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What Is Seborrheic Dermatitis?

Seborrheic dermatitis is a long-lasting (chronic) skin condition that causes the skin to develop a reddish rash with scaly yellow patches that may look greasy and itch. It usually affects the scalp. In infants, seborrheic dermatitis is known as ‘cradle cap.’

Seborrheic dermatitis can also affect other areas of your body where your skin is naturally oily, including your:

  • face,
  • eyelids,
  • eyebrows,
  • ears,
  • chest,
  • back,
  • armpits,
  • groin,
  • skin around your nose, and
  • skin under your breasts.

Infants can also develop seborrheic dermatitis around their diaper area.

Who Gets Seborrheic Dermatitis?

Infants develop this condition most often. Symptoms usually go away on their own with no treatment when infants are six to 12 months old.

But for adolescents and adults, the condition may be life-long. Symptoms may go away with home remedies, but symptoms occasionally come back. Common triggers that will flare up your symptoms include the following:

  • stress
  • cold and dry weather
  • hormonal changes
  • illness
  • harsh detergents, solvents, chemicals, and soaps

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What Causes Seborrheic Dermatitis?

Dermatologists don’t know what causes seborrheic dermatitis. Dermatologists think it may be related to a fungus called malassezia normally found on your skin’s surface, or an irregular response by your immune system.

A few things can influence your chances of developing seborrheic dermatitis, including the following:


  • Infants three months of age and younger are more likely to have it.
  • Adults between 30 and 60 years old are more likely to have it.

Medical Conditions

  • HIV (approximately 85 percent of people with HIV develop seborrheic dermatitis)
  • Acne, rosacea, or psoriasis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Recovering from a stroke or a heart attack
  • Alcoholism
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Organ transplant recipients.
  • Some cancers


  • Interferon
  • Lithium
  • Psoralen


Although seborrheic dermatitis has no cure, there are treatments that may help relieve or control your symptoms. The treatment your dermatologist prescribes will depend on your age and where on your body your seborrheic dermatitis is located.

At first, your dermatologist may first recommend you try home remedies before prescribing any sort of medication. If you do try any over-the-counter products, be sure to use that product each day until your symptoms clear up.

Your treatment may involve trial and error and you may need to switch between products or use a combination of products.

Here are some tips that help some people with seborrheic dermatitis:

  • Clean your skin every day with a gentle soap or over-the-counter dandruff shampoo (baby shampoo).
  • Soften your scaly skin with a mineral oil or olive oil and let the oil sit on your skin for about an hour. Then gently brush away the scales and wash your skin.
  • Avoid hair styling products during treatment.
  • Avoid products that have alcohol as this can cause your condition to flare up.
  • To reduce irritation, wear cotton clothing.
  • If you show symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis around your eyelids, use baby shampoo to wash your eyelids each night and wipe away scaly skin with a cotton swab.

When Should I See a Dermatologist?

Seborrheic dermatitis isn’t life-threatening. But if it’s affecting your sleep and day-to-day activities, or if you fear your skin is becoming infected,set up an appointment with your dermatologist. You shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable in your own skin.