Seborrheic Dermatitis

(Dandruff)

Definition

Seborrheic dermatitis is a red, swollen, and scaly rash on the skin. The skin may also be itchy. It is common on the scalp, ears, eyebrows, face, eyelids, chest, back, armpits, and genitals.

Dandruff is a type of seborrheic dermatitis where there is a scaling of the skin on the scalp.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

Nucleus factsheet image
© Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

The exact cause is not known. Common skin yeast organisms or genetics may play a role.

Risk Factors

This problem is more common in men. Other things that may raise the risk are:

Symptoms

Problems may be mild to severe. Symptoms may also come and go over time.

The skin may have:

  • Patchy scales that may look greasy or moist
  • Yellow to white scales that flake off
  • Redness
  • Itching and burning
  • Small pimples on the nose, eyebrows, chest, back, arm pits, or genitals

Newborns may have a thick, yellow, crusted scalp rash known as cradle cap.

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the rash. This is often enough to make the diagnosis. You may need to see a doctor who treats skin problems.

Treatment

There is no cure. The rash may get better on its own in children. Baby shampoo, mineral oil, and anti-fungal shampoos can help.

In others, the goal of treatment is to manage symptoms. Choices are:

  • Prescription or over the counter shampoos
  • Prescription or over the counter creams or lotions that contain:
    • Hydrocortisone or other cortisone (steroid) preparations
    • Antifungal medications
    • Antibiotic medication
    • Pimecrolimus or tacrolimus
    • Lithium salt

Prevention

There are no known guidelines to prevent this health problem.

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Dermatology
https://www.aad.org
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
https://familydoctor.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Dermatology Association
https://www.dermatology.ca

References:

Ijaz N, Fitzgerald D. Seborrhoeic dermatitis. Br J Hosp Med (Lond). 2017 Jun 2;78(6):C88-C91.
Seborrheic dermatitis: overview. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/scaly-skin/seborrheic-dermatitis. Accessed March 23, 2021.
Seborrheic dermatitis in children and adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/seborrheic-dermatitis-in-children-and-adults. Accessed March 23, 2021.
Seborrheic dermatitis in infants. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/seborrheic-dermatitis-in-infants. Accessed March 23, 2021.
3/12/2018 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance https://www.dynamed.com/condition/seborrheic-dermatitis-in-children-and-adults: Karakadze MA, Hirt PA, et al. The genetic basis of seborrhoeic dermatitis: a review. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2017 Nov 20.
Last reviewed December 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD
Last Updated: 03/23/2021

EBSCO Information Services is fully accredited by URAC. URAC is an independent, nonprofit health care accrediting organization dedicated to promoting health care quality through accreditation, certification and commendation.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

To send comments or feedback to our Editorial Team regarding the content please email us at healthlibrarysupport@ebsco.com. Our Health Library Support team will respond to your email request within 2 business days.