Unlike many other skin conditions and infections, the progression of tinea versicolor can be swift and silent. For millions of individuals throughout the world, what begins as a slight discoloration along their shoulders or torso soon progresses into widespread patches of lighter or darker skin. Although there are no serious complications associated with this fungal infection, if left untreated, the physical symptoms can become more prominent. Much like any fungal infection, the onset and proliferation of tinea versicolor is based upon a myriad of internal and environmental factors. Although some of these elements may be avoided, millions of individuals are pre-disposed to this common skin yeast infection simply based upon their geographical location.
Tinea Versicolor – A Brief Exploration
Before delving into the causes of tinea versicolor, it's imperative to hold a basic understanding as to what this fungal infection actually is. Silently resting along the surface of your skin is a delicate balance of flora. While skin flora is found in all individuals, its presence is typically quiet and hidden. However, due to a variety of internal and external factors, the proliferation of the dimorphic fungus Malassezia furfur becomes too great for the body to naturally contain. Although this harmless skin flora component does not yield dangerous outcomes, its progression can lead to patches of scaly skin, which often lead to hypopigmentation, or the lightening of skin.
Although there are no serious complications from this common skin infection, if left untreated its ability to proliferate is astonishing. Confirmation of this condition is quite easy by physicians or dermatologists. Diagnosis is typically accomplished by reviewing its clinical appearance or gathering skin samples and reviewing them under a microscope. While there are several skin conditions which appear similar to the physical manifestations of tinea versicolor, upon closer inspection a physician can make an accurate diagnosis.
Treatment options typically consist of an antifungal ointment applied directly to afflicted areas. Both prescription-based and herbal extract ointment are found to be effective in eradicating and inhibiting Malassezia furfur proliferation. In severe cases, an oral antifungal medication is often prescribed. Although containing this infection and restoring proper flora balance is relatively easy to achieve, recurrence is nearly universal because the root cause of this infection is a normal and healthy skin flora component. Therefore, preventative measures are often recommended, such as bathing with antifungal soaps and monthly application of antifungal creams.
The Environmental Connection to Tinea Versicolor Outbreaks
Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions regarding tinea versicolor is the belief this condition only afflicts those with health complications. While those with specific health issues may be more vulnerable to an outbreak, which is discussed below, the majority of tinea versicolor infections are the primary result of environmental influences. According to leading health organizations, such as the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, the onset of this fungal infection is due to hot, humid climates. In fact, those living in tropical areas are significantly more likely to suffer from fungal overgrowth than those living in dry locations. The primary reason for this result boils down to the biological preference of yeast and skin flora. Without access to dry air, fungus is capable of reproducing in fast succession.
Without a natural balance between dry and wet air, this skin fungus establishes colonies throughout the surface of your skin. Unchallenged, these colonies proliferate at such a rate the human body is unable to contain its progression. Over time, and without effective treatment, the accumulation of this yeast results in skin discoloration caused by the release of azelaic acid, which hinders natural melanin production by inhibiting the release of a specialized enzyme known as tyrosinase. Therefore, those who reside in humid, tropical climates must actively protect their skin by applying antifungal creams or utilizing natural antifungal soaps. This is especially vital for persons who've already experienced a tinea versicolor outbreak.
Genetic Predisposition – Biological Factors for Tinea Versicolor
As mentioned earlier, just because you are relatively healthy does not mean you are immune to a tinea versicolor infection. In fact, the majority of cases are among people who are healthy. This being noted, there are several conditions which may predispose you to a tinea versicolor outbreak. These include:
- Excess Skin Oil Production – Those who have naturally oily skin are statistically more likely to suffer from an outbreak. When the skin is continuously moist with oil, fungus colonies are able to thrive and grow at a swift rate. Because of this, tinea versicolor is a common affliction for teens and young adults.
- Excessive Sweating – Men and women who suffer from excessive sweating, such as hyperhidrosis or hormonal-based sweat production such as from menopause, are much more likely to develop this condition.
- Hormonal Changes – Yeast and skin flora thrive based upon various hormonal factors. When a shift occurs in hormone production and concentrations, the delicate balance keeping yeast levels in check become altered. In many cases, this results in the over-production of skin flora.
- Suppressed Immune System – Those suffering from a suppressed immune system caused by a medical condition or medication are statistically more likely to suffer from a tinea versicolor infection. According to The Merck Manuals, conditions such as diabetes, malnutrition, pregnancy and HIV/AIDS directly suppress the immune system, which increases the likelihood of developing tinea versicolor.