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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
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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

Health Canada
https://www.canada.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