This patient information and photographs on Sun Spots is provided by John L. Meisenheimer, M.D. a board certified Dermatologist and skin care specialist based in Orlando, Florida. This information is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice or treatment of a dermatologist or other physician.
What is it? Tinea versicolor is a common infection of the skin that can occur at any age. It is sometimes erroneously referred to as "Sun Spots" due to its more dramatic appearance after sun exposure. Typically it appears as a pale or dark colored rash on the chest, back, face, neck or arms. The disease is usually more active during the warm humid summer and improves during the winter.
What causes it? Tinea versicolor is caused by a superficial yeast infection of the skin. This yeast is a normal inhabitant of the skin and is found, in small amounts, on the skin of all people. In Tinea versicolor, the yeast grows wildly out of control. Most people have strong immunity against this fungal over growth. In those with limited immunity, the fungus is able to over grow.
Is it dangerous? For the typical healthy person Tinea versicolor is a harmless disorder. It is not related to cancer and it does not involve internal organs.
Can it be cured? The treatment program I put you on will help control or clear the infection, but it is not a permanent cure. Even if the Tinea versicolor is totally cleared, you will still be predisposed to have repeat episodes. Repeat treatments may be needed and some individuals may require continuous therapy.
Will it spread? New areas of involvement may continue to form, but treatment can help to prevent or control further spread.
What causes the color changes? Tinea versicolor can cause both light and dark discoloration of the skin. Most commonly the spots will be lighter in color than normal skin. This is caused by the fungus making a chemical that blocks skin pigment production. After the fungus is treated the light discoloration will remain for several weeks to months until re-tanning has taken place.
Occasionally the yeast produces inflammation in the skin that causes too much pigment to be produced. In this case the rash will be darker than normal skin, but it too will fade back to normal color after several months.
Is it contagious? Tinea versicolor is not contagious and you can not "catch it" from anyone. This organism normally lives in small numbers on everyone's skin. It is the uncontrolled growth of this harmless yeast, which causes the condition.