Seborrheic Dermatitis

What is Seborrheic Dermatitis?

Seborrheic dermatitis is a very common and relatively harmless condition. This condition affects the scalp and creates scaly patches of red skin, and stubborn dandruff. Even though most people who suffer from seborrheic dermatitis only have symptoms on their scalp; however, it can affect pretty much any area of the body that is oily, including the back, chest, and face.

This condition does not have a negative impact on your overall health. However, it can be uncomfortable, and the lack of community understanding can make the appearance of the condition embarrassing.

The most important thing to note is that the condition is not contagious. Also, it has nothing to do with hygiene either. It is however a long term condition that will require several treatments from your doctor before the symptoms and flaky skin go away.

Even though the treatment is effective over time, there is no guarantee that it will not come back at a later date. As you learn how your condition works, you will learn to manage the symptoms by using a mixture of self-care and prescription medications.

This condition is also commonly referred to under other names, including:

  • Seborrheic dermatitis
  • Dandruff
  • Seborrheic eczema
  • Seborrheic psoriasis.
  • Cradle cap in infants

What are the Symptoms of Seborrheic Dermatitis?

Symptoms for seborrheic dermatitis includes a wide range of symptoms. While they are not a serious medical problem, they are an inconvenience for the person suffering from it.

The symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis include:

  • Flaky skin on the scalp, eyebrows, hair, beard, or mustache
  • Patches of skin that feel greasy with white flakes, or possibly yellow scales. These can develop on the face, ears, scalp, scrotum, under arms, and chest.
  • Reddish skin
  • Redness from skin crusting on the eyebrows

Seborrheic Dermatitis Causes

There are a variety of factors that may lead to the development of seborrheic dermatitis. The most common cause is an excessive amount of oil in the skin. The skin produces too much sebum causing the redness, itching, and flaking that is associated with the condition. Sometimes, a yeast that occurs naturally in the skin grows rapidly in this sebum, exacerbating the condition.

People with certain medical conditions are prone to develop seborrheic dermatitis. The majority of those who contract HIV will at some time develop the problem. Also, people who have acne or psoriasis often also have seborrheic dermatitis. Seborrheic dermatitis has also been known to occur frequently in those recovering from a stroke and in those with a history of epileptic seizures.

Being obese and perspiring heavily are also contributing factors in the development of seborrheic dermatitis. While not necessarily a direct cause, it does exacerbate the problem.

Certain medications have seborrheic dermatitis as a possible side effect. Those using Interferon, lithium or psoralens should watch for the development of seborrheic dermatitis while taking these medications.

Those under a great deal of stress and those who live in cold and dry places also see a high occurrence of seborrheic dermatitis.

How is Seborrheic Dermatitis Treated?

The most frequently recommended treatment for this condition is medicated shampoos. Head and Shoulders is the most frequently recommended by dermatologists throughout the United States.

If you find that over-the counter medicated shampoos do not achieve the desired results, your doctor can write you a prescription for one that has more medication in it.

Other options are:

  • Creams
  • Ointments
  • Antifungal shampoos
  • Antifungal prescription pill
  • Immune suppressant prescription medication
  • Prescription creams or gels that fight bacteria
  • Light therapy combined with medication

Seborrheic Dermatitis Prevention

The key to preventing seborrheic dermatitis is to as far as possible avoid what triggers the condition. Oily skin is a causative factor, so the use of dandruff shampoos will help to prevent outbreaks of seborrheic dermatitis.

Stress is another causative factor, so limiting stress will help limit occurrences. It may be necessary to seek help in reducing stress if it is exceptionally problematic.

Those who are obese should work at weight reduction. This will also help to reduce the excessive perspiration that often triggers a seborrheic dermatitis episode.

Those who are currently taking the drugs known to cause seborrheic dermatitis as a side effect may need to consult with their healthcare provider to see if switching to a different medication is possible.

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Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
April 03, 2018