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Seborrheic Dermatitis

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Seborrheic Dermatitis



Seborrheic dermatitis is a red, swollen, and scaly rash on the skin. The skin may also be itchy. It is common on the scalp, ears, eyebrows, face, eyelids, chest, back, armpits, and genitals.

Dandruff is a type of seborrheic dermatitis where there is a scaling of the skin on the scalp.

The condition tends to be long-term. Treatment can manage flare-ups of symptoms.

Seborrheic Dermatitis.

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The exact cause is not known. Common skin yeast organisms or genetics may play a role.

Risk Factors

This problem is more common in men. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • A weak immune system due to things like HIV infection or a recent organ transplant
  • Chronic health problems, such as hepatitis C
  • Genetic diseases, such as Down syndrome
  • Deficiency of the mineral zinc
  • Stress


Problems may be mild to severe. Symptoms may also come and go over time.

The skin may have:

  • Patchy scales that may look greasy or moist
  • Yellow to white scales that flake off
  • Redness
  • Itching and burning
  • Small pimples on the nose, eyebrows, chest, back, arm pits, or genitals

Newborns may have a thick, yellow, crusted scalp rash. This is known as cradle cap.


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the rash. This is often enough to make the diagnosis. The person may be referred to a doctor who treats skin problems.


There is no cure for this condition. The rash may get better on its own in children. Baby shampoo, mineral oil, and anti-fungal shampoos can help.

In others, the goal of treatment is to manage symptoms. Options are:

  • Prescription or over-the-counter shampoos
  • Prescription or over-the-counter creams or lotions that contain:
    • Hydrocortisone or other cortisone (steroid) preparations
    • Antifungal medicines
    • Antibiotic medicine
    • Pimecrolimus or tacrolimus
    • Lithium salt


There are no known guidelines to prevent this health problem.





  • Ijaz N, Fitzgerald D. Seborrhoeic dermatitis. Br J Hosp Med (Lond). 2017;78(6):C88-C91.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis: overview. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/scaly-skin/seborrheic-dermatitis.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis in children and adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/seborrheic-dermatitis-in-children-and-adults.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis in infants. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/seborrheic-dermatitis-in-infants.
  • 3/12/2018 DynaMed Systematic Literature Surveillance https://www.dynamed.com/condition/seborrheic-dermatitis-in-children-and-adults: Karakadze MA, Hirt PA, et al. The genetic basis of seborrhoeic dermatitis: a review. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2017 Nov 20.


  • Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.