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Seborrheic Dermatitis

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Seborrheic Dermatitis

Condition Basics

What is seborrheic dermatitis?

Seborrheic dermatitis (say "seh-buh-REE-ick der-muh-TY-tus") is a skin condition that causes a rash with greasy, flaky skin patches. Dandruff is the most common and mild form of this condition. It often affects the scalp and face, especially near the eyebrows, nose, and mouth. The rash may also appear on other parts of the body, such as the ears, underarms, chest, and genital area.

In babies, this condition is called cradle cap, and it usually goes away on its own.

In teens and adults, seborrheic dermatitis is often a long-term (chronic) condition with symptoms that come and go. Stress can make symptoms worse. So can weather that's cold and dry.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include a rash with greasy, flaky skin patches. The rash may be itchy. The patches may look whitish. With lighter skin, the skin under the patches may look reddish. With darker skin, the skin may look darker or lighter than the usual skin color.

How is it diagnosed?

A doctor can usually diagnose this condition by looking at the rash and where it's located. You'll also be asked about your symptoms and past health. In rare cases, the doctor might take a skin sample (biopsy) to rule out other skin problems.

How is seborrheic dermatitis treated?

Your treatment will depend on where the rash is and how severe it is. Treatment doesn't cure seborrheic dermatitis, but it can help control the symptoms. If the rash made your skin lighter, this tends to go away with treatment. A doctor can help you make a plan to cope with this condition over time.

Seborrheic dermatitis in teens and adults is usually treated with antifungal shampoos and medicines that you put on your skin (topical medicines). In some cases, a doctor may prescribe a corticosteroid cream for short-term use. If topical medicines don't help, your doctor may prescribe other treatments, such as pills.

In babies, this condition is called cradle cap. It almost always goes away on its own by a baby's first birthday. But if you're concerned, your baby's doctor can suggest ways to care for it at home.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Be safe with medicines. If your doctor prescribes a skin cream, shampoo, or other medicine, use it as directed. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • If your scalp is affected and your doctor hasn't prescribed a dandruff shampoo, use an over-the-counter dandruff shampoo. You may need to try a few kinds of shampoo to find the one that works best for you.
  • Leave dandruff shampoo on your hair for 5 minutes before you rinse it off.
  • Ask your doctor how often to shampoo your hair. When you wash your hair, it might help to put the dandruff shampoo on your face and other affected areas.
  • If you have a beard or mustache, use dandruff shampoo on these areas. You might also consider shaving. Keeping the skin free of hair may reduce symptoms.
  • Don't use skin or hair products that contain olive oil.
  • Avoid putting pomades and oils on your scalp. If you use them, apply them to the hair shaft instead.
  • Try to identify and avoid things that make your symptoms worse. Examples include stress and cold, dry weather.
  • Ask your doctor about using the treatment after the rash has improved but using it less often. This may help keep the rash from coming back.

Related Information


Current as of: November 16, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

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