Tinea Versicolor vs Vitiligo – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Tinea versicolor, also referred to as pityriasis versicolor, is a long-lasting fungal infection of the skin. This condition is also known as Peter Elam’s disease, especially in South Asia.

It is one of the most frequent skin diseases in subtropical and tropical areas of the world. Individuals who live in tropical areas may have this skin condition year-round.

The medical term ”versicolor” refers to the fact that this disorder causes some parts of the skin to change color and become either darker or lighter than the surrounding skin.

It is not possible to catch this skin condition from another individual but it can lead to emotional distress.


It occurs when a fungus called Malassezia grows rapidly on the surface of the skin and disrupts the normal pigmentation of the skin (produces an acid that stops the skin cells around and underneath it from making melanin), and this results in scaly, discolored patches.

Most sufferers who get this skin disorder have overall good health. Nevertheless, this condition is more likely to occur in people who have a suppressed immune system, for example, if they are using a corticosteroid drug (like – prednisone).

Other risk factors for this skin disorder include – oily skin, humidity, heat, excessive sweating, undernutrition, pregnancy (due to hormonal changes), diabetes, or other complications.


The main symptom of this disorder is scaly spots or patches on the skin. These patches are lighter, or occasionally darker, than the skin around them. On lighter skin, it may appear light brown or pink in color. They tend to develop slowly and may join up to form larger patches over time.

It typically affects the shoulders, back, and upper chest, however, it can involve the upper arms, neck, and sometimes, the face.

Symptoms may become reduced or disappear in colder weather and may return when
 the weather becomes humid and hot.


It is usually treated with topical antifungal agents, such as:

  • sodium thiosulphate solution;
  • propylene glycol solution;
  • ciclopirox cream;
  • terbinafine gel;
  • selenium sulfide;
  • topical azole cream.

These drugs should be applied widely to all the affected areas before bedtime (generally between 3 to 14 days, depending on the extent of the rash) for as long as your healthcare provider recommends.

Body washes and medicated shampoos may be used during times of very hot, humid weather.

Even after successful medical treatment, the skin color may remain uneven for a few weeks. Moreover, this infection may return in hot, humid weather, plus, some patients may need to take medication once every 2 weeks to prevent the infection from recurring.


It is a long-term skin condition in which growing patches of skin lose their color. This loss of pigmentation can happen in large areas covering over 50% of the body or in small patches on one side of the body.

This disorder can affect the skin on any part of the body. Also, it may affect the inside of the mouth and hair (can cause the hair to gray early). Interestingly, even an eye can lose a part of its color.

It affects 1 to 2 percent of the world population and it affects people of both sexes equally as well as it affects all races. Although this skin condition affects all races equally, it is more noticeable in dark-skinned people.

Signs and symptoms are most likely to begin when a person is in his 20s. It is not contagious, and it is not life-threatening. However, it can be life-altering since some sufferers develop low self-esteem and severe depression.


Doctors don’t know exactly why this condition occurs but many believe that it is actually an autoimmune disease, where the body’s defenses turn on its own cells instead of attacking invading germs.

Heredity may also be an important factor since there’s an increased incidence of this condition in some families with about 1 in 3 patients having some other family member who is also affected.

Some individuals believe their vitiligo was triggered by emotional trauma, while others first reported seeing the white patches after a severe sunburn.

People with this skin condition have an increased risk of developing:

  • vitamin B12 deficiency (pernicious anemia);
  • Addison’s disease, also referred to as hypocortisolism, an illness that causes a decrease in the function of the adrenal gland;
  • type 1 diabetes;
  • an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism);
  • an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).


Signs and symptoms usually include white patches of skin in any location on the body or a loss of skin color in the form of depigmentation. The areas most frequently affected by this condition include:

  • armpits;
  • the skin around the eyes and mouth;
  • inside the mouth;
  • genitals;
  • groin;
  • wrists;
  • fingers.


Although there is no cure for this skin problem, there are a few medical treatments available that can help. Some have been shown to slow down the progression of this condition, but it may take months or more than a year to observe some results and judge the effectiveness of the treatment.

Tinea Versicolor vs Vitiligo – Differences

Both skin conditions don’t cause pain, only emotional distress for some people. The main difference between these skin disorders is that pityriasis versicolor is a fungal infection and vitiligo is an autoimmune disorder.

Images credit – Shutterstock

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