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Getting to know Tinea Versicolor, a summer skin problem

Our skin and the summer

In the warmer days of the year, our daily routine changes. Temperature rises, the sun shines, rain falls, and we have our holiday time to enjoy. We go outside to enjoy the weather, swim in pools and the sea, sunbathe, and spend as much time outdoors as we can. 

Our summer routine can be quite threatening to our skin. We expose ourselves to environmental factors like the sunlight, water, air and humidity. Even if our skin is prepared to protect us from all effects of those factors, it can become damaged or at least somehow affected by them. Sunburns due to excessive exposure to sunlight are the most widely known summer skin affection, but they are not the only ones. When people think about preventing summer skin conditions, they usually recur to sunblock and hats to cover themselves from the sunlight; however, other factors, such as temperature and humidity, can affect our skin as well, causing several affections.

People of all ages can develop a skin condition consisting in decolored scaly patches, mostly on their chest, back and/or neck. Pityriasis Versicolor (also known as Tinea Versicolor) is a common bening skin condition that is usually developed in the summer. Many people think that pityriasis versicolor is caused by exposure to sunlight, but the truth is that tinea versicolor is caused by a common fungus called Malassezia, a yeast that lives on our skin. 

Natural fungi

Malassezia is found on human skin, mammal fur and many other surfaces of nature. In itself, this yeast is harmless. Few people know that our bodies are actually covered in many different species of microbes, while many other live inside our digestive system and other parts of our bodies. While some of them usually have no effect on us at all, some others help with our metabolism, digestion or other natural processes.

Malassezia is a yeast that lives on our skin and feeds on fat. As fat is found in human sweat, our skin is a perfect environment for this fungus to grow. When sweating intensifies, which happens in hot and humid weather, these fungi have more food and their colonies grow bigger. When this yeast spreads out of control, it affects our skin by creating patches of depigmentation that become more noticeable after sun exposure - thus leading to the wrong asumption that sunlight is what causes these patches. However, these spots, that can be white, red or light brown, respond to versicolor condition is caused by overgrowth of Malassezia yeasts.

As Malassezia grows better on sweaty skin, Pityriasis Versicolor, a surprising Summer Skin Problem, is more common in humid environments such as the tropics. This condition is benign and not contagious. It can be recurring or ocasional. If versicolor persists and becomes more severe, the massive overgrowth of the yeast could lead to a fungi infection. A doctor will prescribe antifungal medication, which has high rate of success.

A lot of other plaques on the cheeks, scalp, hands or legs should not be assumed as fungal infections in adulthood, since after puberty those parts of the body are not so suitable for fungi to grow. Eczemas or other pathologies should be taken into consideration as first probable diagnoses.

Treatment of tinea versicolor

There are two things that you must take on account before getting treatment for tinea versicolor. First of all, the condition itself isn't dangerous. It's mostly - or completely - aesthetical. In some cases, tinea versicolor can mildly itch, while in other cases the only symptom is the light spots on the skin. The only actual risk of this condition is that it worsens so much that the fungi spread to your bloodstream and becomes an actual infection. People whose immune system has been affected by another condition are especially vulnerable to this.

The second thing that you must bear in mind is that, whatever treatment you take, you must not erradicate the yeast from your skin. The microbes that live on and inside our bodies contribute to our health and metabolism in several ways, not all of them known by man. Removing these yeast populations may cause other sorts of skin conditions. Therefore, what you need to do so your condition gets better is not to eliminate the fungus, but to control its growt so it doesn't affect the colour of your skin.

There are antifungal creams that you can use for this purpose. Also, some shampoos and body soaps have chemical products that help control the growth of Malassezia. If the affected area is big, you could consider taking pills that will decrease the yeast expansion from the inside. Whatever measure you take, you should see a doctor before engaging in any sort of treatment. A specialist will evaualte your case and indicate the best solution.

 

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