Health Library

Seborrheic Dermatitis

What is seborrheic dermatitis?

Seborrheic dermatitis is an inflammation of the upper layers of skin, characterized by red, itchy skin that sheds scales. Seborrheic dermatitis may be a hereditary condition. It is often aggravated by hormonal changes and cold weather conditions.

Seborrheic dermatitis is most common during:

  • Infancy. In infants, the condition is also called cradle cap, because of its characteristic scaly appearance on the scalp. However, cradle cap can also happen in the diaper area. Seborrheic dermatitis in this age group usually clears up on its own within the first year.

  • Middle age. When seborrheic dermatitis happens at this age, the condition is usually more intermittent and called dandruff.

  • Old age. When seborrheic dermatitis happens at this age, the condition is usually more intermittent. It becomes less common after 60 years of age.

People with oily skin or hair are also more at risk for developing seborrheic dermatitis.

What are the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis?

The following are some of the other symptoms associated with seborrheic dermatitis. However, each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Itching scalp

  • Dry or greasy scales on the scalp

  • A yellow or red scaly rash along the hairline, behind the ears, in the ear canal, on the eyebrows, around the nose, in creases on the arms, legs, or groin, and/or on the chest.

The symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis may resemble other skin conditions. Always talk with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is seborrheic dermatitis diagnosed?

A complete medical history and physical exam helps the healthcare provider in diagnosing seborrheic dermatitis.

Treatment for seborrheic dermatitis

Specific treatment for seborrheic dermatitis will be discussed with you by your healthcare provider based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the condition

  • Your tolerance for specific medicines, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the condition

  • Your opinion or preference

Although the condition responds to treatment, it may happen again. Treatment depends on the inflammation's location. It is usually effective in relieving symptoms. Treatments may include:

  • Antiinflammatory creams or lotions, such as corticosteroids or calcineurin inhibitors 

  • Antifungal topicals

  • Over-the-counter dandruff shampoos 

  • Medicated shampoo for adults, as prescribed by your healthcare provider