Seborrheic Dermatitis is a common condition that affects the skin on your scalp. In babies, it is known as “cradle cap,” but it can also affect adults. It causes an itchy, scaly rash and dandruff. This condition affects oily areas of the body, such as the face and eyebrows, ears, eyelids, chest and back.


The signs and symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis vary with age. The following describes how it affects people of different ages.

When an infant gets seborrheic dermatitis, it tends to form on the scalp and is known as cradle cap. Signs and symptoms of cradle cap include:

  • Yellow, greasy scale on the scalp
  • A thick layer of scale can cover the entire scalp
  • The scale is often yellow to brownish in color
  • With time, the scale becomes flaky and easily rubs off

In infants, seborrheic dermatitis also can form on the face, usually on a baby’s eyelids, around the nose, or ears. It can also form in the diaper area. In a few babies, seborrheic dermatitis covers most of the body. Most infants seem not to be bothered by seborrheic dermatitis, although cradle cap sometimes itches.

In adults and adolescents, seborrheic dermatitis causes reddish, scaly patches on the skin that look greasy or moist. Scales can flake off and tend to be yellowish to white. The skin can itch, especially on the scalp and in the ear canal. Sufferers may also feel a burning sensation.

Patches tend to form where the skin is oily:

  • Scalp
  • Ears (around and in the ear canal)
  • Eyebrows (the skin beneath)
  • Center of the face
  • Eyelids
  • Upper chest
  • Upper back
  • Armpits
  • Genitals

Who Gets It?

People of all ethnicities and ages get seborrheic dermatitis. Infants 3 months of age and younger and adults between 30 and 60 years of age are most susceptible. People of all colors and ages get seborrheic dermatitis. You have a higher risk if you have any of the following medical conditions:

  • HIV (About 85 percent of people infected with HIV develop seborrheic dermatitis)
  • Acne, rosacea, or psoriasis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Stroke or heart attack (recovering from)
  • Alcoholism
  • Depression
  • Eating disorder

There is also a correlation between seborrheic dermatitis and taking the following medications: Interferon, lithium, and Psoralen.

What Causes It?

Researchers are still studying what causes this common skin disease. From what they have learned, it appears that the cause is complex. Many factors seem to work together to cause seborrheic dermatitis. These factors may include the yeast that normally lives on our skin, our genes, living in a cold and dry climate, stress, and a person’s overall health.

By studying seborrheic dermatitis, researchers have learned that it is not caused by poor personal hygiene, is not an allergy and doesn’t harm the body.

Treatment Options

Seborrheic dermatitis is a condition that dermatologists frequently diagnose and treat.

If you think you might have seborrheic dermatitis, you should see a dermatologist for a diagnosis. This common skin condition can look like psoriasis, eczema, or an allergic reaction, but each of these skin diseases requires different treatment.

To make a diagnosis, your doctor will review your medical history and perform a physical examination of the rash area. Sometimes seborrheic dermatitis is a sign of an underlying medical condition. If your dermatologist suspects this, medical tests may be necessary.

Although seborrheic dermatitis cannot be cured, treatment has benefits. Treatment can loosen and remove scale, prevent a skin infection, and reduce swelling and itch. The type of treatment a dermatologist prescribes varies with age and where seborrheic dermatitis appears on the skin.

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