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Seborrheic Dermatitis – Types, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

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Dermatitis is a skin condition that is characterized by dryness and inflammation. Seborrheic dermatitis is a commonly occurring condition of the scalp characterized by scaly, red patches, and stubborn dandruff. Not just your scalp, but this condition can affect other parts of your body where the skin tends to get oily such as your eyebrows, face, chest, eyelids, etc. 

This skin condition is also called seborrheic eczema, dandruff, or seborrheic psoriasis. Seborrheic dermatitis is mainly found in adults, but it can cause crusting on the skin or scaly patches in infants. In some cases, the condition resolves by itself, but medical treatment is required in most cases. 

About Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis affects about 3-5 % of the world’s population and is a commonly encountered skin condition at a dermatologist’s office. Common dandruff is the mildest form of Seborrheic dermatitis, and about 15-20% of the world’s population suffers from it.

What are the Types?

Based on the age of onset, Seborrheic dermatitis is of two types– infantile and adult.

  • Infantile Seborrheic dermatitis: This condition causes a red rash that spreads in the baby’s armpits and groin area. The scaly patches are salmon pink in color and tend to peel away. Infantile seborrheic dermatitis rash is not itchy and, therefore, doesn’t disturb the baby. The condition causes a ‘cradle cap’ characterized by a diffuse, greasy rash on the infant’s scalp.
  • Adult Seborrheic dermatitis: This type of dermatitis occurs in adults and particularly on the scalp, and in areas of folds on the skin prone to sweat and oil. There are some typical features of the condition that are commonly seen. These include – 
    • Diffused scaly, red patches on the scalp, face, upper chest, groin, hairline, etc. 
    • Scaly red eyelid margins, a combination of dry and oily skin, infected boils around hair follicles (a condition called folliculitis) that are more superficial on the arms, trunk, legs, and minimal itch most of the time.

What are the Symptoms of Seborrheic Dermatitis?

Commonly observed signs and symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis that you should pay attention to are::

  • Scaly patches on the scalp
  • Dandruff on the scalp, hair, eyelashes, eyebrows
  • Diffuse patches of oily or greasy skin covered by whitish-yellow flaky scales on the scalp, face, eyelids, eyebrows, chest, armpits, groin, etc.,
  • Itching
  • Redness and inflammation on the skin in certain areas

When to See a Doctor?

Though seborrheic dermatitis is not as itchy as eczema and psoriatic lesions, it can be uncomfortable. You might have to visit your dermatologist if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • The itch of the seborrheic dermatitis patches is unbearable, and you are losing sleep due to it.
  • The lesions on the scalp and other areas of your body are causing you anxiety and embarrassment.
  • Self-care tips are not effective so far.
  • You feel pus-like fluid oozing from the affected region that may be an indicator of an infection.

What are the Complications of Seborrheic Dermatitis?

Seborrheic dermatitis usually occurs in healthy individuals and doesn’t cause any life-threatening complications to the patient. 

What are the Causes of Seborrheic Dermatitis?

There isn’t a particular cause for Seborrheic dermatitis. However, it is said to result from either of the two below reasons:

  • Malassezia, a fungus that is present in the oil secretion of the skin
  • An erratic response of the immune system

What are the Risk Factors for Seborrheic Dermatitis?

Though there is no specific cause for Seborrheic dermatitis, there are a few factors that increase one’s risk of developing the condition. These include–

  • Individuals who suffer from depression or Parkinson’s
  • Individuals recovering from a heart attack or other similar stressful medical conditions
  • People who are under chronic stress
  • Individuals with a weak immune system
  • As a result of certain medications

How to Cure your Seborrheic Dermatitis?

Though for some people, Seborrheic dermatitis resolves its own, many people require medical intervention that includes using topical applications and taking medicines. 

Some commonly used medications for seborrheic dermatitis include:

  • Topical creams, ointments, and shampoos: Many of these are prescription drugs and contain hydrocortisone, clobetasol, desonide, and other corticosteroids. These need to be used based on your doctor’s prescription in the recommended dosage. When corticosteroid formulations are used continuously without a break, they can cause side effects, and therefore, you must take precautions.

In some cases, topical creams and formulations containing calcineurin inhibitors tacrolimus and pimecrolimus may be effective and cause lesser side effects than corticosteroids. However, due to concerns about their cancer-causing possibility, these drugs are not used as the first-line of drugs.

  • Antifungal topical applications are useful for Seborrheic dermatitis. The type of antifungal chosen depends upon the severity of your condition and the affected area. The most commonly used drugs for this include 2% ketoconazole or 1% ciclopirox. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe both these drugs alternately.
  • If a topical application and other drugs are not effective,  the patient is recommended medication in the form of oral pills. They are usually not the first choice of treatment.

Lifestyle changes to cure seborrheic dermatitis

Along with the prescribed medications and topical application products, your doctor will advise some significant changes in your lifestyle, especially in your diet and the skin care products you use to relieve your Seborrheic dermatitis symptoms. These may include:

  • Washing your hair and scalp regularly.
  • Applying olive, jojoba, or other healthy oils on your scalp that help remove the scales
  • Avoid styling products of all types as they can aggravate Seborrheic dermatitis.
  • Use gentle skin and hair care products.

Prevention of Seborrheic Dermatitis

Like most skin conditions, there isn’t a specific cause of Seborrheic dermatitis. However, the best way to prevent a flare-up of the condition is to avoid any aggravating factors:

  • Avoid stress
  • Avoid any known allergens
  • Avoid woolens and stick to comfortable and breathable cotton clothes
  • Take your multivitamins


Seborrheic dermatitis is a commonly occurring condition that can be symptomatically managed to improve the patient’s quality of life. If you have any queries or would like to get a consultation for your Seborrheic dermatitis, 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are scalp psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis the same?

Scalp psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis are not the same conditions. Red skin covered with silvery-white flakes, patches that extend beyond the hairline, and itchiness are all characteristics of scalp psoriasis. However, characteristics of seborrheic dermatitis are reddish skin covered by yellow scales that have a greasy appearance, flakes that often stick to hair strands, and some instances of itching.

How is seborrheic dermatitis treated? 

Seborrheic dermatitis may not be entirely curable. However, treatments provided in these cases aim to relieve the symptoms of the patient using a topical application or oral pills. The treatment aims to convert an active flare-up into a remission stage.

What foods can trigger seborrheic dermatitis?

Certain foods can trigger a seborrheic dermatitis rash. Some of these include–

  • Dairy products
  • Eggs
  • Citrus fruits
  • Tomatoes
  • Soya
  • Spices like cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla
  • Nuts 

Can seborrheic dermatitis be cured permanently?

Unfortunately, no. Since seborrheic dermatitis is an autoimmune disease overlapped by a fungal infection, only the fungal infection is treatable. However, the treatments provided in this condition aim to convert the active state of the condition into remission.

Verified By Apollo Dermatologist
The content is carefully chosen and thoughtfully organized and verified by our panel expert dermatologists who have years of experience in their field. We aim to spread awareness to all those individuals who are curious and would like to know more about their skin and beauty
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