Make the Diagnosis

Asymptomatic hypopigmented macules and patches

A 30-year-old woman with no significant past medical history presented with asymptomatic hypopigmented macules and patches on her back, bilateral shoulders, and inner thighs. The lesions have been present for months.

Make the diagnosis:


Hypopigmented mycosis fungoides

Hypopigmented tinea versicolor

Progressive macular hypomelanosis

Pityriasis alba

Tinea versicolor (TV), or pityriasis versicolor, is a noninflammatory, superficial cutaneous fungal infection caused by Malassezia furfur, also known as Pityrosporum orbiculare or P. ovale. In its hyphal form, it produces skin lesions that appear as scaly, round or oval, hypopigmented, hyperpigmented, or pink macules or patches. Lesions are asymptomatic. The condition is more commonly seen in warm climates or during the summer months. Malassezia requires an oily environment for growth. Typically, TV appears in sebum-producing areas on the trunk. However, other sites may be affected such as the scalp, groin, and flexural areas. Infants may have facial lesions. Hypopigmentation may persist for months, even after lesions are treated, and takes time to resolve.

The differential diagnosis of hypopigmented lesions of tinea versicolor includes vitiligo, hypopigmented mycosis fungoides, progressive macular hypomelanosis (PMH), secondary syphilis, and pityriasis alba. Potassium hydroxide (KOH) preparations can be performed in the office for TV to reveal short, thick fungal hyphae with multiple spores, often referred to as “spaghetti and meatballs.” Use of a Wood’s light may aid in diagnosis. In TV, lesions may fluoresce yellow-green in adjacent follicles, unlike PMH, which characteristically show orange-red follicular fluorescence. A skin biopsy is necessary to rule out hypopgimented mycosis fungoides or syphilis. Histologically in TV, hyphae and spores will be present in the stratum corneum or in hair follicles. These are readily seen with PAS or GMS (Grocott methenamine silver) stains. There is usually no inflammation and skin appears “normal.” A biopsy was performed in this patient that revealed PAS positive hyphae.

Treatment for TV can be topical or systemic. Antifungal azole shampoo or creams, selenium sulfide shampoo, sulfur preparations, and allylamine creams have all been reported as useful treatments. Oral itraconazole or fluconazole are often given as systemic treatments. Monthly or weekly topical therapy may help prevent relapse.

Dr. Bilu Martin

This case and the photos were provided by Dr. Bilu Martin.

Dr. Bilu Martin is a board-certified dermatologist in private practice at Premier Dermatology, MD, in Aventura, Fla. More diagnostic cases are available at To submit a case for possible publication, send an email to [email protected].

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