Seborrheic dermatitis (seb-o-REE-ik der-muh-TI-tis) is a common skin disorder that mainly affects your scalp, causing scaly, itchy, red skin and stubborn dandruff. In infants, seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp is known as cradle cap. Seborrheic dermatitis can also affect your face, upper chest, back and other areas of your body that have many oil (sebaceous) glands.
Seborrheic dermatitis doesn't affect your overall health, but it can be uncomfortable and cause embarrassment when it develops on visible parts of your body. It isn't contagious, and it's not a sign of poor personal hygiene. Seborrheic dermatitis tends to recur, but you may be able to manage flare-ups by recognizing its signs and symptoms and by using a combination of self-care steps and over-the-counter (nonprescription) medications.
Seborrheic dermatitis on the face
Seborrheic dermatitis causes a red rash with yellowish and somewhat "oily" scales. In addition to the scalp, seborrheic dermatitis can occur on the sides of the nose, in and between the ...
Common signs and symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis include:
Seborrheic dermatitis most often affects your scalp, but it can occur between skin folds and on skin rich in oil glands. It can develop in and between your eyebrows, on the sides of your nose and behind your ears, over your breastbone, in your groin area, and sometimes in your armpits. In most people, it's a chronic condition. You'll likely experience periods when your signs and symptoms improve alternating with times when they worsen.
In infants, seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp is known as cradle cap. The patches may be thick, yellow, crusty or greasy. In babies with cradle cap, the face and diaper area may also be affected. In most babies, seborrheic dermatitis clears up by age 1.
When to see a doctor
Seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp
Seborrheic dermatitis is a common skin disorder that mainly affects the scalp, causing itchy, yellow or white patchy scales or thick crusts that may attach to the hair shaft, as seen in the lower ...
Cradle cap on light skin
Cradle cap is characterized by scaly patches on a baby's scalp. You may notice thick, yellow patches of skin. The patches may be crusty or greasy. ...
Doctors don't yet know the cause of seborrheic dermatitis. Factors that may play a role include:
Preparing for your appointment
You'll probably first visit your primary care doctor. He or she may refer you to a doctor who specializes in skin disorders (dermatologist).
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and know what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions ahead of time may help you make the most of your time together. For seborrheic dermatitis, some basic questions you might want to ask include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment if you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
Tests and diagnosis
Doctors usually diagnose seborrheic dermatitis by taking a thorough medical history, listening carefully to what you say about your symptoms and examining the skin areas that are troubling you.
Steps to diagnosis include:
Conditions with some symptoms similar to seborrheic dermatitis include:
Treatments and drugs
Seborrheic dermatitis tends to be chronic, and there's usually no strategy that stops it permanently. But treatments — including many you can try at home — may control your signs and symptoms during a flare-up. The best approach for you depends on your skin type, the severity of your condition, and whether your symptoms affect your scalp or other areas of your body.
Creams and lotions that you apply to affected body areas and medicated shampoos are all mainstays of treatment. In very severe cases, physicians may prescribe oral medications with whole-body effects. Products are available with several kinds of active ingredients. Some preparations include active ingredients from more than one category.
Examples of corticosteroids include:
Calcineurin inhibitors include:
Other shampoo ingredients
It's important to use treatments for seborrheic dermatitis exactly as the package directs or as your physician prescribes. If one type of shampoo works for a time and then seems to lose its effectiveness, try alternating between two types. Be sure to leave your shampoo on for the full recommended time — this allows its ingredients time to work.
If you've shampooed faithfully for several weeks and you're still experiencing an itchy, flaky scalp, talk to your doctor. You may need a prescription-strength shampoo or lotion.
Lifestyle and home remedies
The following over-the-counter treatments and self-care tips can help you control and manage seborrheic dermatitis.
If the scales don't loosen easily, rub a few drops of mineral oil or olive oil onto your baby's scalp. Let the oil soak into the scales for a few minutes, and then brush and shampoo your baby's hair as usual.
If cradle cap persists or seems severe, your doctor may suggest a medicated shampoo, lotion or other treatment.
One theory about why Malassezia yeast may be a factor in seborrheic dermatitis is that the yeast's own life processes change the balance of oils on your skin. In susceptible people, this may trigger a reaction. There's some evidence — although nothing's been proved — that applying certain oils that make your skin softer and more supple (emollients) may offer some relief.
Tea tree oil
Fish oil supplements
It's always a good idea to check with your doctor before adding any alternative treatment to your health management strategies.
Last Updated: 2011-06-16
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