Seborrheic Dermatitis

If you have that dry itchy red rash on your scalp that has flaky scales, it could be seborrheic dermatitis, or also called seborrheic eczema or seborrhea. It is a very common skin condition that causes your skin to become red with flaky patches that resembles dandruff. It usually affects the scalp, but can also develop on your face, upper chest, and back. When infants experience this condition, it is usually called crib cap. Crib cap gradually disappears over several weeks or months.

Seborrheic dermatitis is not contagious. It is also not curable, but can be managed.


According to a report published in the medical journal, American Family Physician, seborrheic dermatitis is prevalent in 1-3 percent of the population. While the causes of seborrheic dermatitis are unknown, the following are potential triggers:

  • Stress
  • Genes
  • Excessive yeast on the skin
  • Other medical conditions
  • Cold, dry weather

Certain medical conditions can increase the risk for seborrheic dermatitis. These include:

  • Chronic acne
  • Alcoholism
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Psoriasis
  • Rosacea

Other factors to increase risk include obesity, fatigue, poor skin care, use of skin care products that contain alcohol.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The types of symptoms that develop can vary from person to person and can possibly appear in different parts of the body

  • Dandruff or flaking skin on the scalp, hair, beard, mustache, or eyebrows
  • Itchy skin
  • Greasy skin patches
  • Red, inflamed skin

To diagnose seborrheic rosacea, the doctor usually performs a physical examination, carefully inspecting the affected areas. Doctors also perform a biopsy, and will scrape off skin cells from the affected area for laboratory analysis. This will help to rule out other conditions that may be causing the symptoms.

Managing your symptoms

Seborrheic dermatitis will sometimes clear up by itself, but it can be controlled with good skin care. Keep affected areas clean by washing with hypoallergenic soap and water everyday. Getting plenty of sunlight can also prevent growth of yeast that inflames the skin. Adults with seborrheic dermatitis may also use over-the-counter dandruff shampoos and antifungal itch creams.

For infants with crib cap, medical treatment isn’t actually required. However, it is difficult to loosen and wash off scales, so it is recommended to massage baby’s scalp with olive oil before shampooing with a mild shampoo. After rinsing thoroughly, brush baby’s hair with a clean soft-bristled brush.

When to see your doctor

Work with your doctor if your seborrheic dermatitis does not get better or if the area becomes painful, red, swollen, or if it starts to drain pus. It is still recommended to see your doctor at the first sign of symptoms.

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