Skin Deep

Getting rid of white spots on your skin

What are those white spots that appear after being out in the sun?

Although there are several things that can cause the white spots on the skin, odds are it’s a fungus known as “tinea versicolor.’’ But don’t worry, it’s a lot less scary than it sounds.

We all have yeast growing on our skin, but when you live in a hot, humid climate yeast tends to flourish, making this condition a lot more common. I see it at least once a week in my dermatology practice. These speckled patches are often flaky or scaly (and possibly itchy), and are often misdiagnosed as dry skin. Sun exposure makes the spots more noticeable, and they often fade as your suntan does. Why? Because the fungus acts like a sunscreen and prevents darkening of affected skin.

First and foremost, tinea versicolor is not contagious. Everyone is exposed, but dermatologists aren’t sure why some people get it and some don't. We do know that healthy people of all skin colors and types can get it, but it is more noticeable on darker skin types. In some cases the patches are dark instead of light. This versatility of the color gives this disorder the name Tinea (which means “fungus”) versicolor. The fungus that causes tinea versicolor loves humidity, whether in the gym shower, at the gym or by the pool.

The good news is it’s easy to treat and even out the patches of skin discoloration. Over the counter, look for creams that contain sulfur or selenium. You can find sulfur in soaps sold by your dermatologist for $12 or less, and selenium is an ingredient in the dandruff shampoo, Selsun Blue. Simply apply it to your skin, leave it on for five to 10 minutes and then wash it off. Silver is also an effective ingredient for treating tinea versicolor. You can find silver in Element 47 Clearing Toner, which is available through select doctors’ offices.

The yeast that causes tinea versicolor is easy to kill within two weeks, however it can take weeks or months for your skin to return to its usual color. Wearing sunscreen and staying out of the sun helps improve the appearance of tinea versicolor after treating the fungus. If these do-it-yourself treatments don’t work within four weeks, ask your dermatologist for an oral anti-yeast medication prescription such as Diflucan, which is sure to do the trick.

Dr. Leslie Baumann is a board-certified dermatologist, New York Times best-selling author and CEO of Baumann Cosmetic & Research Institute in Miami.