This summer, I’ve spent more time outside in the sun, and I’ve noticed a bunch of little white spots appearing on my chest and back. What is this, and how can I treat it?--N.C. Orlando, FL
Answer: It sounds like you may have “sun fungus” or Tinea versicolor, a fungal infection that occurs on the outer layers of the skin. It’s an external manifestation of too much yeast in the body that feed on your dead skin cells and skin oils. The yeast called Malassezia globosa causes it, and is usually found on our skin, but it grows in excess in certain conditions and may be triggered by sunny, hot humid environments (you’re from Florida). Sorry to say, it’s generally a recurring condition. Tinea versicolor doesn’t develop as a result of sun exposure, but the difference in pigmentation can become more obvious after you’ve begun tanning.
As a pharmacist for 23 years, I’ve recommended my share of topical ointments. Luckily, they don’t smell bad, so it could definitely be worse! Try to find a cream that contains clotrimazole or miconazole since these are very strong anti-fungal agents. These anti-fungal creams are sold at your local pharmacy. Some dermatologists recommend using a dandruff shampoo containing selenium sulfide (Selsun Blue) and applying it to your skin. You can try this by applying it twice daily for a week or two and re-evaluate after that. Although topical creams and ointments are usually quite effective and safe, the fungus grows from the inside of the body out. Because of this, there are major factors in your diet and lifestyle that must be addressed to keep the skin condition from recurring.
This type of infection (and all fungus-related ones) thrive by you eating sugar, starch and yeasts-containing foods. Therefore, avoid eating anything like this, such as all sweeteners (including the artificial ones), fruits, jams, bread, alcohol, as well as other foods that don’t necessarily have a high sugar content, but may make your condition worse. I’m thinking vinegar, baked goodies, and nuts. Hey, for some of you, the skin condition gives you more incentive to start that new diet you’ve been itching to try! Stick to the veggies, grass-fed meats, eggs, olive, coconut or grape seed oil and whole grain pastas (if you eat grains). Don’t forget to supplement with high-quality probiotics and other anti-fungal foods and spices (garlic, turmeric, oregano and grapefruit.)
You can also take a skin-soothing bath. A great combination is Epsom salts combined with some baking soda, lemon juice, a few drops of tea tree and clary sage essential oil and some dandruff shampoo. The ratios don’t matter much. Keep your skin as clean and dry as possible, and wash your clothing and linens regularly in gentle detergents. No dryer sheets. The best approach uses multiple treatments, with a strong focus on a good diet, free of refined or junk foods with probiotics, digestive enzymes and antioxidants.