Pityriasis versicolor (tinea versicolor)

Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Bryony Henderson

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Pityriasis versicolor, also called tinea versicolor, is a fungal infection of the skin. It causes discoloured, scaly patches and can be itchy. Pityriasis versicolor is harmless, treatable and isn’t contagious. It doesn’t usually go away without treatment.

What is pityriasis versicolor

Pityriasis versicolor is caused by an overgrowth of naturally occurring yeast on your skin. 

In warm, moist conditions, the yeast, called Malassezia, multiplies and grows more than usual. This can make your skin look patchy and feel itchy. 

You’re more likely to get it if you:

  • Sweat a lot

  • Wear tight clothes or use creams that don’t let your skin breathe

  • Have a weak immune system

  • Spend time in warm, humid conditions or climates, including the UK in the summer 

Pityriasis versicolor is most common in teenagers and young adults because the oil-producing glands in their skin are more active. 

Most of us have the fungus on our skin already, and it isn’t contagious. 

What are the symptoms of pityriasis versicolor?

Pityriasis versicolor symptoms usually show on the back, chest, neck, arms, and tummy. However, it can occur on any part of the body. 

Common signs are:

  • Patches of discoloured skin – they can be lighter or darker and may be coppery brown, pink, red or white

  • Mildly itchy, irritated skin

How is pityriasis versicolor treated?

Treatment for pityriasis versicolor involves antifungal shampoo, cream, or tablets. Pityriasis versicolor treatment usually helps to kill the yeast that causes the patchiness quite quickly, but it can take weeks or even months for your skin colour to go back to normal. 

Pityriasis versicolor shampoo

If the patchiness covers a large area of your body, the easiest way to treat it is with a medicated antifungal shampoo prescribed by a GP. Shampoos for pityriasis versicolor contain one of two active ingredients – ketoconazole and selenium sulphide. 

You’ll need to lather the shampoo on the affected area and leave it on your skin for 5 to 10 minutes. Treatment is often daily for 5 to 7 days initially followed by once weekly for the next month.  

Pityriasis versicolor shampoo can make your skin dry or irritate it, so it can help to dilute it with a bit of water before putting it on your skin.  

Pityriasis versicolor creams

If you only have a small area of skin affected, a GP might recommend an antifungal cream. You’ll usually need to apply it to the patchiness once or twice a day for a few weeks. The cream can cause a burning sensation, so speak to a GP if this happens.

 Pityriasis versicolor tablets

If the patchiness covers lots of your skin or if shampoo or cream hasn’t worked, a GP may prescribe antifungal tablets.  You’ll usually need to take one tablet a day for up to four weeks.

Will pityriasis versicolor come back?

If you’ve had pityriasis versicolor once, it’s common for it to come back in warm, humid conditions. 

You can use pityriasis versicolor shampoos before going on holiday somewhere hot to help reduce the amount of yeast on your skin. This might stop it from happening.

If you keep getting pityriasis versicolor, the GP may refer you to a skin specialist called a dermatologist.

When should I talk to a doctor?

If you have a new skin rash and are unsure what it is, speak to a GP. If you’re treating pityriasis versicolor and it’s not getting better, talk to a GP again.

What can Livi do?

A Livi healthcare professional will evaluate your symptoms and decide what the best treatment is for you. If they think you need medication, they will write you a prescription. In some cases you might need further investigation before a prescription but they can help advise you.

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi