What is Seborrheic Dermatitis?

Dr. Frank Litchenberger, MD, PhD and Practicing Allergist explains this condition.

Seborrheic dermatitis is a form of eczema that develops on oil-producing areas of the body, such as the scalp. It can range in severity from mild flaking (similar to dandruff) to thickened, crusty patches on the trunk of the body. Although mild seborrheic dermatitis on the scalp may look like dandruff, the two conditions are treated differently.

 The condition can affect anyone at any age, but it’s most common in newborns (called cradle cap) and adults 30 to 60 years old. It is unknown what causes seborrheic dermatitis, but genes, hormones and yeast that lives on the skin surface may all play a role.

“Although seborrheic dermatitis can be uncomfortable and unsightly, you don’t have to worry that it’s contagious,” said Dr. Frank Lichtenberger, M.D., Ph.D., medical director at AD RescueWear. “There are over-the-counter products you can try, but working with a doctor can help you find a treatment that clears it up faster.”

Eczema on the Scalp

While seborrheic dermatitis is commonly found on the scalp, it’s not the same as dandruff or a dry scalp that flakes.

 Its symptoms include:

  • White or yellowish flakes
  • A crusty, scaly appearance
  • Redness under or around the scaly area
  • Thickening skin
  • Itching or burning

It can also appear in other places, such as:

  • Ears
  • Upper chest
  • Upper back
  • Armpits
  • Genitals
  • Face
    • Around the nose
    • Along the hairline
    • Forehead
    • Eyelids

What Triggers Seborrheic Dermatitis?

Like other forms of eczema, seborrheic dermatitis tends to come and go. Flare-ups aren’t related to allergies or an allergic response, but may be triggered by:

  • Stress
  • Hormonal changes
  • Cold and dry weather conditions
  • Use of certain detergents and soaps
  • Some medications

Seborrheic Dermatitis Treatment

Cradle cap in babies usually goes away on its own, but talk to your pediatrician if you’re concerned. Use mittens or a bodysuit with fold-over hand covers, like our medical bodysuit for babies with eczema, until the condition resolves. This prevents your child from scratching and making it worse.

For adults, a dermatologist can assess your condition, rule out other potential causes and recommend treatment options. Treatments work to reduce inflammation, irritation and scaling. For mild cases, treatment may include an over-the-counter medicated shampoo or antifungal cream (or a combination of products). More severe cases may require prescription medications.

Wondering if you have dandruff or eczema on your scalp? Your best bet is to see a doctor for a medical evaluation.

NOTE: This content is for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as a substitute for a consultation, diagnosis and/or medical treatment by a healthcare provider.

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