Seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic skin condition that causes a scaly, itchy rash. It can appear as a mild, white scaling or a yellowish greasy or reddish scaly rash. Most commonly affected areas are along the hairline, in and behind the ears, on the eyebrows, around the nose, and on the chest.
Dandruff is a type of seborrheic dermatitis where there is a scaling of the skin on the scalp. The area can be dry or oily and is sometimes itchy.
The exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis is unknown, though common skin yeast organisms, called Malassezia, may play a role in some people.
Risk factors include having:
The symptoms can vary from mild to severe. They include:
In babies less than one month old, seborrheic dermatitis may cause a thick, yellow, crusted scalp rash known as "cradle cap."
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam. You may be referred to a doctor who specializes in skin disorders (a dermatologist).
Treatments for seborrheic dermatitis are usually applied directly to the skin in the form of shampoo or lotion. Treatment depends on the severity of your symptoms.
There are many products to treat dandruff. Examples include:
A variety of treatments are used for seborrheic dermatitis, such as:
Treatment can take several weeks or months and may need to be repeated if the condition recurs.
There are no guidelines for preventing seborrheic dermatitis because the cause is unknown. If you have seborrheic dermatitis, following treatment guidelines may help prevent a recurrence.
American Academy of Dermatology
Canadian Dermatology Association
American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: http://www.aad.org . Accessed July 9, 2009.
Common problems: skin, hair, and nails. Mayo Clinic Guide to Self-Care. 2005; 117-132. EBSCO Consumer Health Complete website. Available at: http://search.ebsc... . Accessed January 11, 2011.
Cunha PR. Pimecrolimus cream 1% is effective in seborrhoeic dermatitis refractory to treatment with topical corticosteroids. Acta Derm Venereol . 2006;86:69-70.
Schwartz RA, Janusz CA, Janniger CK. Seborrheic dermatitis: an overview. Am Fam Physician . 2006;74:125-130.
Last reviewed September 2012 by Purvee S. Shah, MD