What is seborrheic dermatitis ?

It represents an inflammatory response in certain areas of the skin, likely related to an overgrowth of a yeast normally found on our skin. It has a characteristic pink and scaly appearance with a typical distribution on the scalp, face, ears, and/or chest. It often occurs in the context of oily skin but can also occur in dry skin. It is dandruff with inflammation. In children, it can present as ‘cradle cap’.

Who gets seborrheic dermatitis ?

People of all ages and ethnicities can get seborrheic dermatitis.

How do I know if I have it ?

One of the most common causes of an itchy scalp is seborrheic dermatitis. Therefore if you have an itchy scalp with some scaling, you may have seborrheic dermatitis. In addition, it often occurs in the folds of the cheeks, between the eyebrows, and in and behind the ears. It may also occur on the central chest.

How can I treat it ?

For seborrheic dermatitis of the scalp, it is often helpful to wash your scalp more often, e.g. daily or every other day (for curly dry hair, at least once weekly). It is often helpful to avoid oil-based, fragrant, or irritating products on the scalp. Also, one can try using an over the counter anti-dandruff shampoo, leaving it on for 5 minutes before you wash it off. If itching persists, it is best to be seen by a dermatologist so that the diagnosis may be reassessed and a prescription shampoo, solution, or other topical product may be given.

For seborrheic dermatitis on the face, ears, or chest, use of a moisturizer is often helpful. In addition, one may try applying anti-dandruff shampoos to the affected areas for 5 minutes while in the shower before rinsing off (stopping if experiencing irritation). Often prescription topical anti-yeast and/or anti-inflammatory topical medicines are needed.

How can I prevent it ?

To prevent flares of seborrheic dermatitis, it is important to wash you scalp often, see section on treatment for frequency. One can use over the counter anti-dandruff or prescription shampoos, leaving them on for 5 minutes before rinsing them off. It is also important to avoid the use of oil-based products on the scalp. Finally, keeping yourself hydrated with plenty of water may help by providing hydration from the inside.

When should I see a dermatologist about it ?

You can see a dermatologist for your seborhheic dermatitis at any time, to treat it early and to get tips on avoiding future flares. It is particularly important to come in for this if it is not improving or resolving, or if you continue to get repeated bouts of it. If this is the case, it may not be seborhheic dermatitis after all or may need a different therapeutic plan.

Additional Resources:
American Academy of Dermatology