Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is a common skin disease that causes a red, scaly, itchy rash, most often in areas where the skin is oily, such as the scalp, ears, eyebrows, eyelids and upper chest, though other areas of the body may be involved.

The terms dandruff, seborrhrea and seborrheic dermatitis are sometimes used interchangeably but refer to different conditions. Dandruff causes scaling on the scalp but no redness. Seborrhea causes oily skin on the scalp and face without redness or scaling. Only seborrheic dermatitis involves all three symptoms.

Doctors believe a yeast-like organism that lives on the skin combined with excess oil production contributes to the development of seborrheic dermatitis. Immune system sensitivity also plays a role. The disease is not the result of poor hygiene.

Who is at risk?

Seborrheic dermatitis can affect people of any age, but occurs most often in infants and the elderly.

In infants is the condition, commonly called “cradle cap” and occurs mainly on the scalp. It usually clears without treatment before the baby’s first birthday. When seborrheic dermatitis appears in teens and adults, it tends to recur and can be lifelong, but is easily treated.

In adults, seborrheic dermatitis is more common in men than women. The following factors may also increase the risk of developing the condition:

  • A family history of the seborrheic dermatitis
  • Oily skin and hair
  • Acne or psoriasis
  • Parkinson’s disease or HIV (About 85 percent of people infected with HIV develop seborrheic dermatitis)
  • Alcoholism
  • Eating disorders
  • Winter weather

Diagnosis and Treatment

A dermatologist can diagnose seborrheic dermatitis by visually examining the rash. Rarely, lab tests may be ordered to rule out other skin conditions.

There is no way to prevent or cure seborrheic dermatitis, however treatment with can help control the condition and help speed improvement. Your dermatologist may recommend non-prescription or prescription medications depending on the severity of the condition.

In infants with cradle cap, gentle shampooing with a mild shampoo is recommended sometime along with a cream or lotion containing a low-dose corticosteroid or anti-fungal medication.

For adults, medicated shampoos and/or a prescription-strength corticosteroid may be recommended. Due to the risk of side effects, patients using strong corticosteroids should follow their dermatologist’s directions for use carefully.

Your dermatologist may also prescribe an anti-fungal instead of, or combined with, the corticosteroid. A recently available non-steroidal, non-antifungal barrier cream is another option for treatment.

For the best outcome in controlling seborrheic dermatitis, consult your dermatologist who can recommend a treatment plan that is best for you.