skin cells known as melanocytes.

The fungal infection produces a characteristic rash on the torso, face, and shoulders. The discolored patches can appear lighter or darker than the surrounding skin and made up of either flat skin lesions (macules) or raised plaques. It is more noticeable on tanned skin.

Some people report itching with tinea versicolor, though this does not happen for everyone.

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

pityriasis versicolor white
Pityriasis versicolor white.

DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

pityriasis versicolor pink
Pityriasis versicolor pink.

DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.

pityriasis versicolor brown
Pityriasis versicolor brown.

DermNet / CC BY-NC-ND

OTC Tinea Versicolor Treatment

Over-the-counter topical antifungal medications are usually effective in the early stages or first occurrence of the infection.

OTC anti-fungal treatments for tinea versicolor include:

  • Lamisil AT (terbinafine) cream or gel
  • Lotrimin AF (clotrimazole) cream or lotion
  • Micaderm (miconazole) cream

Antifungal washes including zinc pyrithione soap, sulfur salicylic acid shampoo, and Selsun Blue (selenium sulfide) shampoo are also used to treat mild cases of tinea versicolor. These remedies can can cause skin irritation and should be tested on a small patch of skin.

Topical Prescription Medications

If OTC remedies don't clear up the rash, your healthcare provider can prescribe a topical antifungal medication. The most effective prescription antifungals for tinea versicolor include:

  • 2% Nizoral (ketoconazole) cream or foam
  • 2% Nizoral (ketoconazole) shampoo
  • 1% Lamisil (terbinafine) solution
  • 1% Lotrimin (clotrimazole) solution

Oral Antifungal Treatments

Tinea versicolor lives in the top layer of skin (epidermis) and usually responds to topical antifungal medications. However, more often than not, the rash returns. This means repeat treatment with stronger anti-fungals is often needed over time.

Oral antifungal pills can be used for harder-to-treat cases. Diflucan (fluconazole) is an oral antifungal that is effective against tinea versicolor.

Side effects of oral antifungal medications include nausea and reversible liver damage. However, the course of treatment is usually short and these side effects are not common.

Maintenance Treatments

Once successfully treated, tinea versicolor has an 80% chance of recurrance. Many people require ongoing maintenance treatments to keep the fungal infection in check.

Using dandruff shampoos as a body wash is a common, low-cost solution. Shampoos that have been shown to be effective as treatments for tinea versicolor include:

  • Sulfur salicylic acid shampoo
  • Zinc-pyrithione shampoo
  • Selsun Blue (selenium sulfide) 2.5%

If these remedies cause skin irritation, talk to your healthcare provider about other preventive options.

Summary

Tinea versicolor is a skin infection caused by overgrowth of a common fungus. It causes patches of discolored skin that are treated with antifungal medication.

If you suspect you have tinea versicolor, talk to your healthcare provider about treatment options. Tinea versicolor treatment is usually based on the extent of your rash, how long you've had it, and if it is your first rash or a recurrence.

Tinea versicolor usually responds well to topical treatments but more stubborn cases may require prescription antifungal pills. Maintenance treatments may be needed to prevent recurrences. Some people have success using dandruff shampoos to treat tinea versicolor and prevent a recurrence.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does tinea versicolor last?

    Tinea versicolor does not usually go away on its own. It responds well to treatment, but it is very likely to come back. The spots usually resolve quickly. The changes in color may take longer.

  • How can you treat tinea versicolor at home?

    Home remedies for tinea versicolor include over the counter anti-fungal creams and lotions like Lotrimin AF or Lamisil AT.

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5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Gupta AK, Foley KA. Antifungal treatment for pityriasis versicolor. J Fungi. 2015;1(1):13-29. doi:10.3390/jof1010013

  2. Thayikkannu AB, Kindo AJ, Veeraraghavan M. Malassezia-can it be ignored? Indian J Dermatol. 2015;60(4):332-9. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.160475

  3. Bamford JTM, Flores‐Genuino RNS, Ray S, et al. Interventions for the treatment of pityriasis versicolorCochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018;2018(6):CD011208. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD011208.pub2

  4. Mayo Clinic. Tinea versicolor.

  5. Gupta AK, Lyons DC. Pityriasis versicolor: an update on pharmacological treatment options. Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2014;15(12):1707-13. doi:10.1517/14656566.2014.931373

Additional Reading
  • Weller RB, Hunter HJA, Mann MW. Clinical Dermatology. Chichester, West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Inc; 2015.