What is Seborrheic Dermatitis?

Seborrheic dermatitis is an inflammatory skin disorder affecting the scalp, face, and trunk. Typically, seborrheic dermatitis presents with scaly, flaky, itchy, red skin. In adolescents and adults, seborrheic dermatitis is commonly called "dandruff." In babies, it is known as "cradle cap."

What Causes Seborrheic Dermatitis?

The cause of seborrheic dermatitis is unknown, but the skin condition seems to run in families. Seborrheic dermatitis is thought to be due to a combination of an overproduction of skin oil and irritation from a yeast called malessizia. Neurologic conditions, including Parkinson's disease, head injury, and stroke may be associated with seborrheic dermatitis. Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has also been linked to increased cases of seborrheic dermatitis. Other causes of seborrheic dermatitis can be attributed to stress, fatigue, obesity, infrequent bathing and shampooing, extreme weather, and using cosmetic products that contain alcohol.

Symptoms of Seborrheic Dermatitis

The most common symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis are:

  • Skin lesions
  • Plaques over large areas
  • Greasy, oily areas of skin
  • Skin scales (White and flaking, yellowish, oily, and adherent "dandruff")
  • Mild redness
  • Itching (May become more itchy if infected)
  • Hair loss

Treatment of Seborrheic Dermatitis

There is no way to prevent or cure seborrheic dermatitis, but treatment can control it.

  • Use an over the counter dandruff treatment shampoo such as Selsun Blue, Nizoral, or PolyTar AF.
  • If over the counter dandruff shampoos are not successful ask your doctor about a prescription strength shampoo (Zinc Pyrithione, Selenium Sulfide, Ketoconazole, and/or Salicylic Acid).
  • Apply your shampoo to your scalp two to three times per week as directed by your doctor. Leave the shampoo in for ten minutes before rinsing out.
  • Apply a steroid cream or lotion to the outbreaks on your body as prescribed by your doctor. (A low dose of corticosteroid or an anti-fungal topical such as Ciclopirox or Ketoconazole can be applied to a child's affected skin).

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