The Sun Spot…

The weather here in California this past weekend was phenomenal!! High of 74 with not a cloud in the sky- simply lovely. 🙂

My husband and I decided to take full advantage- we fired up the grill, filled up Cohen’s kiddie pool, and applied our sunblock (of course).Vitamin D for the soul, as I call it, and a little color for the skin- it was a fabulous day in the sunshine, to say the least.

As I sat on my beach chair enjoying the warmth of the sun and watching Cohen play, it got me thinking that soon most of us will be basking in the sunshine more frequently as we’re quickly approaching summer and that, for many, pesky sun spots will be re-appearing or in some cases, making their debut.

The term sun spots will mean different things to different people, but I’m not talking about ‘age spots’ (dark colored patches seen most often on the hands)- I’m talking about a skin fungus.

Tinea Versicolor is a fungal infection of the skin that inhibits the production of melanin (the cells that produce the color in our skin). At first glance, it appears like superficial hypopigmentation- white spots or patches. The culprit is a type of yeast that has overgrown on the skin, and is now a fungal infection. This yeast lives on everybody’s skin, why it overgrows in some individuals and not others is unknown.

Is it contagious?

While it may look unfriendly, sun spots are not contagious- from person to person. What’s more, it’s actually the most common skin disease among tropical and subtropical areas in the world. This is because, like all fungus, it thrives in warm, moist environments. This does not mean however, that people who live in non-tropical areas are not susceptible to the condition. Individuals in these climates may see the ‘spots’ disappear during dry, cooler months of the year- only to reappear once they are back in the sun again. That being said, tanning beds are breading grounds for fungus and bacteria of all kinds, and it is not impossible that under the right conditions you could contract it in this way. I recommend also being weary of community beach and pool chairs- make sure your towel covers well and your skin doesn’t come into contact with the chair.

What causes it?

The following factors may cause the yeast to overgrow:

  • Hot, humid weather
  • Oily Skin
  • Excessive Sweating
  • Weakened Immune System

How do I treat it?

There are a few treatment options available for the treatment of tinea versicolor. In the early stages, I have actually seen some great improvement using Selsun Blue shampoo on the skin, twice a day. As always, check with your Dermatologist first.

  • Topical Medications/Cleansers: Anti-fungal soap, creams, and lotions that can keep the yeast under control. The active ingredient in these forms is typically selenium sulfide.
  • Anti-fungal Oral Medication: In cases where tinea versicolor covers large areas of the body or returns after topical treatments, a Dermatologist may prescribe oral medication (pills). Anti-fungal pills can cause a variety of side effects and, in my opinion, should only be used as a last resort- after all, sun spots are not contagious or harmful to your heath, they just aren’t pretty.
  • Medicated Cleansers: This method is best for keeping the growth of yeast under control.

Luckily, the yeast that causes sun spots is easy to kill, and while they have been termed ‘sun spots’ they really don’t have anything to do with the sun. That term was possibly coined because even though the fungus may be active year round, its not until the skin is exposed to the sun that the skin around the affected area becomes tan and the area that is affected stays white (light).

After treatment, because tinea versicolor can return, it is best to use a medicated cleanser to prevent the yeast from overgrowing when encountering warm, humid conditions.


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