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Seborrheic Dermatitis


Seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic skin condition that causes a red, scaly, itchy rash. It can appear as a mild, white scaling or a yellowish greasy or reddish scaly rash. Most commonly affected areas are along the hairline, in and behind the ears, on the eyebrows, around the nose, and on the chest.

Dandruff is a type of seborrheic dermatitis where there is a scaling of the skin on the scalp. The area can be dry or oily and is sometimes itchy.

Seborrheic Dermatitis
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The exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis is unknown. Common skin yeast organisms may play a role in some people.

Risk Factors

Risk factors include having:

  • Oily skin or hair
  • Family members who have seborrheic dermatitis
  • Chronic conditions, including disorders of the immune system such as HIV infection
  • Neurological conditions, such as Parkinson disease or, less commonly, stroke


The symptoms can vary from mild to severe. They include:

  • Dry or greasy scaling of the scalp
  • Itchy scalp
  • Itchy, scaly rash with small pimples—may also be present on nasal folds, eyebrows, anterior chest, upper back, arm pits, or genitals
  • Thickened, flaking skin
  • Reddened skin over the forehead and on either side of the nose

In babies less than 1 month old, seborrheic dermatitis may cause a thick, yellow, crusted scalp rash known as cradle cap.


You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The diagnosis is made by the appearance of the rash.You may be referred to a doctor who specializes in skin disorders (a dermatologist).


Treatments for seborrheic dermatitis are usually applied directly to the skin in the form of shampoo or lotion. Treatment depends on the severity of your symptoms. Seborrheic dermatitis in infants will usually resolve on its own.

Medicated Products

Baby shampoo, mineral oil, and topical anti-fungal shampoos may be used for seborrheic dermatitis in infants

A variety of treatments are used for seborrheic dermatitis in children and adults, such as:

  • Prescription or over-the-counter shampoos containing 1 or more of the following ingredients:
    • Zinc pyrithione
    • Hydrocortisone or other cortisone (steroid) preparations
    • Selenium sulfide
    • Salicylic acid
    • Coal tar
    • Antifungal medications
  • Prescription or over-the-counter creams or lotions containing:
    • Hydrocortisone or other cortisone (steroid) preparations
    • Antifungal medications
    • Antibiotic medication
    • Pimecrolimus
    • Nonsteroidal creams that are anti-inflammatory and antifungal
    • Calcineurin inhibitor
    • Lithium salt

Treatment can take several weeks or months and may need to be repeated if the condition returns.


There are no guidelines for preventing seborrheic dermatitis because the cause is unknown.

Revision Information

  • American Academy of Dermatology

  • Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians

  • Canadian Dermatology Association

  • Health Canada

  • Cunha PR. Pimecrolimus cream 1% is effective in seborrhoeic dermatitis refractory to treatment with topical corticosteroids. Acta Derm Venereol. 2006;86:69-70.

  • Schwartz RA, Janusz CA, Janniger CK. Seborrheic dermatitis: an overview. Am Fam Physician. 2006;74:125-130.

  • Seborrheic dermatitis. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: Accessed February 22, 2016.

  • Seborrheic dermatitis in children and adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated March 16, 2016. Accessed September 12, 2016.

  • Seborrheic dermatitis in infants. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated March 31, 2015. Accessed February 22, 2016.

  • 6/17/2014 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance Kastarinen H, Oksanen T, et al. Topicxal anti-inflammatory agents for seborrhoeic dermatitis of the face or scalp. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 May 19;5.