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Seborrheic Dermatitis

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Nov 5, 2023.

What is seborrheic dermatitis?

Seborrheic dermatitis is a skin condition that causes a rash and flaking, scaling skin. The condition usually affects hairy areas of the body, such as the scalp. Your face, eyebrows, ears, chest, groin, or back may be affected. Seborrheic dermatitis can happen at any age. The condition often goes away on its own in infants, but it may return during adolescence. Seborrheic dermatitis may be caused by a fungal infection, immune system problems, or hormone changes.

What are the signs and symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis?

You may have symptoms during the winter but not during the summer. Stress or a lack of sleep can make your symptoms worse. You may have any of the following:

  • Skin flakes, or red, itching, or stinging skin
  • Scaly patches (scales) of skin that are also greasy
  • White or yellow crust on the skin or eyelids
  • Scaling on the scalp commonly known as dandruff

What increases my risk for seborrheic dermatitis?

  • HIV or AIDS, alcoholic pancreatitis, hepatitis, or cancer
  • Parkinson disease or another nerve disorder
  • A genetic disorder such as Down syndrome
  • Being male

How is seborrheic dermatitis diagnosed and treated?

Your healthcare provider may know you have seborrheic dermatitis by looking at your skin. He or she may test a skin sample. Treatment for seborrheic dermatitis may not be needed. The following are commonly used when seborrheic dermatitis needs to be treated:

  • Medicines may be given to treat a fungal or bacterial infection. You may also need a steroid medicine. You may be given these medicines in pill form or in a cream to apply to your skin.
  • Dandruff shampoo may help control symptoms. The shampoo may be used on your scalp and hair, and also on your skin. Your healthcare provider may recommend that you start with a mild dandruff shampoo. You may need to use a stronger shampoo or alternate shampoos if your symptoms do not improve. Ask which kind is right for your hair. Some shampoos used to manage seborrheic dermatitis contain coal tar or other ingredients that may discolor light hair.
  • Light therapy may be used if other treatments do not work. You will receive a medicine to make your skin more sensitive to light. Then your skin will be put under an ultraviolet light. The light helps control skin growth.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

What can I do to manage seborrheic dermatitis?

  • Wash your skin and hair often. Your healthcare provider can tell you how often to wash. You may need to wash your hair every day or two, or once per week, depending on the kind of hair you have. Apply a gentle moisturizer to your skin after you wash. Use mild soaps and moisturizers. Do not use any product that contains alcohol. Alcohol can dry your skin and make your symptoms worse.
  • Protect your scalp if you use coal tar shampoo. Coal tar shampoo can make your skin more sensitive to light. Wear a hat when you are outside. Do not use tanning beds or sun lamps.
  • Remove scales after you soften them. Do not pull on the scales. This can spread infection and may cause hair loss. Apply mineral oil or olive oil to the skin and let it sit for 1 hour. Then use a soft-bristled brush to remove the scales or shampoo your hair.
  • Clean your eyelids, if needed. Use baby shampoo to wash your eyelids every night. Use a cotton swab to remove scales. A warm compress may also help control symptoms. To make a warm compress, soak a soft washcloth in warm water. Wring out the extra water and apply the cloth to your eyelid for a few minutes.
  • Consider shaving off your beard or mustache. Your symptoms may be worse under your beard or mustache. Shaving may help reduce your symptoms and prevent them from returning in this area.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have new or worsening symptoms.
  • Your symptoms make it difficult for you to do your daily activities.
  • Your symptoms do not improve even after treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Learn more about Seborrheic Dermatitis

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Symptoms and treatments

Further information

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